This past Wednesday, the TV series MODERN FAMILY came to an end, after 11 seasons and 250 episodes, with the 2 final episodes aired back to back. The series debuted in September 2009, and a month later I wrote a post about it: MODERN FAMILY on ABC. It’s interesting to look back at that post now and reflect on how the show has progressed.
First I’ll note that JEANNIE MAI left a comment on that post in 2010. At the time she was the host of a little show called HOW DO I LOOK? on the Style Network, where she would give make-overs to random people, and she ran her own blog which I used to comment on, and she’d interact with me and other fans. I remember she posted about Modern Family on her blog, and so I told her how I loved it too and linked to my post and that when she read it and commented. She always seemed pretty nice, and I was flattered to see that she took the time to comment on my blog, and I’m happy to see that in the years since she’s gone on to more success including co-hosting THE REAL and hosting a podcast, and is now engaged to rapper JEEZY. Good for her.
Back to Modern Family, there was this little meme floating around the internet a while ago:
What’s funny is that I first saw that I immediately thought about Modern Family basically could be a sequel to MARRIED WITH CHILDREN (which also lasted 11 seasons, making it to 259 episodes).
Al and Peg finally divorced, and Peg left Al with the kids and went off traveling the world living her life. Al quit selling shoes and opened his own Closet-making business, becoming very successful, where he eventually met and married a younger woman with a son. Claire met Phil and accidentally got pregnant, so they got married and she was determined to be a better mother than her own, so she became a devoted housewife and tried to put her wild past behind her. And Bud eventually realized that the reason he always had so much bad luck with girls is because he’s actually gay. And once he realized that and came out, his life got better, he eventually became a lawyer and then met and moved in with Cam.
Really, it fits so well that if some networked tried to bring back the original cast to revive Married With Children today, I don’t see how they could do it better!
I continued watching the show through to the end, although I’ll admit it didn’t always maintain it’s high-quality. Near the beginning of the sixth season I even wrote here about how I thought it may be time for it to end. But I’m ultimately glad that it didn’t, because I do think that the show recovered found its way again. Sure it’s rough spots along the years but that’s typical of all long-running TV shows, especially family sitcoms. One of the biggest struggles of these types of show is when the child-characters start growing older.
Sarah Hyland (Haley), Rico Rodriquez (Manny), Ariel Winter (Alex), Nolan Gould (Luke) and Aubrey Anderson-Emmons (Lily) were all early bright-spots on the show (Aderson-Emmons joined the series in the 3rd season, taking over the role from twins Ella and Jaden Hiller) but as the show progressed and they all aged, they could no longer rely on their initial “cuteness” to sell their characters. In particular, Manny’s huge vocabulary and Luke’s dim-wittedness started to come off like pretentiousness and just stupidity as they became teens. And it took a while for the writers to get a better handle on their characters, but I think they pulled it off. The character of Hayley also went through some growing pains, character-wise, as she risked becoming a useless slacker after flunking out of college. One low-point was when in season 8 when she began dating a much older man, a TV weatherman named Rainer Shine, played by Nathan Fillon. I just never bought that relationship. Her long-term enemies-then friends-then lovers relationship with Adam Devine’s Andy in seasons 5-7 was much better, but I’ll get to that later. Early on there was a little ongoing subplot of Manny having a crush on Haley, but that was thankfully dropped without going anywhere.
And probably the biggest curveball thrown at this show in regards to the younger actors was when Ariel Winter, who’s character was originally supposed to be a brainy and socially-awkward nerd, which became a lot less believable as Ariel grew into a bombshell.
Yet, for some reason, the show kept trying to ignore her physical change, covering her…uh, attributes, in bulking sweaters and oversized shirts, although she did have a series of relationships later. I’m not sure that the show ever really knew what to do with that character after Alex graduated high school. Realistically she should have been off to some ivy league college followed by some a job at some hi-tech company as an executive or perhaps as a scientist in some important Think-Tank, and only rarely seeing her family again after that. Yet they had to keep coming up with obstacles to keep her at home and on the show.
There were a few funny little stories with Lily as a toddler, including one time she claimed to be gay, but I feel that her character became kind of overlooked as she grew older, which is natural due to her age. Just as she was becoming a teenager, the other kids were older and now the show was focused on more adult storylines, so she missed out.
The characters of Phil and Clarie, played by Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen, remained a delight on the show. They’re yearly role-playing anniversaries as “Clive” and “Julianna” were always hilarious. Claire really found her stride as a character when she went to work for her father’s closet business, eventually taking over as the boss.
Mitchell and Cam (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet) were a groundbreaking couple when this series started, as a happily-partner gay couple, raising a child together. And if the series had ended earlier, the season 5 2-part finale where they finally get married, with Claire as Mitch’s “Best Man”, Phil officiating the wedding, and Jay proudly walking Mitch down the aisle, showing once and for all that he accepts his son’s sexuality, would have been a pretty perfect series finale. Earlier last week CNN posted an article comparing Modern Family to The Cosby Show, mostly noting how both shows were ending during times of national crisis (the Covid-19 epidemic now, the L.A. Rodney King riots in the other). Another comparison I’ve seen between the two shows is many have speculated that The Cosby Show helped pave the way for the election of Barack Obama, and similarly Modern Family helped change Americans attitude towards gay marriage.
But I’m glad that they didn’t end there, obviously. Earlier in the season, Cam became a high school gym teacher and football coach, and that change provided some good stories for his character, including setting up how their family ended up in the finale.
And then there was the most seemingly worst-matched couple on the show, family patriarch Jay and his second and much-younger Latin wife, Gloria, played by Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara. I admitted from the beginning that the sole reason I checked out this show was because of Sofia Veraga’s involvement. Interestingly, even though O’Neill was cast first, the execs at ABC must have seen something in Sofia, as this was the 3rd straight TV series that they had cast her, following the unsuccessful sitcom HOT PROPERTIES and the drama/comedy KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY. And that decision paid off, as she was clearly the breakout star of the series, using it to launch a clothing and makeup lines, and eventually became the highest-paid woman on television.
One major thing I have to give credit to the writers and producers of this show is that, despite Sofia’s rising popularity and profile, they never fell into the trap of making her character the center of the show, which could have easily been done. Instead the show always remained relatively equally divided between the three households, giving all the main characters their own storylines and screentime. Not that I would have complained to see as much Sofia on the TV as possible, I think it was better for the overall good of the show to not overdo it.
And Ed O’Neill? He was so clearly identified with the character of Al Bundy that I’m amazed at how he was able to make me forget that character when I watched him in this show. He and Sofia turned out to have excellent chemistry, which helped make their character’s marriage believable.
I think the only real mistake that this show made with their characters was when they had Gloria get pregnant in season 5 and then give birth to a son, Joe (originally played by Pierce Wallace and then Jeremy Maguire). I just never felt that that character ever added anything to the show.
So a big question with this show was in wondering how it would end? Would it end on a satisfactory note, or would this be another notably bad series finale, following in the footsteps of recent TV favorites like How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, and Game of Thrones. One problem with a sitcom like this is that there is no “natural” end-point. It’s not like it’s set at school where you could have the students eventually graduate. Or even a typical workplace comedy, where you could close the business and have every leave for new jobs. I mean, family is forever, right?
To go back to the Cosby Show comparison, one thing I always enjoyed was how that series ended in a way that brought it full-circle from the pilot. The finale revolved around the family preparing to attend Theo’s college graduation ceremony. This was notable because in the first episode, the most memorable scene involved Cliff and Theo discussing Theo’s future. Theo was getting bad grades in High School, and Theo confronted him about possibly getting into college someday. But Theo declared that he didn’t plan to go to college, and had no interest in being a successful professional like his father, a doctor, and his mother, a lawyer. Theo just planned to get a “regular job” (like working in a gas station or driving a bus, he suggested) and live a “regular life.” So Cliff takes a bunch fo Monopoly money and uses that to teach Theo a lesson about finances. After showing how Theo’s plan would likely leave him in poverty Cliff then defiantly declares that Theo will do better in High School and then go to college “because I say so. I’m your father, I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!” And then 8 years later, the show closed with Theo, just like Cliff said. So it was a perfect storyline to close the series.
Modern Family could have done a similar thing. The pilot episode ended with Mitch and Cam announcing to everyone that they’d just adopted a child, and introducing her to the family. One storyline in Season 11 involved them decided to adopt another child (something they’d planned to do but abandoned in season 4), so they could the finale scene could have had them introducing this new child to the family, but they did that in the 3rd-to-last episode, adopting a little boy they named Rex.
An earlier rumor had the show ending with Jay’s death, but thankfully they didn’t do that. Instead, they gave each family a natural status-quo change, which had many of them go their separate ways. Jay and Sofia switch roles in their marriage, as Sofia goes out to work (as a real estate agent with Phil), leaving Jay (who retired from his business a few seasons ago) stays home to take care of their son. Manny takes a gap-year to travel the world with his biological father. Cam gets his dream job as a college football coach in Missouri, so Mitch agrees to move with him, Lily, and Rex, to support him. Claire and Phil become empty-nesters, as all of their children move out, with Luke off to college, Alex off to a job in Switzerland, and Haley moving into Mitch and Cam’s old house with Dylan and their twins.
As I stated before, I liked the character of Andy, and would have preferred if she’d married him instead. Especially they made a point to show how much Andy was like Phil, so it would be showing Haley, who was shown to have inherited her mother’s youthful wild streak, basically becoming her mother. But, then again, in the eighth episode of the series, Jay compared meeting Dylan for the first time to meeting Phil for the first time, so it kind of foreshadowed that Haley would end up with him.
All in all, I think this was a perfectly good ending to a great TV show, which will undoubtably live on in reruns and be fondly remembered for decades to go. It was fun while it lasted.
P.S. I know there has been talk of continuing the series with some kind of spin-off. One rumored idea I’d heard about for awhile was starting a new show about Haley and Dylan raising their twins. But a more recent rumor has been about following Mitch and Cam to Missouri and showing their lives there, now with them living next to Cam’s family (we’d met his parents and sister in earlier episodes).
I really hope that they don’t try to do this. Odds are that it just won’t work, and can only serve to diminish the memory of the original series. For every FRASIER there’s a dozen JOEY‘s. It’s better to just leave well enough alone. And perhaps they can bring everyone back for a reunion special sometime in the future?