Right off the bat, the first scene was a dream fulfilled for me—seeing Phil Dunphy shirtless. Before you start cringing, it’s not as creepy as you think (Ed. note: it probably is). I always noticed that Phil seemed very physically fit (let’s never forget his rigorous speed-walking routine), and I always wondered if he was like, physically-fit-healthy-dad (see: Steve Carell), or shirt-secretly-busting-at-the-seams-muscley-dad (see: Mark Wahlberg). As it turns out, ladies and gentlemen, Phil’s more of a Steve than a Mark. Don’t act like you weren’t wondering about it, too.
Phil’s shirtlessness is due to what appears to be a routine check-up at the doctor’s office. The check-up naturally concludes in Phil’s doctor needing to run some additional tests, “just to be safe,” because of a soreness in Phil’s arm—sending our medically overreacting Phil into fits of worry (cancer kidney stones, anyone?).
Cameron and Mitchell arrive back at their home to relieve Alex of babysitting duties and to announce that Mitchell won the California State Bar Association Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Environmental Law—and wait, I’m sorry, is that Mitchell voluntarily TOUCHING someone?
Mitchell is either drunk from the office party or drunk off his own award (the most likely possibility) and lazily leans against Cam as Cam recounts Mitchell’s acceptance speech—“It was very Colin Firth.” Just to recap: Mitchell affectionately touched a human being IN FRONT OF another human being. Whoa.
In yet another attempt to facilitate bonding between Jay and Manny, the two plan to participate in an activity that both have only marginal interest in—golf. Just after Manny shows off his perfected Matt Damon look from Bagger Vance (I originally thought he said Bag of Ants. Either way, I have never heard of this movie. Just me?), Javier shows up to whisk Manny away for the usual Irresponsible Fun Times, this time taking the form of going to the racetrack for Manny’s birthday.
Back at Mitchell and Cam’s house, Mitchell wakes up the next morning to see that Cam has placed a trophy next to Mitchell’s on the mantle—First Place Bass Catcher Spring Fish-Off, Missouri North Division. Mitchell takes it really well. (Read: he does not take it well.)
Phil, still sweating it out wondering about the results of his medical tests, finds out his lifetime supply of razor blades had run out—which we all obviously know is a bad omen on said person’s health. Fortunately, this bad omen awards us a flashback to Phil playing in a cheesy TV game show entitled Smarty Pants.
Although Phil incorrectly answered a question with the first six digits of pi when the correct answer was banana cream, he still won a lifetime supply of free razor blades for his efforts. Claire tries to calm Phil down, consoling him with the fact that he’s gotten 15 years worth of razor blades and that his arm probably just hurts from playing quidditch with Luke (thus sealing the deal that Phil Dunphy holds the key to my heart). Luke tells Phil that his doctor called while he was in the shower, saying to have Phil call him back right away. The doctor told Phil he would call him if any of the tests came back with bad results; but when Phil tries to call back, his doctor’s on a flight to London and can’t be reached. Phil’s freakout level promptly goes up another couple of notches.
Cam and Mitchell begin a thinly veiled war of trying to make their respective trophy better than the other, and Cam calls Mitchell out for being petty. “You’re gonna be free fallin’, Tom Petty. Because you’re petty. Tom Petty. Get it?” Cam leaves and Alex drops by to pick up her cell phone, where she and Mitchell complain about having their Real Talent trophies compared with the mediocre awards given to their respective siblings/significant other. I was really hoping this would turn into another Mitchell/Alex bonding subplot like in the Express Christmas episode, but sadly Mitchell decides that their solidarity is based on the fact that he’s acting like a 14-year-old girl and he needs to grow up.
Meanwhile, certain of his impending death, Phil is spending his last moments on earth by offering his children his undivided attention as they go about their scheduled activities for the day—which basically means he creeps them out by staring at Haley while she practices Spanish with Gloria and throwing Luke off his game while Luke plays Rebel Fighters 3 with his 80-year-old BFF, Walt.
Mitchell is boringly determined to mend things with Cam. (Honestly? We couldn’t have Mitchell and Alex build a mega-trophy the size of Cam and Mitchell’s living room out of spite? Fiiiiiine.) Mitchell digs out all of Cam’s trophies that Cam kept in a box in the garage so he can place those on the mantle as well. Instead, Mitchell accidentally dumps the box on the ground, smashing most of its contents, because he saw a black mouse climbing around in the box. Cam walks up just in time to witness this seemingly premeditated destruction. Mitchell defends himself, “No, Cam, I was gonna make a big display!” and, as usual, Cam has the best, most dramatic one-liner—“I believe you have.”
During all of this, Manny, Javier, and Jay have been at the racetrack. As expected, Javier likes to bet big on unlikely horses, while Jay plays it safe and bets on more obvious winning-er horses, and Javier always ends up betting correctly. Manny gets caught up in Javier’s daring betting techniques (such as deciding which horse will win by looking into their eyes) and Debonair Javier comes out looking cool and stylish, while Jay looks boring and inhibited. Basically, the typical Javier vs. Jay sequence. BUT Jay does get to say the sweetest line of the episode when he recounts the racetrack adventure in a talking head and says, “Look, I know I’m not [Manny’s] dad. Maybe I don’t like the reminder.” Awwww.
Throughout the day word has spread that Phil is probably dying, and all of the family shows up to Phil and Claire’s house to comfort a confused Claire, who is still skeptical that anything is wrong with Phil. Phil comes downstairs and sees the whole family there and begins to freak out even more, fearing they know something he doesn’t. To add to the confusion, Javier comes along with Jay and Manny and meets the rest of the family for the first time. Eying Claire as a potentially soon-to-be-widow, he unfurls all of his charm to basically make him first in line for her next husband (or lover, as he likes to describe himself). Luckily for Phil, Javier’s charm only works on Cam, whom Mitchell has to keep telling to stop staring at Javier.
Gloria describes to everyone a dream she’d had the day before about a black mouse, which in Colombia is a bad omen. Gloria’s dream mouse, plus the mouse Mitchell found, plus the end of Phil’s lifetime supply of razors is basically the nail in Phil’s coffin, and he calls his doctor to find out what his terminal diagnosis is. As it turns out, Phil is dying of leukemia. Just kidding! All the tests came back negative and Phil’s doctor was actually just urgently calling with some real estate questions, putting him on the short list of terrible TV doctors, just after Dr. Leo Spaceman.
To celebrate Phil’s new lease on life, we’re treated to another flashback to Phil on Smarty Pants, where, among other things, he informs the moderator, “I am a fan of hip hop. Although, I try to stay neutral on the East Coast, West Coast thang.” In summary, Phil is the best and is thankfully not dying.
Watch new episodes of Modern Family on Wednesdays on ABC at 9/8c. Next week’s episode on Jan. 11 is a new episode entitled “Egg Drop.”