Modern Family Recap: “Express Christmas”

When Mitch and Claire’s mom ditches their Christmas plans to hang out with her cruise ship captain boyfriend, it comes to light that everyone’s vacationing at a different time and the whole Modern Family won’t be together till the new year! SUNBATHING EMERGENCY! Time for a cockeyed Phil Dunphy plan of attack: the family will split up to throw together an Express Christmas on December 16. We’ve got teams of Mitch and Alex, Gloria and Luke, Phil and Manny, Claire and Haley, and Jay and Cam. This episode is basically the Amazing Race, but with more stun guns and spider angels.

Mitch and Alex go pick up the tree, FINALLY addressing the elephant-in-the-room question of why Alex and Mitch aren’t best friends with their own spin-off show. Look at them! Both of them have mean-girl siblings, date chubby passionate guys, and are snobbishly smarter than everyone else around them. They need a mentor-protegee relationship, STAT. We get something like that when Alex acts knee-jerk offended by the tree salesman’s imaginary homophobia and then feels dumb, though Mitch says not to feel bad: he does the same thing “like once a week.” Lily’s perfectly-timed “I have two daddies” almost makes up for her having no lines the rest of the episode. Almost.

It’s always fun when Haley gets a chance to shine by doing what she’s actually good at, and her deviant, Machiavellian shopping tactics serve her well when she and Claire go shopping for presents. Also, Claire’s pep talk when they first arrive at the store is amazingly intense, and going over-the-top with it was a fun choice by Julie Bowen.

In the ever-rotating roster of Men Coping With Jay Pritchett’s Withholdingness (seriously, when are Phil, Mitch and Cam going to form this support group?), this week it’s Cam that feels shut out by Jay when they wrap presents (“Interesting…the way you wrap the gift, I mean, it’s a lot of tape. No one can get in, kind of like…well…”). He doesn’t even appreciate that Cam engraved a wine bottle for him! Does Jay KNOW how difficult it must be to engrave glass?

Meanwhile, Phil does little to assuage Manny’s irrational fears of being kid-snatched when he goes to pick up a baseball card for Jay from a Craigslist stranger. Misunderstandings arise and the paranoid Manny accidentally stun guns Phil, an excellent excuse for physical comedy from Ty Burrell.

In the final storyline, family troublemakers Gloria and Luke brave the attic for Claire and Mitch’s tree-topper angel and then almost immediately let it get run over (and themselves run over Alex and Mitch’s tree) due to Gloria’s failure to differentiate between the words “Luke” and “look.” Oh, Gloria’s accent. You will never get old.

Still shaken up back at the house, Phil stun guns some Cornish game hens, and without a tree, a tree-topper or a turkey, Express Christmas might be falling apart. But Jay opens up his heart in his own way (like he does, y’know, every week) and shows the gang that they don’t need their real mom, real Christmas, or real snow. They’ll make do just fine with Gloria as a fake mom and Jay’s surprise of fake snow on the lawn. Not the best episode ever, but it’s a perfectly fine fake Christmas. And Gloria’s angry discovery that the dog butler is still in the attic? That’s the true Christmas present to viewers, one and all.

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