‘Modern Family’ Says Goodbye After 11 Seasons of Being a Sitcom Trailblazer

Modern Family” worked like one of those classic sitcoms that later down the road will be seen as a pop chronicle of its time. With a lite touch it captured for 11 seasons how the concepts of family, marriage and relationships have evolved over the last few decades. Is that too much to place on its shoulders? Not at all, the best sitcoms have always worked that way. Yet for its final episode “Modern Family” goes for an hour of a more traditional playbook, emphasizing hugs and tears.

As it opens Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) are living in an RV outside of their house. They made the quirky move because the place literally became too crowded now that Alex (Ariel Winter) has decided to move back in. Haley (Sarah Hyland) is already living there with her twins and laid back husband Dylan (Reid Ewing), not to mention her and Alex’s brother Luke (Nolan Gould). Phil and Claire decide to lay down the law and announce that someone has to move. It could be Alex, who gets a job opportunity from Professor Arvin Fennerman (Chris Geere), only it’s in Switzerland with key expenses paid. Plus it turns out Arvin shares a mutual interest with Alex and so romance blossoms. Meanwhile Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) are planning a housewarming party where the main guest is their new baby, Rexford, named precisely after their new street. Then Cam gets a call where he’s offered his dream coaching job at North Southern East Central Missouri. The question now is if Mitch is willing to move. Then there’s Gloria (Sofía Vergara), who has found success in real estate but is  now dealing with Jay (Ed O’Neill) finding happiness in retirement while Manny (Rico Rodriguez) prepares to go pursue his dream in filmmaking. 

When “Modern Family” first premiered on ABC back in 2009 it came like a breath of sitcom fresh air. The story of patriarch Jay, married to the much younger Colombian immigrant Gloria, plus the narratives of Jay’s grown gay son Mitch and grown, married daughter Claire, seemed unique for how true they were to real lives. Same sex relationships, age gaps and immigration all made for original and at the time groundbreaking material on network TV. The first five seasons all won the Best Comedy Series Emmy Award and also made Sofia Vergara a mainstream Latin star. How the times have changed and now “Modern Family” seems tame compared to more recent fare. The last season has felt like a pleasant preparation for a final landing as the storylines and writing felt more conventional, standard yet still hilariously entertaining. For the final goodbye ABC turned this into a two-part event including a one hour retrospective documentary which aired before the episode itself. It features some priceless behind the scenes footage, stories from crew members and showrunners as well. The cast also shares some great anecdotes, like Rico Rodriguez admitting his first kiss ever was onscreen for the show.

The hour-long finale hits every familiar “Modern Family” note just right. It begins with Phil and Claire in their weird predicament, with the kids insisting it’s not their fault they’re still at home. Haley says Dylan is somehow a “special needs husband” while Luke applied to college, he just never heard back. Cam gets terrified about telling Mitch about his job offer. Gloria gets stressed when Jay gets Mitch and Cam a housewarming gift in the form of a horrible statue. These are all set ups for a traditional sitcom curtain call where everyone finds a new and worthy path. But this cast has been doing this for so long and so well that it comes across as quite endearing. Alex stumbles into confessing feelings for Arvin, who admits he likes her too but felt hesitant because of their slight age gap. The scene turns into one of the year’s most goofy examples of sexting while in the same room. Haley and Alex later have wicked sibling fun by getting Luke to dress as a dog to recreate an old family DVD the sisters claim has been ruined. Claire and Mitchell have their own moment of odd sibling bonding when they break into an ice rink to steal a skating trophy Jay donated years ago. While practicing an old routine the two suddenly realize just how physically awkward the routine was to begin with. 

Then it all wraps up rather nicely, but appropriately for “Modern Family.” Mitch agrees immediately to support Cam’s dream and follow him to Missouri, new house and baby name be damned. The kids will also move out of the Dunphy home. Luke will apply to the University of Oregon, Haley and Dylan discover they have enough to get a decent apartment and of course Alex is off to Europe. There are close hugs all around. Even Gloria gets a nice surprise when it turns out Jay has secretly been learning Spanish and wants to spend the summer with her and their younger son Joe (Jeremy Maguire) in Colombia now that Manny is off to school.

It’s fitting that “Modern Family” exits with a finale that feels standard. In a sense it means everything the show championed a decade ago has become so mainstream, it’s hardly noticeable in a sitcom. We still  have a long way to go with diversity in pop entertainment, but it’s encouraging to see that this show has few fresh avenues to explore because it doesn’t need to. The final moments with Phil and Claire, where they look at now empty rooms in their home and reassure each other the kids always come back, tugs at our heart strings like any well-written network sitcom should. We’ve seen these kids and their parents grow over a decade of many changes, and while the world is now changing again in uncertain ways, at least what this show championed is now the norm, and confirms some things do evolve for the better.

The series finale of “Modern Family” aired April 8 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.