***SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT***
This week’s Modern Family was a great showcase for a lot of the cast members, particularly Sofia Vergara, Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, and Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. Costars Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Nolan Gould, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Rico Rodriguez did good work, too, but they served as comedic backdrops to the first group of performers.
So the title refers to a tree that Cam and Mitch love in the park. Cam finds out that it’s going to be cut down, so he climbs on the tree as a protest. But before that we’re treated to Anderson-Emmons again niftily purloining her scene with her TV dads – the Pritchett/Tucker household is in a bit of hectic turmoil because Cam’s getting used to being a dad and going back to work. So overwhelmed, he hasn’t had a chance to fix the drawers in the house and the family is forced to pry the drawers open with spatulas. Anderson-Emmons deserves an Emmy just for her frustrated cry, “We can’t live like this!” as she’s trying to jimmy her drawer open with a spatula.
But back to the tree-thing. Cam’s got a lot on his plate, including an understudy role in a local production of Cats. It was predictable that there would be the cat in the tree joke, seeing Cam perched on a branch, but when it came it was still funny. Initially dressed in civilian clothes, he guilts Mitchell into climbing the tree in protest when he has to dash to rehearsals. Mitchell has to deal with the city workers who are in charge of chopping the tree – they’re a very sympathetic bunch who listen to Mitch as he realizes that he admires Cam’s (temporary) passion for what he believes in; Cam returns to his post, but comes back straight from rehearsal, so he’s dressed in his Cats costume – which for those of you unfamiliar with the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, doesn’t look like a real cat, but instead looks like what would happen if a cat and a Solid Gold dancer had a baby – seeing Stonestreet in the furry leotard was great – and when Cam starts to lick his hand, trying to decipher if the sticky stuff on his paw is sap is classic. Again, having the fireman save a kitty from a tree limb was expected, but that didn’t stop me from laughing – especially when he slipped and fell, but managed to stay suspended, swinging from the branch like Tom Cruise did in Mission Impossible, when he dangled on a wire.
Vergara hasn’t been used as much this season, and so she didn’t get to show off much, but in this episode, she was back in scene-stealing form. Hugely pregnant, she and Claire go shopping, so that Claire can commiserate with her hot stepmom about a new pregnancy side-effect: “pregnancy brain” which causes the normally-sharp Gloria to do some boneheaded things. She’s distracted and lashes out at people, not realizing that most of the errors are her fault – a great moment: she and Claire are driving to Costco, and she opens the door to get out before Claire can park, so she screams, “Why didn’t you stop first?” At Costco, Claire scolds Gloria for willfully allowing herself stupid moments, using her pregnancy as a crutch. Then she herself gets distracted when leaving the store, accidentally stealing a sweatshirt she threw on when she had to watch Gloria try to figure out what she needed from the frozen food section (her shopping list had the word “frozen” on it). Claire’s in trouble and grilled by store security, but before she can be humiliated anymore, Gloria’s water breaks. If you thought her screams were loud when she’s agitated, imagine what her car alarm-like voice is like pushing a baby.
Except it’s all a ruse. Gloria proves that she’s not the dum dum everyone paints her out to be. She got them out of the store, and even wrangled an apology from the security guard as he ushered them into Claire’s SUV. Impressed, Claire spaced out again and ran a red light, and got Gloria to turn on the trick again for the cops (I loved hearing Gloria shriek “I can feel the head!”)
Alex and Haley had their own adventure, as well. I was glad when Hyland’s character was returned to the fold, full-time, though it is sad that the writers felt that she had to be kicked out of school to do that. So, viewers will remember that Alex was booted out of school and was ordered to do community service, picking up litter in the highway. Alex, intent on getting an embarrassing pic of her sister for Facebook, sneaks over to where Haley’s working, flirting with another “colleague” and tries to get a good shot, but drops her phone through a grate into a sewer. She then goes through a Job-like sequence, which includes falling into wet mud, numerous times, before successfully fishing her dirty out of the sewer. Alex glides by in a convertible, seeing her baby sister covered in dirt and mud (and probably worse), and quickly takes a pic and posts it on Facebook – lesson learned for Alex – sometimes it’s not okay to derive joy from someone else’s pain.
Phil, Jay, Manny, and Luke had the weakest story line because it was pretty repetitive. Phil’s still pining for Jay’s unconditional love and approval. The four go to an Olympics-themed party kids party. Manny, of course, feels out of sorts because it’s a sports-themed fete and he hates sports and he has to be Mexico, because most Americans are ignorant of the difference between Colombia and Mexico. Jay wants to leave, but Phil talks him into chatting with the other guys – all dads, much younger than Jay. At first, Phil’s the “cool guy” until Jay usurps him with an embarrassing story. Phil challenges his father-in-law to a boxing match, in one of those fake boxing rings, where folks where gigantic, padded gloves. Well, Phil channels his anger and feelings of resentment and pummel his 65-year-old father-in-law, while everyone else looks on, concerned.
In the end, everything of course, works out. There’s a priceless moment when Cam, still dressed as a cat, comes over Jay’s house to get a drill to fix those dang gonnit drawers, and Jay mutters in indignation at seeing his son-in-law dressed in feline tights, while Gloria heaves a sigh of relief and says, “Aiii, good, you see that, too?” letting her know it wasn’t her “pregnancy brain” playing tricks on her.
“When a Tree Falls” was a great episode – as usual, there were some fantastic one-liners. Even though his story was slightly less interesting, O’Neill got a great zinger in, with Rodriguez when Manny and Jay were sharing some of Gloria’s pregnancy-induced mess ups, like accidentally switching the butter for the soap, which Jay saying he smelled like movie theater popcorn after taking a shower, to which Manny replied, “Better than the toast I ate,” and Jay nails the scene with, “Yet you ate the second piece.” It was a great line and I laughed out loud, but the writers are treading a fine line between funny and mean, when dealing with Manny’s love of food – they should be careful not to indulge in fat jokes.