TV Recap: Modern Family, “The Old Man And The Tree,” (5.10)



December 11th, 2013, 9PM, ABC

On Christmas Eve, Phil spends hours on his elliptical machine trying to run the equivalent number of miles from their house to Canada so that he’ll be allowed to keep it in the bedroom and fulfill his bet with Claire. He’s cheered on by Luke, who has his own ulterior motives for wanting the elliptical to stay in the bedroom. Gloria clashes with her perfectionist mother, then with Claire when her mother expresses preference for Claire and her life over Gloria’s. Jay drags Manny out into the woods to cut down a tree and bring the Pritchett Family traditions back to life. Due to a clerical error, Mitch misreads Lily’s Christmas list and is forced to look for a “Puppy Pound” on Christmas Eve, and then is stuck shopping for unexpected presents for Pepper Saltzman’s party. Lily and Cam go to a charity event and Lily accidentally becomes the center of attention…and charity. Hayley and Alex work at the mall in Santa’s Workshop, where Alex gets a little too into her role as Missus Claus.

“The Old Man and the Tree” is another scattershot episode, but unlike last week’s episode it contains several enjoyable plot twists and points.

The best segments belong to Phil once again, and “The Old Man and the Tree” provides Ty Burell with another chance to show off his physical comedy chops. He is consistently hilarious as he sweats, hallucinates, and dreams of a Canadian victory. As a bonus we even get a Luke appearance that avoided being either brusque or creepy for the most part.

o-MODERN-FAM-CHRISTMAS-TREE-facebookJulie Bowen and Sophia Vergara are wonderful in their own subplot, as they learn something about sisterhood-and the secret meaning behind moms who send Christmas slippers.

The Cam/Mitchell subplot is fitfully funny, occasionally cringeworthy and often smirk-worthy-so basically like being stuck in a car with a spoiled child headed to a Christmas party.

And in even better news, Alex and Hayley are handed a non-creepy plot and are allowed to run with it! Though they continue to write Alex in an age-inappropriate manner, their plot is one hundred percent traditional Christmastime sitcom-goodness. It’s funny and it’s sweet and it works as well as any Christmas plot has worked on a TV show (and this is one well-worn plot).

Which leaves the sadly bland and forgettable Manny and Jay subplot. The idea’s a good one-of course Jay would worry about family traditions being extinguished by the flood of time and modern technology-but the sight of Manny and Jay out there in the wilderness trying to saw a tree down and carry it home never really gels into something funny or particularly enjoyable. Which is odd, because Ed O’Neil and Rico Rodriguez are usually show highlights.

As always, Modern Family is an ensemble piece. The problem with that is that sometimes the sum is not equal to its parts. This week’s episode is a clear example of that. Watch it in clips to best enjoy it.

The Roundup

  • Classic straight into the camera take by Julie Bowen!
  • Elizabeth Pena appears again as Gloria’s mom.
  • “What’s Robert Maplethorpe?” MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!
  • And this is how well-worn the old “Main character works at Santa’s Workshop in the mall and disaster ensues” plot is-it played a main role in both last week’s Glee and this past week’s Goldbergs.
  • Next week: Hiatus Time! See you after the New Year!

[notification type=star]69/100 ~ OKAY. As always, Modern Family is an ensemble piece. The problem with that is that sometimes the sum is not equal to its parts. This week’s episode is a clear example of that.[/notification]


About Author

Staff Television Critic: Lisa Fernandes, formerly of, has been watching television for all of her thirty-plus years, and critiquing it for the past seven. When she's not writing, she can be found in the wilds of the Northeastern United States.