Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless

This season of Modern Family hasn’t featured too many “in between” episodes. You know, the ones that aren’t outlandish comedies or loaded with emotional stakes. Rather, the “in between” episodes are perfect to break up the season. This season has swung wildly to either outrageous, often annoying bits of comedy, or more down-to-earth emotional storylines involving Haley’s pregnancy. The “in between” episode gives us a break from all of that, allowing the stories to move forward without all the weight of being a significant episode filled with revelations. “Blasts From The Past” is simply a solid episode, one with a fair amount of laughs that also sets the table for a whole lot of chaos down the road.

That chaos begins at the top of the episode when Haley and Dylan surprise Claire and Phil with some news: they’re moving in right now, rather than when the twins come, in order to save money. Because that’s not enough, they’ve also got Dylan’s mother visiting, and she’s a character all her own. She kisses Phil and Claire on the lips when she meets them, and she goes about getting the bad vibes out of the space with sage so that Haley can start contemplating a home birth.

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Every storyline this week begins with an intrusion of some sort. For Cam, it’s realizing that a night of passion he had with Mitcheel a few nights back was inspired by Mitchell finding an old copy of Playgirl magazine that he cherished because it featured his childhood crush David Duchovny. For Jay, it’s Gloria and Manny intruding on the family history he’s so carefully cultivated, digging up dirt on his war hero uncle to prove that he sold military secrets for rum and a corset, the latter allowing him to escape into the night dressed as a woman. All of this is ridiculous, but “Blasts From The Past” never really goes off the deep end with it. You know how the show can just drag out the premises for predictable jokes sometimes? That doesn’t happen here. Instead, this is a pretty tight half hour, and the pacing is admirable.

I know it’s a low bar, but I like when Cam and Mitchell are just kind of playful with their conflict. There’s so many times when it gets nasty, and then the show can’t possibly deal with the consequences of that so there’s no real resolution, resulting in a storyline that just fizzles out. So, I’ll gladly take the two of them bickering about finding other men attractive, and learning that they both oggle good-looking men now and again, and that it’s okay because it’s rather harmless in the grand scheme of things. They each get off a few good zingers. Like I said, it’s playful in a way that’s rather charming.

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If you read these reviews on a weekly basis, you know I have no patience for anything involving Jay and Gloria. The show’s run out of ideas with them, which makes this week’s story a breath of fresh air. There’s not a lot to it, but it’s the resolution that matters. Jay returns the favor and does some digging to find dirt on Gloria’s uncle, but when he sees that Joe is drawing inspiration from his story, he can’t help but put his petty grievances aside. It’s no big tear-jerking moment or anything, but it’s sweet in a way that Modern Family isn’t these days.

With all that said, one thing needs to be addressed: what the hell is going on with Manny? What is this storyline involving a previous fling with a girl at the library? Apparently Manny hasn’t called this girl back after a couple of dates, and at the end of the episode he assures her that he’s no longer seeing Shoshanna. But, what happened to Sherry, his Canadian girlfriend? I genuinely can’t keep track of what’s happening in Manny’s love life, and while that’s fine because he’s the worst, it’s also drives me crazy.

Anyways, Manny’s strange playboy lifestyle aside, “Blast From The Past” is the kind of episode this season could use more of. Some of the stuff with Dylan’s mother doesn’t work, relying too much on hokey jokes about hippie-type mothers, but it’s largely a nice break from the overbearing, though well-handled, seriousness of previous episodes. It’s important to treat Haley’s pregnancy seriously, but Modern Family needs that lightness too. “Blast From The Past” provides that in spades.

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Stray observations

  • Dylan’s mother pulls out magnets to treat her son getting hit in the head. Claire: “Is that how she treats all head injuries, because I have a theory.”
  • When Joe finds out that Jay’s uncle wore rattlesnake boots, he wants to know if “he killed all his clothes.”
  • Cam upon finding the copy of Playgirl in Lily’s room: “It’s heartening that print media isn’t completely dead.”
  • I feel like I missed the memo on Dylan having step-kids. Between that and Manny’s love life, I’m guessing I blacked out a few weeks ago.
  • I love that the show draws the connection between Dylan’s mother and Didi. “Coming back as Dylan’s mother? Not funny, Mom! Not funny!”

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