I'm out of the week-to-week "Modern Family" review game, but I said I'd drop in on episodes in which I had something specific to say. So a review of last night's episode coming up just as soon as I undress a mannequin while a creepy guy films it...

One of the more frequent complaints people have had about this show, even in the first season, was that it felt like many episodes were trying to shoehorn in "heart" when it wasn't necessary and didn't really fit. "Two Monkeys and a Panda," though, was an episode where the heart not only fit, but was the main reason the episode worked.

I began to worry early on in the Dunphy story that it was going to be a type of sitcom plot I usually don't like: The Unnecessary Lie That Spins Out of Control and Makes Everything Worse. Instead, Claire's quest to secretly replace the ripped sweater was just the MacGuffin setting up what the episode was really about: Phil learning that what Claire really needs to hear when she's in crisis is empathy, not a solution. That final scene in the foyer was a fine combination of sweet and funny, and so wonderfully played by Ty Burrell as Phil was both sincere but also really enjoying the fruits of his spa lesson(*).

(*) One small complaint: I wish the show would cut out those bits where a character - usually Phil, as he did here - mugs for the camera in the middle of a non-talking head scene. If you want to say the show's not really a documentary, and that the talking head bits are just there was a device to provide backstory and let the characters comment on the story a bit, that's fine, but then don't have people act like there are cameras there in the middle of regular action.

Similarly, the Cam/Mitchell story began as yet another example this season of how the writers have dialed Cam's neediness and theatricality up to 11 - if not 12 - in virtually every episode. (It's the too much of a good thing issue that often arises with breakout characters.) But when Mitchell admitted that he had, indeed, left out the hyphen on purpose - and that he had an understandable reason for doing so - it led to a really nice moment for those two. And as with the Phil/Claire scene, the script(**) smartly undercut the sweetness just a bit by having Mitchell admit to us that the house is also technically only in his name.

(**) By "Seinfeld" veteran Carol Leifer. Like Todd VanDerWerff, I really hope this is the first of many contributions to the show from Leifer.


Jay and Gloria's issue didn't give me any concerns upfront, as their bickering is the one part of the show that I almost always enjoy, even in episodes I otherwise don't like. Here, for instance, I loved Jay's crack about how people will be able to find things in these drawers, as opposed to the ones in their house. So that was fairly funny throughout, and then we got a strong Jay/Manny scene featuring the usual jokes about Manny as an old soul - here playing the role of the wise bartender - but also some honest, heartfelt conversation about what it was like for Manny and Gloria when Jay first came into their lives.

All in all, a very nice effort.

What did everybody else think?