‘Modern Family’ Season 9 Bows Out Keeping Its Formula Intact

Modern Family” gets ready to enter its tenth season with a finale that displays both what gave this family sitcom appeal, and what has now made it feel like a prize fighter running out of steam. “Clash of Swords” throws in some big changes signaling that the show is now nearing the sunset, but it also recycles much of its standard formula, ensuring that loyal viewers won’t get any change in tone going into the final lap.

The finale is a series of different dilemmas being faced by the main characters. Jay (Ed O’Neil) suddenly faces a group young techies offering to buy out his closet business. They give him 48 hours to make a decision. He stubbornly refuses but a visit to hot company EzraVision comes as a major slap, making him realize that he is probably getting too old for this sort of enterprise. Meanwhile Gloria (Sofia Vergara) throws a dinosaur-themed party for Joe (Jeremy Maguire) only to discover a better party is being thrown next door by rival Dr. Donna Duncan (Jane Krakowski). The big crescendo comes from Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) having to take care of a child belonging to Cam’s sister, who is serving jail time. Mitchell however decides to sneak off with Phil (Ty Burrell) to Hero-Con while doing cosplay as the characters of their beloved show “Clash of Swords.” As all this happens Manny (Rico Rodriguez) prepares for a big road trip.

“Modern Family” is still funny in a low-key kind of style. It has attempted to tap a little into the zeitgeist in the last few seasons, but with this one it’s been mostly about the characters and their emerging, final journeys heading into the tenth season. Characters like Alex (Ariel Winter ) got accepted into college, Claire (Julie Brown) began having a bigger role in the family closet business, and Jay truly began to face turning points in his life and career. But the season never truly dared to do anything risky or to experiment too much with its formula. Lackluster would be too strong of a word for it, instead it simply chugged along.

Yet there are some moments in the season finale of fun goofiness, such as when Phil accidentally reveals spoilers of the “Clash of Swords” show at Hero-Con to an enraged mob of fans. The whole cosplay angle in the episode can be quite funny, especially in the way it riffs on nerd culture. Sofia Vergara is hilarious in this episode as a mother suddenly competing with a rival over who can throw the best party. A scene with some male strippers dressed like Peter Pan, accidentally hired to add some spice to the festivities, adds some of the rowdiness this show has been missing, even if some of the dialogue falls a little flat (“just follow the fairy”). There’s some good Silicon Valley humor when the young techies confront Jay, attempting to woo him nicely with reminders that everything is changing thanks to the tech industry. When he visits EzraVision the techies show off a smart closet that can tailor your pants. But these scenes also have a bit of sadness to them, because as Jay prepares to leave the scene, so does the show. The most memorable scene in the episode features Jay in his car, confessing to Cam that he can’t kid himself any longer.

“Modern Family” premiered 9 years ago in a different, but shifting television landscape. The kind of diversity it offered then is now quickly becoming a standard, and sitcoms like “Black-ish” are now becoming more popular with sharper social consciousness in their scripts. “Modern Family” was always pure feel-good, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you can only carry on such a mood for so long. “Clash of Swords” as a finale avoids major, shocking revelations or big cliffhangers. Instead it keeps everything nice and tidy for the coming curtain closer. Maybe that’s all the fans will want at the end of the day, because at this stage it is the loyal viewership that is tuning in.

Modern Family” season nine finale aired May 16 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.