So my husband is turning 40 this fall. He reminded me of this fact while we were watching "Game Changer." "Is that okay?" I asked, knowing that this milestone might come with mixed emotions. "I'm just saying, if you ever wanted to get me a really awesome present, this is the year," he remarked. "I'm a lot like Phil in many ways …"
Yes, and can I pretend that my birthday this year is special enough for an iPad too? Never have I identified so much with Modern Family's resident doofus. Not only is he obsessed with the iPad, which goes on sale on his birthday ("It's like God and Steve Jobs got together to say 'We love you Phil'"), but his dream breakfast food is a waffle between two slices of French toast wrapped in a pancake. It's like someone is listening in on my secret fantasies.
This was the Phil show in full effect. Even though there were funny moments in the other two stories, Phil's journey from excitement to near-catatonic resignation ("honey, it's okay, I don't feel things anymore," he reassures Claire) to euphoric rebirth was brilliantly played. I don't think Phil is the only thing keeping MF at the top of the current crop of sitcoms, but would the show be Peabody-worthy without him? I doubt it.
It all starts when Claire, thrilled to have a handle on what Phil actually wants for his birthday (her previous idea was light-up barbecue tongs), offers to camp out at the Apple store to get him the iPad he craves. But she falls asleep on the couch before making it out the door, and the gadget is sold out before she gets there. "They'll have more next week," she tells Phil. "Next week?" he cries. "That's like the worst thing you can say to an early adopter!" And he's off to Funzone, the site of his greatest birthday up to this point. ("I was 11 years old. I hit ten straight fastballs in the batting cage, then my friend Jeff Sweeney took one in the groin. I yelled 'ball two!' Everybody laughed. That's when I knew I was funny.") Claire enlists all the kids to help track down an iPad — well, she enlists Haley, Alex, and their various social networks; she just tells Luke to stop inhaling helium. But her last chance evaporates when she forgets her wallet, calls Mitchell for an assist, and then gets thrown out of the line for fighting with a guy who cut in front.
Well, she wasn't fighting; it was Mitchell, who earlier succumbed to insecurity about his ability to defend Lily when he thought he heard someone in her room. Cam grabbed a bat and said "It's go time"; Mitch grabbed a rolled-up newspaper and broke out his best flinching moves. So he goes to Jay's place for some belated instruction in combat techniques. Jay shows him a sleeper hold, but gets distracted realizing that Manny tricked him into losing at chess, suckering him in by appearing to be a beginner and then busting out a four-move checkmate that cost Jay his watch. ("What are you doing here at [ostentatious glance at wrist] 4:17 on a Saturday afternoon?" Manny asks Mitch when answering the door.) Gloria instructed Manny to lose because Jay's such a whiner ("with the kicking and the eyebrows and the angry eating of the sunflower seeds"), and then reveals that she, too, tanked their only chess game during their honeymoon.
And what of that intruder? Why, it was just bleed from another baby monitor in the neighborhood. Listening in, though, Cameron learns that the wife in the other house thinks her husband is having an affair. Then when another overheard conversation reveals that the husband is just taking Italian lessons after work to please the wife's grandmother, Cam takes on the job of saving their marriage.
There's not much to the Cam, Mitchell, or Jay storylines. But oh, my friends, what could be better than Phil at Funzone, staring into space with a little smile on his face, adjusting to a new place where nobody is going to give him the birthday he wants. Believing for a moment that Claire has arranged for a Funzone party for him, finding a black family at the pavilion — disappointment again — then suddenly they all yell "Happy birthday Phil!", sending him into orbit for an instant, until the real birthday boy emerges from behind him. "Key to a good birthday? Low expectations," he tells the confessional. Then when the iPad emerges (courtesy of Luke, of course, the only person not engaged in the hunt, using his highly-developed lying skills), Phil's joy is completely infectious. "All this time I said I didn't care but I do care — so much!" he enthuses.
Me too, Phil. So much.
- Gloria tries to trip Manny up on his spelling words, believing that the teacher is going to try to fool him.
- Best moment of the Cam-Mitch storyline: Cameron telling Mitchell, "You're so cute when you're angry with your little fists. I just want to put you in my pocket."
- Phil's trash talk to the pitching machine: "Maybe you should come to the doctor and I'll … get rid of it!"
- Mitchell returns a toolbelt to Jay and brags about doing some construction. "What were you building?" "Gift wrapping station." "And we're back."
- My son is huge into chess. I bet he could tell me the name of that mate Manny inflicts on Jay. Is it Fool's Mate? He's told me all about Fool's Mate, but I admit I can't follow chess notation when spoken.