Fresh off of winning four Emmy Awards including best comedy, the powerhouse known as Modern Family returned for a fourth season on ABC with a very funny episode entitled "Bringing Up Baby" that picks up right where the Season 3 finale left off. While Gloria worries about how to tell her husband that she's pregnant, Jay is forcibly removed from his home to celebrate his 65th birthday. From the moment that Phil (Ty Burrell) and Jay's old buddies Shorty and Miles bust into the house, stuff a sack over his head, and drag him out the door, this was one of the funniest scenes in recent memory. Interactions between Jay and Phil are usually gold and the plan to abduct his father-in-law for his birthday is classic Phil. Cracked me up.
By far, the highlight of the show this week was the return of Chazz Palminteri as Shorty, who was suspected of being gay during an episode in the first season when Mitchell notes his smart dress habits and overly complimentary words toward men. In the end, it turned out he was straight, but a poor gambler. Here, Shorty makes unusually kind compliments toward Phil about how good he would look with a beard, "like a between-projects Jon Hamm." Shorty definitely got the best lines of the episode, advising Phil to calm Jay down when they were in the water by punching him in the head. Allegedly quoting his uncle, Shorty declared that they should enjoy the rest of the day: "Let's not let a botched kidnapping ruin an afternoon." Later, while discussing beards again, Phil mentions that he once grew a soul patch and Shorty posits that a soul patch is just "a beard's crap." Great guest appearance with exquisite timing and delivery.
Denied another child, Mitchell and Cam attempt to adopt a cat at the behest of daughter Lily, but discover it's almost as difficult as adopting a human. It's funny because it's true. When I adopted my cat from a rescue agency, there was paperwork, a phone interview, and an in-home visit before I could get the damn thing. This leads to the funniest visual gag the show has done in a while, as the oversized stuffed animals strapped to the roof of their car—an elephant and a gorilla—fall into highly inappropriate sexual positions. Each time Cam and Mitchell think they have fixed the problem, the giant plushies end up bumping uglies in some other way. This was subtle at first and pretty clever.
By the end of the episode, Gloria tells Jay that she's pregnant and expects the worst, but Jay surprises her with his overwhelming happiness about the situation. After spending all day with his retired friends and listening to them talk about old-man stuff, Jay feared that his life was ending, but the new baby will allow him to start all over again. The show then flash-forwards a few months to reveal that Gloria is still hot even when she's pregnant, Phil grew a beard and ended up shaving it down to a biker mustache, and Cam and Mitchell adopted a vicious cat named Larry. The way it all came together was well done and quickly brought us up to speed on the Pritchett-Dunphy clan.
Although I still don't think any episode has touched anything in Season 1, Modern Family knows how to tug at the heart strings without completely shoving your face in it. Even the end of Manny's heartfelt poem devolved into insulting Jay's age in prose before it got too sickeningly sweet. This season premiere was a strong start and as long as they don't focus too much on the mopey gay couple and their irritating child, Season 4 should be a good one.
FINAL GRADE: A-