'Modern Family' Episode 8: When movie stars attack! by Michael Slezak - Recap

To a TV executive, I'd imagine the phrase especial guest stars Elizabeth Banks and Edward Norton would conjure up images of creative brilliance and ratings gold. But in actual practice, the stunt casting of the former as a boozy child hater and especially the latter as dreary Spandau Ballet bassist Izzy LaFontaine, threatened to derail last night's episode of ABC's normally consistent freshman hit.

To be honest, Norton can't take all the blame for not scoring a single decent laugh during the Spandau bit. Sure, his British accent was too strained, his I love the 80 hair too obvious, but the idea behind the shtick - that Julie Bowen's Claire couldn't come up with a better anniversary present for hubby Phil than free-hug coupons - didn't seem remotely credible. Phil's initial confessional response (I can't not think of things I want!'') was as amusing as his list of useless dream gifts (yogurt maker, bug vacuum, night-vision goggles), but everything else about the story arc played out in ways that were at once unfunny and unbelievable. And perhaps because of that, the final slow-dance denouement failed to move me in the way the show's sappy-happy endings usually do.

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