Recap – Modern Family 1.18 “Starry Night”

If you missed the last episode of Modern Family, “Truth Be Told,” check out a recap here.

This week’s episode, “Starry Night,” begins as Modern Family often does, with a question. What is Phil’s favorite way to relax? Well, Phil enjoys putting on his television noise-reducing headphones and getting lost in the Nature Channel. With Claire, Haley and Luke fighting in the background, Phil says that the Nature Channel is exciting because so often the action moves form “tranquil beauty to raw, primal violence.” At this moment, Claire rips the headphones off of her husband’s head, and wonders if he really hasn’t been listening to what is going on around him. Luke has a project on Van Gogh due tomorrow which he hasn’t started, and Haley just told Claire that she needs cupcakes for a school fundraiser at the same time. Alex, of course, has done all of her homework accurately and on time. Claire asks Phil to stay on Luke, and make sure he finishes the project, but Phil has a different strategy. He doesn’t want to smother his son like Claire does. “You think I smother him?” Claire incredulously asks. “Well, it’s not your fault,” Phil replies, “‘Mother’ is part of the word. You never hear anyone being ‘sfathered’ to death.” Alex chimes in that she thinks Luke has ADHD. Luke insists that he doesn’t, but then asks his sister what it is. She says it’s not even worth explaining to him because by he’d wander off before she gets to the “D.” Of course, Luke has already meandered off before the end of her quip. Luke puts Phil’s headphones on, and misunderstanding their noise elimination capabilities, begins to speak very loudly, thinking his family can’t hear him. “Everyone is stupid except me. Ha, ha. I am funny.” All Claire and Phil can do is stare at each other.

Mitchell waits on the sidewalk, telescope in hand, for his father. He tells the camera that he and his father are going to be watching the Lyrids meteor shower, an annual tradition. According to Cameron, it can be seen “where Planet Geek passes through the Nerdy Way.” Cameron is just joking with Mitchell; he thinks the outing is sweet. He loves the fact that Mitchell and Jay can enjoy showers together. Mitchell, unbowed, continues, explaining that he and his father don’t have many common interests. Mitchell never went to “sports games” with his dad. “Probably because you call them ‘sports games’,” remarks Cameron. Back on the sidewalk, the partners can see Jay’s car pulling up. “Here comes your shower partner,” Cameron teases. Mitchell goes to open the passenger door, but Manny is seated inside. “Shotgun, sucka!”

Cameron has his own rondezvous with Gloria. The two are going out to eat, but Cameron is very nervous. He confides that he so badly wants to be good friends with Gloria. They have so much in common. “One spicy, curvy diva,” Cameorn begins — “and Gloria!” Mitchell finishes, proudly, with his own zinger. Cameron is nervous because of a cerain incident he and Gloria had a couple weeks back. At a party, Cameron was complaining to Claire and Mitchell about Mitchell’s snobby Ivy League friends. Particularly, a woman from Columbia University who was quite annoying, who always brought around an equally annoying friend from Brown University. “I wish that tart would go back to Columbia and take her weird little Brown friend with her,” Cameron exclaims…right as Gloria and Manny walk in behind him. Cameron tried to apologize to Gloria, explaining that he was talking about Columbia, not Colombia; that he wasn’t talking about “your people,” but rather college people. Not that “your people” couldn’t attend college, he tried to correct. Everything he said just kept making it worse, so now he wants to go out with her to start new. In the car with Gloria now, he tells her that he was able to get past the four week wait for a table at Palazzo (thanks to a yoga buddy), but Gloria doesn’t want to go to some place so fancy. She suggests one of her favorite Latin restaurants instead. That’s fine with Cameron, “I’d love to see how your people eat.” Back with Mitchell, Cameron is beside himself to the camera “‘Your peoiple’?!? What’s wrong with me?!?”

Haley and Claire have embarked on the cupcakes, but Haley has a plan to get out of it; all she needs to do is set the cheese in the trap. When Claire tries to teach her how to crack an egg, Haley takes it from her, “I know how to do this. I’m not a child.” Impressed, Claire hands over the egg, but Haley cracks it and drops some shell into the bowl. Claire can see where this is going, so she just takes over and releases Haley from any obligation to help. “And snap!…Is it bad I feel for sorry for her?” Alex sarcastically says. Upstairs, Phil and Luke start Luke’s project. Luke doesn’t know how to start though. “Mom usually tells me what to do,” he notes. “Join the club,” Phil replies. The father takes out the proverbial tri-panel presentation board and lays it before his son, telling him to pretend he had to explain to someone who had no idea about Van Gogh, what the artist was about. Luke has been distracted though, “How do they get the lead in pencils?” he contemplates.

Mitchell is trying to contemplate the starry heavens, but Manny is continuing with his zingers, making fun of the fact that Mitchell doesn’t know that Earth is the densest planet in the solar system. Earlier, on the way to pick up Mitchell, Manny was nervous that he didn’t know how to relate to a sibling. He doesn’t want to offend Mitchell in any way, but Jay tells him that offending a brother is impossible. If anything, brothers have to make fun of each other. Hence, Manny’s stand-up routine at Mitchell’s expense. Having heard enough, Mitchell says he is going to go see the sights of the park, in the middle of the night, and leaves. “Not if they see you first!” Manny yells after him. “Kinda missed with that one, kid,” Jay tells his stepson.

At his son’s computer, Phil has found the correct information. “This is all you need to know right here. The pencil is actually two parts that they glue around the lead.” Having moved back to his project, Luke tells his father that he has come up with a plan. Without hearing what it is, Phil is excited for his son’s discovery. “All you needed was focus,” Jay cheers, but while doing so, notices that the chair he’s sitting in has a loose arm. He needs to get a screwdriver to fix it. He’ll be right back. As his father leaves the room, Luke shows him a picture of Van Gogh, noting that the artists looks just like Uncle Mitchell, if Mitchell was insane. Cue Mitchell running out of the woods screaming about being sprayed by a skunk. “You stink,” Jay tells Mitchell “Yeah, like your astronomy knowledge,” quips Manny. “What is happening?!?” Mitchell exclaims, finally losing it.

Cameron and Gloria are at dinner in a hole-in-the-wall Latin restaurant. Cameron insists to her that he loves the place, but confides to Mitchell that he was actually quite nervous. There was dirt everywhere, and lots of food on the menu, on the floor and on the wall. Mitchell insists that Cameron is exaggerating. “Were you there, Mitchell? I think I would’ve recognized the only other white or gay person there,” Cameron responds. Gloria orders Carnitas Diablos (literally, “Devil’s Pork”), and Cameron orders the same. The waiter tells him that maybe the carnitas is not the best choice for him. Gloria has built up a tolerance to the spiciness of the dish, but Cameron insists. “I can spice you under the table any day of the week, sweet thing,” Cameron playfully challenges Gloria. Gloria nods her assent, and the waiter places the order. Meanwhile, back in the park, Jay won’t let Mitchell get close to them. He tells his son that there is a blanket in the back of the car; he should take off his clothes and use the blanket. Mitchell dryly jokes that he’ll just get the blanket smelly, but Jay says not to worry. They only lay it down when they pick up Manny from tango class. “If you’re not sweating, you’re not doing it right!” Manny pipes in. This lesson doesn’t necessarily apply to food, however. Cameron, clearly under duress from the spiciness of his food, is laughing to prevent himself from crying because of the heat. Eventually, the pain takes hold. “Your head is running water!” Gloria shouts. Cameron jumps up to grab some water to drink, and although Gloria warns him that water just makes the heat worse, Cameron grabs a pitcher and begins to chug. Gloria was right, “I feel like I ate the Sun!!” Cameron bellows.

Back at the Dunphy home, Claire continues “teaching” a disinterested Haley how to finish off the cupcakes. “See, isn’t this fun?” she asks her daughter. “You make it fun, Mom,” replies Haley. Alex enters with some information on ADHD, and begins to read the symptoms. Someone afflicted with the condition: 1) is easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli. As she reads this, Phil is leaving the garage with the screwdriver, but sees the garage light flickering and climbs on a chair to investigate. 2) The person often impulsively abandons one task for another. Phil, while looking at the light, sees his sunglasses atop a far shelf and moves to retrieve them. 3) The person has a tendency to act without regard to consequences at the expense of personal safety. After trying to balance on the hood of the car and a railing, Phil erects a veryunstable tower to reach the glasses. Alex starts to read #4, but is stopped by her mother, at the same time Phil begins to pull everything down from the shelf, and falls himself to the floor below. Claire rushes to the garage, but once she sees he’s OK, she gets angry that he’s not watching Luke like he’s supposed to be. They march up the stairs, with Phil tripping over the middle one (a nice call back to the funky step in a couple episodes, and dating back to the Pilot), and open Luke’s bedroom door. They find their son sitting on the floor playing with a Mr. Potato Head (ABC/Disney syngeristic Toy Story 3 cross-promotion?). Claire has had it, and marches back down stairs, stumbling over the same bad stair. Phil reenters Luke’s room, and tells his son that he’s disappointed. “Mr. Potato Head, really?” he asks Luke. Luke protests that it’s not what it seems, but Phil has heard enough. He’s going to go clean the garage, and will be back in to make sure Luke finishes his project.

Outside the restaurant to cool down, Cameron apologizes for ruining the night. He so wanted the night to be awesome because he wants to be friends with Gloria and to make up for the Columbia/Colombia misunderstanding. Further, he’s sorry about his original restaurant choice. Gloria says not to worry about it. She didn’t want to go to the fancy restaurant because she had earlier that day purchased an expensive dress that she didn’t need. Cameron would love to see it, but she left it in her car. At the park, Mitchell returns to Jay and Manny in Gloria’s dress, explaining that the blanket was nowhere to be found. “Spin around cupcake. Let’s see the caboose,” Manny heckles. “You got some fries to go with that shake?” Jay continues. Mitchell storms off. “Too far?” Jay asks Manny. “There’s a line, Jay,” Manny replies. Jay agrees and says he’s going to find Mitchell to clean up the mess. Back at the car, Jay apologizes to Mitchell and says to blame him for the terrible evening. “Done,” Mitchell offers quickly. Jay explains that he brought Manny along because he’s had a really rough week. “I’ve been sprayed by a skunk and am waring a dress that makes my hips look huge!” Mitchell replies. Jay goes on to explain that Manny didn’t get invited to a big party because the guys he thought were his friends actually think he’s weird. Jay isn’t good at dealing with those kinds of situations, but he thought Mitchell, having had a similar childhood experience, might be able to talk to Manny. Mitchell agrees and leaves to talk with Manny. As he walks away, Jay tells him that he actually doesn’t look that bad in the dress, that Mitchell has the legs to pull it off. Mitchell, a bit weirded out, tells his father to stop. “I’m just saying, if you were that type of a gay, you’d do alright for yourself,” Jay offers, but Mitchell just walks off.

A recovered Cameron and Gloria walk toward the car from the restaurant. Cameron wonders if they are in the safest of neighborhoods. Gloria admits they are not, but it used to be the neighborhood she and Manny lived in after she first left her husband, pointing to her old apartment. She likes coming down their still because it’s good to remember from where you came. The pair spy Cameron’s car, which is now up on blocks with all four wheels stolen (this actually happened to me in my much nicer neighborhood. If this happens to you, the reaction is part anger, part disbelief, and part impressed that thieves could actually do such a thing logistically). As charmed as she says she is with her old neighborhood, Gloria loses it, shouting, “Who did this?!?” through the still night.

Phil enters the kitchen and finds Claire icing cupcakes. He apologizes to her for “not underestimating Luke enough.” “That means a lot to me,” Claire sincerely replies, dissing her son in the process. Perhaps they spoke too soon, though. Luke enters the kitchen with a completed project to show his parents. He pasted the Mr. Potato Head ears on his board because Van Gogh cut off his ear, and attached fake money because his paintings are worth “a bajillion dollars.” Claire whispers to Phil, “You were right. “Don’t apologize,” Phil replies. “I’m not apologi….” “Apology accepted.” Claire, impressed by Luke, says she needs to finish the cupcakes. She moves back behind the kitchen island and asks Haley, gabbing on her phone this whole time, to hand her the completed cupcakes. When Claire receives them, she dumps them straight into the garbage. When Haley flips out, Claire replies that she showed her daughter how to make them, so now it is Haley’s turn to bake. The rest of the family leaves a stunned Haley alone with the ingredients. She tries to pull the same trick with the eggshells she did earlier, but to no avail. All she can muster, in her best John McEnroe impression, is, “Are you serious?!?”

Back at the park, Mitchell awkwardly sits in his dress next to Manny. He knows, based on what Mitchell is wearing, that Manny won’t believe him, but Mitchell was also made fun of when he was a kid. He tells Manny that it’s interesting: everyone tries to avoid being different when they are a kid, but spends then wants to be different as an adult. “That’s when we win,” Mitchell tells his stepbrother. Manny apologizes for making fun of Mitchell all day; it’s what Jay said brothers do. Like the people who tease them for being different, Mitchell tells Manny that they can ignore Jay too.

With Mitchell, Manny and Jay staring at the stars, and Cameron and Gloria looking at the sky on the hood of Cameron’s wheel-less car, Luke wonders why Van Gogh painted “Starry Night.” Perhaps it’s because the sky is so beautiful and everyone likes looking at it. It reminds us that someone is watching over us: Aliens! Aliens that are preparing to invade theEarth and kill us all. We’re next! Alex, who has been listening to her brother practice his presentation, just shakes her head and walks off.

In the episode tag, Phil and Claire try Haley’s cupcakes. They are so delicious, and her parents are so very proud of what Haley has accomplished. Haley says she has to wrap them up so she can get to school, but Claire insists that she’ll do it, and bring the cupcakes to the school later. When Haley leaves, Phil and Claire spit the cupcakes out. “I love you, Claire. I will always love you!” Phil shouts on his way to the sink. Luke enters and is not feeling so well, “My mouth is asleep like at the dentist.” Phil orders Luke to come to the sink, where he picks up his son and sprays water into his mouth.

Commentary

While not as rip-roaring funny as the last couple episodes, “Starry Night” certainly had its moments. Most notably, Cameron’s hysterical reaction to the spicy food, his Columbia/Colombia mix-up, and the episode tag with Haley’s cupcakes. What I’ve noticed over the past few episodes, as well, is that the Dunphys haven’t interacted at all with the other members of the family. As I’ve noted in past recaps, the show is usually at its best when the three families are mixing together, but for the last few weeks, it’s been the Dunphys one one side, and Cameron/Mitchell/Jay/Gloria/Manny on the other. Now, this may just be coincidence, or a numbers thing (5 Dunphys, 5 others), but I’d like to see more interaction between the families. Specifically, there’s comedy gold to be mined between Manny and his cousins, and Manny and Phil. It’s not that the show is failing in some way, I just think there are some missed opportunities. Lastly, I think we saw some actual growth from Jay regarding Mitchell’s homosexuality. His remarks about Mitchell looking good in the dress seemed sincere and not sarcastic or joking. Yes, he still used some perhaps regrettable terminology (“that kind of a gay”), but Jay seems to be more comfortable with his son, which is a good thing.

What did you think of “Starry Night?” Were you laughing as hard as “Truth Be Told” or “Fears?” What do you think about the family combinations the show has employed the last few weeks? Do you think Jay’s growth is temporary? Could you handle the Carnitas Diablos? Please leave your comments, thoughts and questions below. Please be sure to come back for next week’s recap, and be sure to check out TVOverMind for promos, pictures and the latest news on all of your favorite shows. I’ll see you next week. I’m off to find the number for Poison Control.

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