Modern Family Season 3:09 ‘Punkin Chunkin’

“Dreamer’s versus Pritchett’s”

Phil (Ty Burrell), Cam (Eric Stonestreet), Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Gloria (Sophia Vergara) are creative souls who thrive on dreaming of bigger and better things. Jay (Ed O’Neill), Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Claire (Julie Bowen) are realists who find flaw in most things but they mean well. The Modern Family episode “Punkin Chunkin” explores why these two sides need each other and how, in the end, no one is just a dreamer and no one is just a realist.

For year’s Cam has told a story about ‘Punkin Chunkin’ that Mitchell is convinced isn’t true. As Cam tells it, with the dramatic fervor of Nicholas Sparks meets Ernest Hemingway, he and friends that Mitchell has never met, once loaded a pumpkin into a sling and shot it across a football field, over the goal posts and landed it through the sunroof of a car.

Claire and Phil have a visitor. Kenneth (Josh Gad) is a creepy kid who used to live across the street. To be fair, only Claire thought he was creepy; Phil was the kid’s hero and thus Phil loved the kid. Today, Kenneth is a multi-millionaire college drop-out who claims that he owes all of his success to one very supportive friend, Phil.

This revelation, along with an intuitive question from Lucas (Nolan Gould), sets Phil off to figure out why someone who took his advice is a multi-millionaire and he isn’t. The answer is Claire. After little consideration Phil pegs his troubles to his wife who has shot down each of his potentially lucrative ideas including:

“The Rice Pudding Franchise” (“Works for all chewing abilities”)

“Adult Tricycles” (“Just try to fall off”)

“The Aspirin Gun” (“Some people have a hard time swallowing”)

The one idea that Phil has maintained over the years, even having created a working prototype, is
“The Real Head-Scratcher” TM. It’s a helmet that gently scratches your head for you. Yes, it’s as dopey an idea as it sounds but Phil believes in it, even after it nearly takes a chunk out of his scalp.

Manny has created a centerpiece for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s hideous but Gloria doesn’t want to tell him. Jay, on the other hand, feels that a little helpful criticism is part of growing up. This subplot isn’t nearly as funny as the other two plots which is likely why it was the most truncated of the three main storylines.

The Jay-Gloria debate over Manny’s centerpiece was likely the story that lost the most time to Alex and Haley’s completely unnecessary D-story about putting a dent in Claire’s car. I can’t think of one good reason this plot even exists aside from filler and a wont to get Ariel Winter and Sarah Hyland some screen-time.

The three main plots come together at Thanksgiving when Mitchell and Cam’s fight spills over into a challenge: Cam is to chunk a punkin’ across the local High School football field. This is where Modern Family is able to things in a story that other shows struggle with. After creating stories that draw on often broad themes, like Phil’s wacky business ideas, Modern Family has the capability to come back around and deliver honest sentimentality.

The closing moments of “Punkin Chunkin” in which the realists finally come around to the side of the dreamers and join in the fun of chunkin punkins was well-earned. One of the great things about Modern Family is how unforced the stories are and “Punkin Chunkin” is a great example of how the show moves deftly from broad farce to honest, heartwarming, sweetness.

Random notes:

Josh Gad’s Kenneth had no arc. He was introduced, he inspired Phil’s story and then he disappeared without resolution. I understand that Kenneth is going to be brought back in the future but this was a rare moment of clumsiness on the part of the usually cleverly careful Modern Family writers.

How many takes do you think he and Lucas did on their commercial for “The Real Head-Scratcher” TM? I imagine Phil wanting multiple takes for some reason.

In the Alex and Haley story, I did enjoy the bit of physical comedy employed by Haley to keep Claire from seeing the dent in the van. It was a little thing and not so funny that it justified this unnecessary subplot but it was amusing.

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