Overthreatening. It's a parental plague. A few nights ago, the kids were making too much noise during playtime. After a warning, Noel went in there with the big guns. "If you can't play together right, then you won't get to play together" — a pause where he almost doesn't say it, but then — "ever again." A classic overthreat. He regretted it the moment he said it. But it just comes out.
What came out of Phil Dunphy's mouth was this: "If you don't tell us who is responsible for the cigarette burn on the sofa, Christmas is cancelled." And then what can you do? You have to follow through. It's all lost if you don't follow through on your threats. You'll never get them to take you seriously again. All the parenting books say so.
The problem is that Christmas is just too big for any family to deal with rationally. That's illustrated not only in the Dunphy dilemma, which revolves around the paradox that you can't use Christmas as a bargaining chip because the consequences of taking Christmas away from a kid are just unthinkable, but also in the other two storylines. Jay is annoyed that Manny and Gloria want to bring some of their Colombian practices into his beloved Christmas traditions. First Miracle On 34th Street is ruined by a joke monster ("Innocente!" Manny yells, marking Jay as the butt of the traditional Christmas practical joke); then come the requests for cheese fritters and fireworks. Jay just wants to have the Christmas he enjoyed when his first set of kids were in the house. It's too big for him to see as an area of potential compromise.
And then there's Mitchell, who wants his infant to have the perfect Santa picture at the mall even though she's too young to have any idea what's going on or enjoy it. His complaints about the thin and unjolly Santa in the chair lead to the man getting fired — and then deciding to kill them with kindness, although he could have just killed them with that big-ass knife in his Santa boot. Tormented with guilt over the man's homelessness, Mitchell and Cameron invite him over for dinner, then freak out about the threat he poses to their little family. ("I just wander from town to town taking odd jobs," Scott the Homeless Santa explains. "Kind of like the Hulk!" Cameron volunteers. "Funny, that was my nickname in the Marines on account of my bad temper," Scott muses.)
What Cameron can't get past, meanwhile, is his usurpation and ouster from his caroling group the Greensleevers (now the New Greensleevers). Of course they aren't any good now — "How can he have Ellie sing the low harmony? It's like they're applauding out of pity!" he complains — but it's the principle of the thing. Maybe it's not Christmas that's too big for Cameron, but his artistic integrity.
Could we all have done without the narration at the end? Sure. But it hardly detracts from one of the funniest Christmas episodes we're likely to see this season. That's a tradition I'd be quite happy to cling nonsensically to.
- Fred Willard? Perfect choice for Phil's dad. Great little technology joke with only the top half of his head showing up in the video chat.
- Cameron, chastising Mitchell for complaining about the long Santa line, then catching sight of the New Greensleevers: "Somebody needs to get in the holiday sonofabitch!"
- Phil: "I can forgive the smoking, but I can't forgive the lie." Catching Claire's eye: "Or smoking."
- Scott the Homeless Santa has too many good lines to quote, but I'll try: In reference to living in his car, "It's pretty roomy since the wife moved out." Responding to the dinner invitation, "Can I bring anything? Ketchup, soy sauce, straws?" And of course, the new gay Christmas tradition of a shirtless Santa: "Who wants to try the swing?"
- "Burrito, burr-eye-to."
- "What happened?" "Doesn't matter! Wreath, stockings, tree, presents, go!"