Photo: ABC/Ron Tom

“On The Same Paige” begins with a misunderstanding. Claire wakes up and comes to the kitchen, grabbing Phil’s ass and making a horrendous joke about “peaches” that only a coupled married for so long could make. The cute/cringeworthy moment gets worse when “Phil” is revealed to be one of his students. He’s started taking office hours at home—for reasons that are unclear and certainly against college guidelines—and that means everyone in the house is now randomly mistaking the boringly dressed students for Phil. It’s the first of many misunderstandings, and it sets the tone for an episode that’s light on any sort of dramatic developments, but heavy on solid comedic timing.

The lack of dramatic stakes is actually more than welcome, coming on the heels of last week’s episode where Didi, Jay’s ex-wife and Mitchell and Claire’s mother, died. That episode was a near-perfect balance of effective emotions and well-timed jokes. It’s a balance the show doesn’t always get right, but last week pulled everything together in a way that felt meaningful and surprising. So, the very, very light stakes of “On The Same Paige” feels like a necessary breath after all of that. I mean, look at that picture of Mitchell flying around in a bee suit. You know this isn’t Modern Family’s best, but what can I say, it works in this specific time and place.

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The misunderstandings start to pile up at the Pritchett household when Joe refuses to wear the eyepatch meant to correct his lazy eye, and Jay is feeling guilty about a friendly relationship he has with a young mom at Joe’s school. The latter provides some of the best and worst scenes of the night. While Jay getting nervous about all his “accidental double entendres” is seriously tired comedy, there’s a great bit where Cam and Mitchell tease Jay about his emails with this mom, treating it like a schoolyard crush. It’s delightful in its playfulness; Cam and Mitchell know exactly what buttons to push.

That story spins off into one less about misunderstandings and more about missed opportunities. When Mitch and Cam use Jay’s club money to indulge in some spa time, Mitch immediately gets embarrassed by his husband. When they go for a couples massage, Cam can’t help but moan along to every single bit of pressure, and he insists on making cute quips about the masseurs. It’s too much for Mitchell, so he simply leaves the room and checks out.

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Modern Family has always shown that Cam and Mitchell are a bit of an odd pair, and this rather meaningless subplot, in the grand scheme of things at least, does a good job of exposing both their weaknesses and strengths as a couple. While Mitchell certainly has a point about Cam, there’s something more harmful here. Cam confronts him in the club’s locker room, telling him that he’s constantly shushing and berating him and Lily for “living out loud.” He says that such an attitude means he’s missing out on life experiences, the latest of which is a fundraiser for Lily’s school featuring the dads performing various songs and sketches.

It’s a rather trite storyline, but it works because it keeps Cam and Mitchell grounded. Their storylines can often devolve into hysterical nonsense, and while this one does feature a ruined memorial to the school’s lunch lady, the character work is sound. Mitchell takes Cam’s criticism to heart, and that leads to him pushing out of his comfort zone. It’s a small victory, yes, but it’s one that feels significant within this specific relationship.

Jay and Gloria’s story of misunderstanding and misplaced affection doesn’t ever hit the mark, but that’s allowed to be the dud of the episode because Phil, Claire, Luke, and a real estate student named Paige make for some of the episode’s best comedy. It all starts when Phil begins to “charm” a student of his who he needs to stay in his class in order to meet his minimum number of students. She also happens to be the object of Luke’s affection, and when Phil finds a note of hers that says “Mrs. Paige Dunphy,” it’s unclear who she sees as her potential partner.

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Look, the storyline is a tad creepy, but it works within this context because of the staging. When Luke invites Paige over for dinner, Phil assumes she’s set a romantic dinner for the two of them, which leaves him scrambling to set the record straight while also not allowing her to drop the class before the deadline. It’s ludicrous and ridiculous, but it’s a lot of fun because every scene hinges on layers of miscommunication and misunderstood intentions. It’s a storyline that ties in Claire’s need for validation and perfection, Phil’s own ego when it comes to his charm, Luke’s blindness to just about everything, and all while staging scene after scene that involves those characters completely misinterpreting everything Paige is saying. It’s not a perfect comedy of errors, but when coupled with Cam and Mitchell’s low-key conflict and resolution, it’s enough to make “On The Same Paige” a welcome, lighthearted follow-up to “Good Grief.”


Stray observations

  • I love when Manny is absent for an entire episode.
  • When one masseur introduces “himself and Julio,” Cam can’t help but ask a very specific question: “did you by any chance happen to meet down by the schoolyard?”
  • Claire’s perspective on Luke’s date: “She deserves better than boxed wine. Haley hides a bottle under her bed.”

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