The Rise and Fall of ‘Modern Family’

Modern Family ended this week and while I would love to tell you that it went out on top, the only thing that got better about Modern Family as the show aged was Ariel Winter. But the last episode, like the last season, like the last several seasons, suffered from storylines that failed to pay off and plot resolutions that came out of nowhere.

The perfect example of this is Mitch and Cam’s story for the final season. Cam was in consideration for a coaching job at a college in Missouri for most of the season, and several episodes back he discovered he didn’t get the job. Storyline over. Then out of nowhere an adoption agency they had applied to years ago calls them and tells them they have a baby for them if they want it. Does this happen in real life, by the way? Because this is also how 30 Rock ended. Then in the final episode it turns out Cam did get the job after all, and he and Mitch move to Missouri by the end of the finale.

You can see this repeat itself in pretty much every story in the show. Alex had taken a new job where she makes less money but that work isn’t morally bankrupt. Seemingly out of nowhere in the finale, that job is being relocated to Europe and Alex starts a potential romance with her boss, one of Hailey’s ex-boyfriends. Luke gets accepted to a college after being absent for most of the final season (and a few seasons before that).

Haley’s story has been set for a little while, but her pregnancy and getting back together with Dylan also seemed to come out of nowhere. My personal assumption there is that Adam Devine, who played Haley’s much better and more logical boyfriend Andy has had much better offers for movies and the HBO hit The Righteous Gemstones while Reid Ewing who played Dylan had nothing going on. It’s a shame because Haley’s relationship with Andy was one of the most thoughtful storylines the show had ever put forward whereas her ending up with Dylan just seemed slapped together at the last minute,

In fact, most of the finale, as well as the final few seasons, seemed likewise slapped together. In earlier seasons, a through line like Claire running for city council would follow a much more logical progression; Claire wants a stop sign at an intersection, her councilman (played brilliantly by David Cross) is a jerk so she runs against him, there are a few comedic disasters along the way and finally Claire loses but she gets the stop sign she was after because Cross’s character doesn’t want to have to deal with her again. One of the reasons it works is that it comes naturally from the character of Claire, who is a busybody control freak.

As the show went on, characters became less well-defined. You might think this is growth, but there was actually very little of that. For example: is Manny cool or a dork? The writers never made up their minds. In early episodes he’s definitely weird and outsider because of his too-grown-up pretentious nature. But then in season five we find out all the popular kids actually like Manny and he’s actually the cool one, not Luke. But Luke beats Manny for class president (and two episodes later Luke can’t get anyone to come to his Halloween party). In college, Manny brings home a smoking hot professor he’s dating and later is completely smitten with Sherry, a very annoying and not particularly attractive improv player. They never quite nailed down who they want him to be.

They had much the same problem with Alex, who was bouncing around between being a confident professional who sexually dominates a fireman to a befuddled dork who gets clumsy and tongue-tied around an equally dorky and tongue-tied professor. The characters are just not consistent, at least not the children. It’s even a running gag that Mitchell and Cam basically know nothing about Lily who seems to have no consistent character traits aside from being sarcastic.

Modern Family was an absolute phenomenon when it began, winning five Best Comedy Series Emmys in a row before falling off entirely. It coincides with a rise in awards for cable dramedies, but also a clear decline in the quality of Modern Family. It was clear that once the kids in the family started growing up that the writers didn’t have any ideas for what to do with them and just decreased their screen time.

I’ve enjoyed my time with Modern Family, on the whole, but it’s been time for it to end for a while now. The ending was mostly satisfying and sent all the characters off on new adventures, but it probably should have ended years ago if it wanted to go out on a high note.

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3 years ago

I have never understood why people think there’s anything special about Ariel Winter. She’s very plain, IMHO.

3 years ago

Review pretty much nailed it.

And yeah, Ariel Winter is hot for dorks, much like Olivia Munn. But really, they are both pretty basic.