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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Modern Family: "The Bicycle Thief"

Illustration for article titled iModern Family/i: The Bicycle Thief
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Illustration for article titled iModern Family/i: The Bicycle Thief

What makes a great dad?  Tonight we get a profile in three strategies.  Well, not strategies so much as blunders that somehow work out, more or less.

Jay has to be a dad to his young Columbian wife's boy, Manny — a task neither of them took on willingly.  And it gets worse when Manny keeps blathering on about how amazing his real dad, Javier, is.  "My dad's not scared of anything," he boasts.  "He doesn't even wear a seat belt when he drives.  He killed a bear once."  "Really?" Jay deadpans. "Was he sitting in the passenger seat?

The weekend plan is that Javier is going to pick up Manny and take him to Disneyland, while Jay and Gloria head up to Napa for some wine country relaxation.  But first, Gloria wants Jay to have some bonding time with Manny putting up a ceiling fan in his room.  "My culture takes great pride in physical labor," she explains.  "That's why I hire people from your culture," Jay responds.  Jay becomes impatient with Manny trying to get him to follow instructions and heed safety warnings, and the chore explodes into "I never wanted you to be my dad!" and "You think I was excited about the idea?", and Manny heads off to sit on the curb to wait for his real dad.

Meanwhile Mitchell is stressing out about making a good impression at the toddler playgroup he and Cameron are about to attend for the first time, and urges Cameron to tone down his more flamboyant side — the "Cam Show" — the better to fit in with the hetero parents. ("Oh my gosh, people love the Cam Show," Cam reminds him.  "It's appointment viewing.")  Little does he know that it's not just the adults who are going to be judged.  When a mother asks if Lily is grabbing or scooting, Mitchell realizes for the first time that toddlerhood is a competition — one that Lily isn't aware of yet.  "Oh, absolutely!" he enthuses.  "When she's not grabbing, she's scooting!"  While Cameron bites his tongue at another mother's assertion that Meryl Streep was miscast in Mamma Mia!, Mitchell is so desperate to have Lily appear accomplished that he steals another toddlers block stack and playfully (and loudly) scolds her for building it too high.

Lily's disinterest in all things block can't be solved with one trip to the playgroup, but at least Mitchell's paranoia about being too much the gay couple proves misplaced when a very gay couple arrives to general cheers from all the other parents.  Cameron, who had previously done a stately two-step during the hello dance, gets permission to cut loose during the parent dance, during which he smoothly bumps his paisley-clad rival off the floor.

And in the episode's funniest storyline, Phil insists on buying son Luke a new bike because he's sensitive to the slurs that might be hurled at Luke for riding his older sister's hand-me-down (butched up with black electrical tape outlining "11" on the flowered front basket).  But he has to prove Claire wrong; she doesn't think Luke can take care of his own bike.  When Phil finds Luke's bike left unlocked outside of a store, he decides to "steal" it to teach Luke a lesson about responsibility.  But on his way home, he's stopped by the buxom Desiree, a new and very attractive neighbor, who's locked herself out of her house.  When Phil emerges after shimmying through a window to let her in, the bike he left on the sidewalk is gone.

Back at the bike shop, he tells the salesman the ironic story.  ("Maybe that was your dad teaching you a lesson," the salesman speculates.)  After buying a new bike, he heads home to put the fear of God in Luke for leaving the original bike unattended.  But Luke's fear is about a scratch on the bike obtained while putting it in the garage, and it dawns on Phil — he stole somebody else's bike.  Which means he needs to get the new bike back to the shop before Claire … oh, too late.  Claire professes to find the whole thing quite amusing — "Classic Phil!" she enthuses — until Desiree comes walking down the driveway with the bike.  The one that disappeared from in front of her house while Phil was crawling in her window during the help-a-neighbor episode that he has not told Claire about, the one that some other helpful neighbor rolled into Desiree's garage.

"More good news!" Phil tells the confessional.  "I taught some random kid a lesson by stealing his bike."  Now that's the kind of dad I want to watch on TV.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

- This episode is even better than the pilot.  It deepens the neuroses that drive the characters, it solidifies the style, and it differentiates itself nicely — in the kinds of stories it tells and the tone and method of the telling — from Arrested Development, the touchstone for most of the descriptions of the pilot.  I really appreciate the assurance of the presentation, as much as the undeniable humor of the situations.

- Phil's double-entendre while praising the house that Desiree — clad in a cleavage-revealing sport bra — has just moved into: "Great, um, deck!"

- Phil tells Claire that the bike he stole was stolen from him while he was at the gas station filling up the car.  "Don't you usually stay by the car while you're filling it up?" she asks. "I was thirsty, so I went inside to get a soda, so I wouldn't be thirsty anymore, and then I drank it all right there, which is why I don't have the can!" Phil improvises.

- Best laugh of the night: Phil tries in vain to back Claire into the house under the pretext of a hug to avoid Desiree and the bike coming down the driveway, then when Claire turns around, he actually tries to cover her eyes with his hands for a second.

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