'Modern Family' recap: When movie stars attack!

To a TV executive, I’d imagine the phrase “special guest stars Elizabeth Banks and Edward Norton” would conjure up images of creative brilliance and ratings gold. But in actual practice, the stunt casting of the former as a boozy child hater and especially the latter as dreary Spandau Ballet bassist Izzy LaFontaine, threatened to derail last night’s episode of ABC’s normally consistent freshman hit.

To be honest, Norton can’t take all the blame for not scoring a single decent laugh during the Spandau bit. Sure, his British accent was too strained, his “I love the ’80s” hair too obvious, but the idea behind the shtick —  that Julie Bowen’s Claire couldn’t come up with a better anniversary present for hubby Phil than free-hug coupons — didn’t seem remotely credible. Phil’s initial confessional response (“I can’t not think of things I want!”) was as amusing as his list of useless dream gifts (yogurt maker, bug vacuum, night-vision goggles), but everything else about the story arc played out in ways that were at once unfunny and unbelievable. And perhaps because of that, the final slow-dance denouement failed to move me in the way the show’s sappy-happy endings usually do.

Banks fared a little bit better as the party-gal pal of Mitchell and Cameron with violently jealous feelings toward their newly adopted daughter. I’ll admit I howled at her “I will throw her in the ocean!” outburst, as well as Cam’s response when Mitchell asked if he could touch Sal’s new breast implants (“You’re drinking a passion-fruit daiquiri. I’ll be fine.”). But again, one of the reasons Modern Family works so well is that its characters — neurotic, wacky, and heightened as they may be — always behave in ways that make sense, that draw parallels to the real characters in our own lives. Which is why I don’t buy that neither of these enthusiastic gay dads popped a gasket at Sal’s suggestion that the child they’re so devoted to deserved to be killed for potentially thwarting a trip to Cabo.

Fortunately, Western night with the grandkids at Jay and Gloria’s salvaged the half-hour, particularly Jay’s ninja-like efforts to thwart Haley’s trip to a nearby party, and Gloria’s rancid lullabies for Lily. (“Lily likes that? That singing?” “So Lily’s deaf.”) Again, though, Manny’s sudden crush on his niece-by-marriage Haley didn’t feel right, perhaps because it still had the pricetags from the Arrested Development store on it, perhaps because unlike the Maeby/George-Michael pas de deux, Manny-Haley doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have the overarching danger of actually sparking some fireworks. My advice to the show’s writers: Drop this subplot like ABC dropped Eastwick. Go easy on the stunt casting. And no need to check for a pulse, like Luke hilariously did to Jay…I’m pretty certain that despite last night’s disappointment, Modern Family‘s got plenty of life in it.

What did you think of last night’s show? How did you feel about Norton and Banks? And what were your favorite lines of dialogue? Holla back in the comments section below!

Comments (165 total) Add your comment
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  • Maria

    I thought Norton was great; he really committed.

    • Flyer

      And he had a great line to Claire – “You’re not the idiot. HE’S the one who fell in love to a break-up song!”

      • JonG

        The Norton subplot was terrible, Ausiello was spot on: The only good storyline was western night. Ed O’Niell rocks.

      • JonG

        Sorry, I meant Slezak.

  • Karen

    Banks – A+
    Norton – errr…… D?

    But I agree, the Phil/Claire storyline was a little strained, and dragged out a bit toooooo long for me.

    But I DID enjoy the Cam/Mitchell story, and the Jay storyline as well (although ‘Gloria’ was woefully underused this episode!)

    • Tim (@rural_juror)

      Agreed. Norton felt like he was doing a bad Ricky Gervais impression to me.

    • Sam

      I agree too
      The “living room” scene with Norton just kept going on….and on…..and on….

      • jd

        Agreed. Horrible episode — I couldn’t wait for it to end. Norton was a hammy nightmare.

  • ash

    yeah i was pretty disappointed by ed norton’s poorly written loser. otherwise it was ok. not brilliant but better than most other shows.

  • Jen

    I was disappointed in this episode, too. This is my favorite new show, but this episode was just not funny.

  • crispy

    Good grief. I couldn’t disagree with this review any more. During the Phil/Claire scenes, my partner and I could not stop sneaking peaks at each other… because we are EXACTLY like that! I am a gift-giver extraordinaire, and yet he never remembers all the dumb toys I want. And the Elizabeth Banks scenes were non-stop funny… when she crawled over another guest’s table, I was dying.

    • strickens_girl

      Agreed. Hubby and I kept looking at each other and laughing. Banks was priceless.

      • blinkone

        The Elizabeth Banks vingettes were the funniest parts of the episiode. Banks went for broke and killed. The funniest line in the show was when she asked Mitchell did he want to touch her breast: “I’m gay, not dead.”

    • Mike B

      I 3rd that. I liked it. Though I did not like Norton. The night at Grandpa’s was real good. So Manny has a crush on Haley. Why did it not feel right? What kid wouldn’t. And how the middle girl Alex tortures her brother and her quick remarks is so funny.

    • Rock Golf

      Hurray! The show was killer and possibly the best since the pilot! I’m so glad they have decided to add some balance to the Claire/Phil dynamic. Until now, Phil has been a dink, Claire a goddess. “Spandau Ballet… Am I even pronouncing that right?” And when Norton screamed “You fell in love to a break-up song?!?” all I could do was fist pump in the air and gasp for breath.

  • Billy

    I didn’t see the stunt casting promos, so I didn’t even know who the guest actors were. I kept thinking, I wonder if that’s really the bass player from Spandau Ballet. In any case, I enjoyed the episode much more than you did. I laughed all the way through.

    • Really?!?!

      Billy, your stab at humor was we todd did.

  • Roma

    Hated the stunt casting but still loved the show.

    • Steve

      I heard that Ed Norton saw the show and called them to be on it. I don’t necessarily think that’s stunt casting although putting both of the big stars in one episode seems like that’s what they were going for. Wish they would have used Ed Norton better.

      • Anny

        Ty Burrell (Phil) and Ed Norton are long-time friends. That could have been it.

  • pwopah

    “I can’t NOT think of things that I want!” was my favorite moment in the whole episode. I love Phil :)

    • Chris

      Claire’s horrible gift-giving coulda been solved in a minute: Birthday sex. Or to borrow from Curb Your Enthusiasm: BJ in the Car.

    • JonG

      I think it could have been saved if he made a point to give Claire a coupon after she hugged him.

      • fan

        I agree!
        That would have been perfect.

  • Lise

    In the gift-giving department, I am a “Phil” and am married to a “Claire”, so those scenes rang pretty true with me. She at least put effort in – I would take it, Phil!

  • Sina

    I didn’t get that sudden Manny/Haley thing either and it should be dropped. The episode wasn’t that funny but it was still good. I was upset Edward Norton wasn’t that funny but I did love his accent. He still looks 21.

  • Collin

    Love this show. This was the weakest episode yet. OTT

  • Katie

    Michael, I’m not sure we watched the same show. As Phil would say, why the face? I loved this episode and laughed out loud through most of it. Yes, some of the jokes were a bit forced. But overall, I think it was a well-executed half hour that gave us a closer glimpse into who these characters are. Loved Jay spraying Manny, loved Luke hugging Jay every five minutes, and I have to say, I think Ed Norton was playing terrible on purpose, to up the underlying cheese factor. I think that some of this mini-backlash might be because the show is so good, and critics and audiences alike want it to maintain its level of excellence. In my opinion, last night’s ep did just that.

    • fan

      Great comment Katie.
      I think you summed up the intent of the show perfectly.

  • Lise

    And I appreciated that Phil got to show himself as a good husband, and Claire got to be the screw-up for once. It helps make their pairing more believable.

    • Anona Muss

      Ditto on that! It was nice to see the role reversal.

    • Sarah

      Agreed. I know last week someone mentioned “Why on earth would someone like Claire be married to someone like Phil?” and this episode showed why.

    • Meredith44

      I liked that part; however, I thought it was dragged out a bit much. I fast-forwarded through some of Edward Norton’s scenes.

      Overall I liked it well enough, but I didn’t love it as much as I did other episodes.

  • K

    After Manny expressed his “preference” in Haley, to which Jay responded (paraphrasing), “Cool it, Jethro.” HA!

    • Mark

      I loved that line, too – and I wondered how many of the show’s younger viewers would catch this great “Beverley Hillbillies” reference.

      • jk

        I’m 22 and I got it, for what it’s worth.

    • Jim

      Loved it when Jay squirted Manny with mister afterwords, like a dog

      • Sydney

        This was my favorite part!! I was laughing hysterical.

      • econruth

        This was my favorite too.. laughed outloud!

  • Mothra

    Line of the night for me: Gloria to Haley when her boyfriend is more interested in the cowboy movie than the party, “They never grow up, get used to it now.”

    So very, very true! I thought it was a nice twist that the wife was the bad gift-giver, that’s usually a male stereotype. But I did think it went on too painfully long. Still, the show has earned a place on the DVR series list. I LOVE it!

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