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Modern Family Australian episode review: Every cliche in the book

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It was ultimately Phil Dunphy's story.

In an elaborate plot from which to hang this holiday special, Dunphy (Ty Burrell) reveals he was conceived while his mother was on an Aussie stopover, and drags his extended clan halfway across the world in a bid to get in touch with his roots.

A couple of unfortunate incidents with Vegemite and a kangaroo later, we see the hapless dad questioning whether he carries the hardy core that is a part of being Australian. And, yes, apparently he does, re-emerging triumphantly as "Crocodile" Dunphy.

It's little more than two months since the cast and crew of one of the world's biggest sitcoms sparked a frenzy among fans and the media as they were spotted filming in tourist spots across Sydney and Hayman Island, in a production aided by a generous helping hand from Qantas.

And from viewing Sunday night's episode of Modern Family, it's clear this particular vacation special went far beyond using Australia as merely an exotic backdrop to the slapstick tornadoes of family dramas that the show is known and loved for. Rife with cliches, stereotypes and contrived set-ups, this episode won't win any awards and, at worst, comes across as a holiday brochure assembled by tourism bosses rather than TV creatives.

From its opening scene, where Luke Dunphy (Nolan Gould) is doing a handstand with the Opera House in the background and declaring Australia was ''on the bottom of the globe, so everybody but me is upside down'', there was little doubt that the show was going to hammer home its holiday location.


From then on, every cliche in the book turns up: there's Bondi surfer hunks, aboriginal bush guides, meat pies and, bizarrely, even a bikie gang.

At the very least, the tourism industry will be pleased with what is most definitely for them a very agreeable 30-minute international advertisement for the home country. Aussie audiences will likely have been cringing all the way through, but for US audiences, when it aired last Wednesday, it was the biggest show of the night in the 18-49 demographic, drawing 9.2 million viewers.

But there were some sprinkles of the spritely quick wit that is the show's brilliance, and thankfully it is an affectionate look at Australia that falls short of mockery. In the few glimpses of the sharp writing that has been the show's drawcard since it first aired in 2009, Eric Stonestreet's bottomless supply of hamming it up as Cam is endlessly watchable. Little Aubrey Anderson-Emmons as Lily delivers her usual effortless scene-stealing – in responding to a warning about doing something she might regret, she replies with sage, melancholy resignation ''you're right, I have enough regret''.

There's also a welcome return to the small screen of the perky buffoonery of Rhys Darby, who cameos as a big-time TV host and a former acquaintance of Cam and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).

The whole episode builds towards a stunning montage of the cast's jaunt around Hayman Island and the Great Barrier Reef, nicely matched by Colin Hay's 2003 gently tropical number To Have and To Hold. Perhaps it's only this moment that might score points with overseas and Australian audiences simultaneously, in hitting home for both sides that there are some pretty unforgettable moments up for grabs here.

There is little argument that the show overdid it in whacking viewers over the head with its portrayal of 'Straya. But at least there will be no question of anyone asking "where the bloody hell were they?"