Looking Back at ABC’s Longest-Running Comedy and Some of the Show’s Best Episodes
“If you love something, set it free, unless it´s a tiger.” Phil Dunphy
April 8, 2020 will be a sad day in television history. Modern Family will end its 11-year run on ABC, airing its final episode.
Modern Family first aired on September 23, 2009. After 11 seasons and 250 episodes, the sitcom is calling it quits. The team behind the show was actually planning on ending it after season 10. However, the plot twists and different storylines in the once final season sparked interest for one more season.
Modern Family was acclaimed by critics throughout its first few seasons, winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in each of its first five years and the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series four times, twice each for Eric Stonestreet and Ty Burrell, as well as the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series twice for Julie Bowen. It was nominated for 75 Emmy awards and won a total of 22. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series–Musical or Comedy in 2011. It’s currently ABC’s longest-running comedy series.
I have to admit that I jumped on the Modern Family train a little late; I think I started watching in the fourth season. I went back and binged the first few seasons and I’ve been hooked ever since.
In a world where a lot of television shows focus on anti-heroes, violence, sex, death, and misery, Modern Family has been a breath of fresh air for the last decade. While the show has lost a little bit of steam because the precocious kids have grown up and the same jokes that were funny in the first season aren’t quite as funny the fourth or fifth time around, Modern Family still brings a smile to my face at least once an episode.
In honor of Modern Family’s 11 seasons, I’ve compiled a list of 11 of my favorite episodes. Whether you’re a fan or not, these episodes are shining examples of how good the writing and acting on this show can be. While I can’t say for certain these are the best or highest rated episodes, I definitely can say that these episodes are highly entertaining. As I reviewed the episodes to see which ones were my favorite, I realized how much I’ll miss this show. It’ll be tough to come up with a show that’s as venerable as Modern Family, with humor, heartwarming moments, excellent characters, and great writing. I’ll truly miss it, but, as Phil Dunphy (Ty Burell) says, “When life gives you lemonade, make lemons. Life will be all like, “What?!?”
Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
Obviously, if you’re going to watch the show, the first episode is the place to start. In this episode, we meet Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), his wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), his kids Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and their “modern” families. While this episode isn’t one of the funniest, it’s worth watching to learn about the characters and for the final scene, where Mitchell and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), introduce their new adopted baby, Lily. Cameron’s “reveal” of the adoption is one of the series’ funniest, and defining, moments.
Schooled (Season 4, Episode 2)
In my humble opinion, Phil Dunphy is one of the greatest characters in television history. His positive attitude, ability to see the good in almost anything, and bottomless well of puns and dad jokes make him hard not to love. The awesomeness of this episode, which sees the oldest Dunphy child Hailey (Sarah Hyland), go off to college, can be summarized in one (hyphenated) word: Phil’s-osophy. Before they leave her at college, Phil presents Hailey with a book of lessons he’s learned throughout his life. Perhaps the best piece of advice? “Dance until your feet hurt. Sing until your lungs hurt. Act until you’re William Hurt.” Classic.
The Wedding (Season 5, Episodes 23 and 24)
This two-part episode that brings season five to a close is a fantastic one. Almost every member of the cast gets a chance to shine at some point, including second stringers like Cameron and Mitchell’s friend Sal (Elizabeth Banks) and wedding planner, Pepper (Nathan Lane). In addition to the humorous semi-Biblical obstacles Cam and Mitch have to overcome (including a “swarm of Lucases” and “four hoarse men”), we get to see patriarch Jay’s growth as a person as he learns to accept his son and his future husband. This episode has a little of everything, and is one of the best of the 250.
Good Night Gracie (Season 4, Episode 24)
In addition to Phil being a great character, Phil’s dad Frank (played with incredible gusto by ageless character actor Fred Willard) is just as great. When Frank’s wife (Phil’s mom) passes away, the family goes to Florida to attend her funeral. This episode is equal parts touching and funny, as Phil tries to fulfill his mom’s last wishes, Alex (Ariel Winter) tries to figure out what her grandma’s last gift means, and Cameron becomes part of a gossipy ladies’ group. This episode isn’t complicated; it’s a fine episode of how Modern Family makes even solemn moments fun.
Las Vegas (Season 5, Episode 18)
This episode, which is pretty much the polar opposite of “Good Night Gracie,” is more about situational humor and dramatic irony than it is trying to be solemn or poignant. In this episode, the family, except the kids, arrives at Las Vegas for the weekend. Jay sold the owner of Mandalay Bay, Burt (Ray Laska), some closet space and Burt gave him free access to the three main adult contingents at the hotel’s platinum level rooms in return. This episode is all about the silliness that ensues as the adults try to have the “ideal experience” in Sin City.
Australia (Season 5, Episode 20)
Another jump-the-shark travel episode that’s actually really funny (unlike similar travel episodes for shows like Full House, The Brady Bunch, or Happy Days), this episode takes the family to Australia. The episode focuses on Jay and Claire and how they’re insane workaholics, and the effect it has on their family. Again, Phil is the star of this episode, as he initiated the trip to fulfill his dead mother’s last wishes to discover his Australian roots. Phil’s exchange with a mysterious stranger is the highlight of this episode.
The Incident (Season 1, Episode 4)
This episode introduces Hailey’s on-again-off-again boyfriend (and future husband), Dylan. Unfortunately, this episode heavily features one of my least favorite characters, Jay’s ex-wife DeDe (Shelley Long). In this episode, DeDe enlists Mitchell to apologize to the family for the drunken tantrum she threw at Jay’s and Gloria’s wedding. The episode, which is simply good, is saved at the end by an absolutely epic song by Dylan that extends into the final pre-credits scene. This hilarious song takes a C+ episode and turns it into an A.
Good Cop Bad Dog (Season 2, Episode 22)
This episode introduces an unsung Modern Family hero: Stella the French bulldog. In this really funny episode, Phil and Claire switch roles when Claire is mad that she’s the “bad cop” and he’s always the good guy. At the Pritchett house, Gloria tries to help Guillermo, a grocery store worker she met (a crazy cameo by Lin-Manuel Miranda), get his invention off the ground. This episode is a fine example of simple stories that are funny and heartwarming, a trademark of Modern Family’s run.
Halloween (Season 2, Episode 6)
One thing you’ll learn by watching Modern Family is that Claire loves Halloween. This episode centers on Claire’s love of the holiday, which is in danger of falling apart because of family issues. Every family member has an issue that threatens to ruin the role they’re playing in Claire’s haunted house. However, in typical Modern Family fashion, everyone comes together to support Claire and her project.
The Day We Almost Died (Season 6, Episode 11)
This episode, which starts with the Dunphys and Manny (Rico Rodriquez) nearly getting in a car accident, is funny simply because it has each family member involved play against character. Alex tries to become cool; Phil tries to assert himself; Luke becomes focused on life goals; Claire tries to become more caring and less controlling. As the episode progresses, we get to see more about why these characters we’ve grown to love are the way they are (and how hard it is change). The other storyline, which focuses on Manny being terrified to drive after the near-accident, is equally humorous.
The Prescott (Season 11, Episode 10)
As the show has plugged on, truly funnier and memorable episodes have been fewer and farther between. Phil’s interactions with Luke, which were funny and cute in the first four seasons, aren’t as frequent or funny; tween Lily now has to act, and she isn’t really all that good at it; Manny has gone from a little eclectic, romantic kid you want to see get the girl to a mopey weirdo; and Hailey and Alex have become somewhat inconsistent characters, when they’re even on the show.
This episode is a great example of the situational, ironic, funny comedy that the show was known for earlier on. When Alex gets put up in a super-swank apartment complex (complete with bowling alley, salon, rooftop pool, screening room, and concierge), her family works to find ways to get back into the complex. Each member of the family has their own goals, and their crisscrossing storylines are an example of what made Modern Family great.