'Modern Family': The fasting and the furious
Mitchell and Cam: Cam decides to go on a juice fast, which Mitchell dreads not just for the many stages (at least seven) of personality changes he must deal with but also for its timing: There's a fund-raising party at his boss Charlie's (the returning Justin Kirk) house in a few days.
Mitchell decides to join in, and although he seems to be holding up better than Cam, he falls apart -- like, really falls apart -- as Charlie tells a sad story about a sea lion at the party. (The drool/snot blubbering from Jesse Tyler Ferguson's face as he ran out to look for the missing sea lion capped it; way to commit to the bit, Jesse. Well done.)
Mutual declarations of guilt and love are shared, and all is well, except for the part where they're standing in the ocean and repeatedly knocked over by incoming waves. Kirk gets one of the episode's best lines: "I think Mitchell may just be a work friend."
The Dunphys: Even this story was bifurcated, with Phil and Luke chasing dad's dream of tightrope walking -- they were watching "Man on Wire" -- and Claire attempting once more to bring her girls closer, and also battling with the parking-lot security guard at their school.
There wasn't a lot of comedy here, frankly, save for Luke's junk-food bender and Phil's various not-quite-curses as he fell off the foot-high tightrope ("Chicken in a basket!" "Bartles and Jaymes!"). Claire was crabby without much of a comic edge, and Haley and Alex weren't given much to do. But the end, with Phil actually accomplishing a dream, was really pretty sweet, and undercut just enough by Phil's talking head about what he was thinking as he was up there ("I've got two ways of getting across my yard").
Jay, Gloria and Manny: Hey, remember that dog Jay and Gloria took in last season in "Good Cop, Bad Dog"? Well, her name is Stella, she's still around, and she has Jay wrapped around her paw. He buys her doggie cupcakes, he brings her in the shower with him -- and all Gloria gets is a bunch of chewed-up shoes.
It's pretty slight, but the payoff of Gloria with one of Jay's shoes in her mouth as Jay, Manny and Stella -- all equally perplexed -- look on. (The closing-credits bit with a famished Cam and Mitchell pounding doggie cupcakes wasn't bad either.)
Was it the best "Modern Family" we've ever seen? No -- we're partial to episodes where the family intermingles more, and each individual story felt like one we'd seen before, either here or on other sitcoms. But execution counts for a lot, and the way this cast and writers are in sync can make even a familiar setup work pretty well.
What did you think of "Phil on Wire"?