Modern Family Review: “Closetcon ’13” (Season 5, Episode 8)


Modern Family rarely goes for a big pop culture allusion, but when it does, it is usually perfect. (Cases in point: the startlingly strong reenactment of the baptism scene from The Godfather in season four and the clever Say Anything reference in an earlier season where Dylan raises a boombox outside of Haley’s window.)

Here, they parody Apollo 13. After spending hours putting the pieces of the replica’s two parts together, Phil stays in the basement to attach two of the modules together. Luke and Manny, dressed for dinner in matching white shirts and skinny black ties, recalling workers at mission control, are visibly nervous. Gloria, Haley and Alex watch, captivated, from a monitor upstairs (it was brought up earlier in the episode that the Pritchetts had a new security system installed). Phil’s dad, Frank (recurring guest Fred Willard) has Skyped in from Florida and has helped his son through the rebuilding. As Phil brings the two pieces together after a fittingly inspirational speech, the music swells and the action intercuts between the characters at a greater speed. It is a note-perfect parody.

The third closet refers to the proverbial ‘skeletons in the closet’ that come out when Jay and Claire head to a closet industry trade show together. Claire wants to head to many of the floor lectures, but Jay insists that all work and business deals are actually made at the bar. (Was it just me, or did the typically restrained documentary-style camerawork become tipsy to the point of distraction during the episode’s opening scene at the hotel?) Networking at the bar, Claire notices Jay chatting an old woman friend, Rita (Randee Heller). When she catches Rita coming back to Jay’s room, she infers that her father – who was away on business all the time when she was little – is sleeping around.

In fact, Jay and Rita are setting up a skeleton toy in the closet to frighten Claire. Even for the old-timers, this seems like an ancient trick. However, the father and daughter end up unleashing significant skeletons in their own closets. It all comes out in a four-minute two-person scene near the end of the episode where all is laid bare. Although this is an exceptionally long scene for a 22-minute sitcom, episode director Fred Savage effectively uses Jay turning on and off the bedside light to pace the scene, as he tries to avoid more drama and go to sleep. (Perhaps it is another film reference, since a pivotal scene at a hotel room in The Graduate also used the turning on and off of a bedside lamp to layer a confrontation between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson.)

We have seen in episodes past Jay’s dislike of Phil and Claire’s jealousy of Gloria, but not yet have we heard the lengths that Jay and Claire went to remove their family member’s love from their lives. The revelations cut surprisingly deep and it is a credit to the actors and writers that these big reveals – Jay tried to sell Phil off to a friend in the business when he was engaged to Claire, Claire sent an anonymous tip about Gloria to the Dept. of Immigration – come out naturally and are not rushed through.

One great comedic set piece and a surprisingly adept dramatic scene close what may be the best episode of Modern Family season five so far. The three plots this week all work very well, becoming more poignant and witty than their initial set-up would suggest, and all of the actors are at the top of their game.