Since Modern Family first aired on ABC last September, the focus has always remained on character relationships. While each family is no stranger to a wacky situation or two, the true comedy of the series has always come from the personalities of each character playing off one another. It's a credit to the shows writing that many of these family members can be interchangeable each week. We do not always have to see Phil and Claire riffing off one another for their characters to be funny or even poignant. It can just as easily be Claire and Gloria, or Phil with pretty much anyone. Cam and Mitchell might be the most consistently hilarious couple on television right now, but that doesn't stop the writers from sending Cam to a spicy restaurant with Gloria, or butting heads with Jay over college football. Each interaction seems to work almost flawlessly, and none of it feels like a stretch.
Last night's episode, "Benched", continued the trend of developing several amusing situations and inserting the right characters to take care of the rest. Phil and Jay may have been progressing in their relationship (a model airplane to the schnoz has that effect), but it was clear from the onset that they still had some work to do. Jay, too used to controlling the situation, seemed to override Phil's decision at every turn. Dealing with Manny and Luke's basketball coach, whom Lost fans would know as Radzinsky, nice-guy Phil wanted to use reason to curb the coach's jackass methods. Jay opted for threats (throwing a shoe is such an effective old man threat, and maybe provided the best imagery of the night). When the coach quit, Phil stepped in to help the team "turn five fingers into a fist." Would that fist have been Captain or Tennille? Jay gave us no time to find out, swooping in to take the reins. His justification? A perfectly deadpanned "Phil, I coach football." Did it matter that Phil coached basketball? Nope.
It didn't take long for Jay to become frustrated with the team's complete lack of anything resembling coordination, and when he looked to hand the job off to Phil, of course it had to come with a little groveling, too. "Believe it or not Jay, there are some things that I'm better at than you are--bam, it's out there." Bangarang, P. Dunphy! Jay apologized for constantly taking charge, and a satisfied Phil resumed his coaching duties. He even managed to get a decent pick-and-roll out of the team until Manny's shot, all the more hilarious in slow-mo, came up a couple feet short.
Elsewhere, Claire and Gloria found themselves benched for a different reason: just being there. Manny, embarrassed from his mom's cries of support from the bleachers, told her it would be better if she didn't come to the next game. Gloria tried to convince Manny that she'd be quiet from now on. Manny, always wise beyond his years, knew "that her Latin blood makes that impossible," and so off she went. Finding solace in shopping with baby Lily, she runs into Claire, who was supposed to be out with Alex buying clothes. Once her friends were in sight, however, Alex gave the same treatment to Claire. It was a harsh look at the inevitable embarrassment kids find with their parents, which made the payoff even sweeter when Claire and Gloria turned the tables later on.
Both Manny and Alex tried to make amends with their mothers. A sincere Manny got the guilt treatment from Gloria, and Jay did little to help him smooth it over. His advice? "I usually go with earrings." Alex, as if reading from a psychology textbook, expertly crafted an apology to Claire, who gladly accepted....only to have Alex immediately ask for $20 to grab dinner and a movie with her friends. Claire gave her $40. Her reaction, on the other hand, was priceless. Waiting for her youngest daughter to get out of the car and stand next to her friends, she yelled, "Alex, honey, when you’re out shopping, you might want to pick yourself up a training bra! I know you don’t need one now but your little boobies are going to come in soon. Mommy loves you, kitten!" Ouch, that Dunphy parental unit sure knows how to sling it.
With Cam and Mitchell, it was less about getting benched and more about already being on the bench. An unemployed Mitchell was starting to get a little crazy from staying home all the time with Lily (when you start plotting the death of Dora the Explorer, it's a warning sign), whereas Cam, working part-time at a greeting card store, turns into a blubbering mess when he thinks about all the time missed with his baby. "Grilled cheese sandwich" was the only audible words from one of his brilliant meltdowns in front of the camera. Neither Cam nor Mitchell wants the other to know their real feelings about it, so when both go and meet with a friend of Jay's at a party to discuss an opportunity for Mitchell, things turn a little awkward when he's offered the job. They go through uncomfortable dialogue, a few spilled platters, and a heavily dented Ferrari before things are resolved and Mitchell takes the job.
In the end, it was another well-balanced episode that handed plenty of zingers out to all the characters. Claire's showdown with Alex, and the behavior of Mitchell and Cam at the party did give off more of an awkward vibe than I'm used to from this show. That sort of tone would've fit better in Extras or The Office, but it's a minor complaint with a show that continually leaves me wanting more. The season finale is right around the corner, too. What relationship dynamic to you hope to see more of before the end? Pairing Phil with Mitchell or Cam for an episode would have to be must-see. What about more from Claire and Jay? Or Cam and Mitchell babysitting all the kids? That's the beauty of Modern Family; every combo works. Have we finally found a show that will dethrone 30 Rock at the Emmy's?