Modern Family’s attempts at holiday episodes this season have been disappointing: Putting Christmas together in a day for “Express Christmas” wasn’t much of a gift for fans, and no Clive Bixby appearance on Valentine’s Day only added to the episode’s woes. But then along comes “Leap Day,” which we now think should be turned into a national holiday, thanks to Phil Dunphy and Cam Tucker.
The episode’s two main storylines focus on Leap Day: February 29 is Cameron’s 10th (aka 40th birthday), and it’s up to Mitchell to create a birthday bash to remember; Phil feels that Leap Day should be celebrated con gusto because it’s like a bonus day once every four years. He arranges for the entire family to take part in learning how to trapeze at the Santa Monica pier.
Now this wouldn’t be Modern Family—or any sitcom for that matter—if things went according to plan. Thank goodness things get really screwed up because viewers are treated to the best episode of the season, even if one of the plots revolves around women’s menstrual cycles.
Yes, you read that correctly (though little Luke incorrectly refers to his mother and sisters’ periods as the time when they’re “monsterating,” which may or may not be a malapropism. The kid might just be calling ‘em like he sees ‘em.)
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The scene in the Dunphy house unfolds with Luke, Phil and Manny eating breakfast while they discuss the game plan for hitting the trapeze. Phil notices that Claire is weeping silently on the sofa while watching TV. It takes us a second to realize that we hear Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” and deduce that Claire’s watching that really, really depressing ASPCA infomercial, which makes the moment so true and funny at the same time. (Though we would never make fun of the plight of shelter dogs, that commercial is ridiculously sad.)
Alex and Haley join their mom in the weep fest on the couch, and Phil frantically looks at the calendar and realizes that all the women in the house have gotten on the same cycle. He thought that it was an urban legend, but now realizes that he has to deal with “Satan’s trifecta.” Okay, some women might find this storyline offensive, but when you look at it from Phil’s perspective, it’s hysterical. He even tries to teach Luke, who’s also noticed a change in moods in his mom and sisters, a little male wisdom: “First rule of dealing with the cycle is never mentioning the cycle.”
Claire dislikes the fact that Phil won’t talk to her about the mood issue, so she bows out of trapezing, along with the girls. They also decide to keep Luke home with them, leaving Phil scrambling to free Luke because he won’t leave a man behind. The rest of the episode becomes a battle of the sexes that involves fake blood and Luke’s “monsterating” comment. When confronted by the women about his lack of respect, all he can do is utter, “I’m so scared,” and we can totally see that fear etched in Ty Burrell’s face.
Meanwhile, in the midst of planning Cam’s birthday party, Mitchell realizes that the Wizard of Oz recreation in their living room was a timely mistake. He had totally overlooked the fact that Cam’s Midwestern family was still dealing with damage from a recent spate of storms, and throwing a party “based on gay cinema’s most famous tornado” was insensitive. (Though we would have loved to see Cam in those ruby red loafers that Mitchell had made for him.)
So with less than two hours to go, Mitchell has the party planner book a boat cruise. He’s under a lot of pressure to get things right this time around because last time, despite Cam’s insistence on a quiet “ninth” birthday, he really wanted a big bash. In a flashback, we see Mitchell ask Cam if he’d rather watch a rom-com, horror or both: Maid in Manhattan. Cam—sporting a great porn ‘stache—picks up the phone instead. When Mitchell asks what he’s doing, Cam responds, “I’m canceling our baby.” So yeah, Mitch is under a lot of pressure to get this one right.
But when they arrive at the dock, the captain informs them that they need to ditch some of the guests because he can only take 30 people—a head count includes the crew. The captain explains that he could have had another boat, but with only two hours notice, it was difficult. Whoops.
No one gets on the boat because in a heated argument, Gloria hits the captain, and he orders everyone to get off the dock. (Not much to speak about in Jay and Gloria’s redundant storyline this week. We only wish they had a chance at more meaty stories.)
Cam’s birthday celebration is ruined, and so was Phil’s trapeze day, right? Wrong. In one of the more heartfelt endings, Mitchell realizes that what Cam really wanted for his birthday was something that they’d argued about earlier: He wanted to be 10 again. The entire family goes to the amusement park on the pier, and despite closing time, the Dunphy women scare the man at the trapeze desk to strap Phil in for the last ride of the night.
Cam and Mitch are having a blast on the rides, and they look so much like a couple in love that maybe even conservative America will accept their gay kiss from earlier in the episode.
With “Leap Day,” this show made us do something that we haven’t done many times throughout the season—laugh out loud—a lot. It’s too bad that every day can’t be Leap Day for Modern Family.