"You’re heartless!," says Hank Stuever, if your immediate reaction to the ABC comedy's sentimental and hug-filled series finale is to roll your eyes and wonder aloud why the show was still on. "Modern Family was still on in its 11th season because it was still very much itself: an Emmy-laden family comedy, created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, that was reliably filled with lightning-wit dialogue, hilarious misunderstandings and spot-on displays of physical comedy," says Stuever. "To the very end, it had a relatable style of humor that could be both sincere and barbed. It also featured a cast that consistently achieved a level of chemistry that most TV shows never come close to having. In a world gone soft while praising so much mediocrity, I found it interesting when viewers went out of their way to complain that Modern Family had lost its magic. It never really did. What it did lose — what even the best TV shows eventually lose — is the excited buzz that swirls around a breakout hit in its early days, when we’re all just so glad to have finally found a great show. For hipsters, the series finale event this week wasn’t Modern Family; it was the last episode of Schitt’s Creek, Pop TV’s louche underdog comedy that eventually found a loyal audience on Netflix. For the rest of America, still tuning in to network prime time by the millions, saying so long to Modern Family was a more wistful and prolonged process. Indeed, it was something ABC probably should have done two or three years ago."
Modern Family's greatest flaw was also its greatest strength: "Modern Family might not have been the brilliant, progressive stand it’s often marketed as," says Kyle Fowle, "but there is something to be said for the way it normalized the type of family you didn’t typically see on TV. The show tackled social issues here and there in its early days, and did so under the rather strict format of the sitcom; remember when every episode used to end with a saccharine monologue and that acoustic guitar soundtracking the outro? But its greatest flaw was also its greatest strength: it was incredibly funny, and therefore didn’t need to be political, though perhaps it should have been more political, but also isn’t there something mildly radical about just being the show it was? Like I said above, it’s difficult to unpack the legacy in retrospect. It’s difficult because these things move in increments, something that Apple TV’s Visible: Out On Television recently did a great job of underlining. True change in the media landscape takes time for a number of reasons, some more sinister than others, and as much as I always wanted more out of Modern Family, there’s no denying that its mere presence and its massive popularity as measured by ratings and awards had a net positive impact. And again, those first five seasons or so are genuinely hilarious. If anything, it’s the beautiful march of progress that came to swallow up Modern Family."
By virtue of its name, Modern Family was always going to have an expiration date: "Celebrated as it was at its launch and for much of its early run, the shine rusted as darker, cynical, raunchier, and more explicit comedies pulled focus on cable," says Kevin Fallon. "House of Cards, the first original series on Netflix, began airing in the winter of 2013. Nothing about the industry would be the same after that, and that disruption happened at a startling speed. The Netflix-led streaming service boom started midway through Modern Family’s fifth season, exactly halfway through its run on broadcast network ABC, which was seeing viewership, like all of broadcast, plummet. The revolutionary show was suddenly the stalwart benchmark, the conservative Old Faithful against which these zippy, exciting new ventures measured their hipness against. But it’s the culture that shifted, too. What was 'modern' then aged to something dated. A progressive sitcom became rote and basic. Wholesome soured to lame. A show that was once the epitome of cool became the sitcom equivalent of a 'Live, Laugh, Love' sign."
Modern Family's finale felt like a warm hug: "The genius of Modern Family is that it ended as it began: with the families growing and changing, while maintaining their close bonds and sense of humor," says Diane Gordon. "The show that felt like a warm hug each week closed out their run with a well-crafted episode that didn't feel like a permanent goodbye, but instead like a 'see ya later.' One can't help but think about where these families will be in five years. Let's hope we'll get to find out - it's sad to think this is the last time we'll see these lovable characters."
For LGBTQ parents, Mitch and Cam's portrayal was groundbreaking yet burdensome: "Modern Family was a cultural counterpunch," says Steve Majors. "It helped undermine negative stereotypes about gay and lesbian parents and set the stage for the following decade and increasingly positive representations of our families on everything from soup ads to sitcoms...But a rainbow-washed depiction of our families as well-adjusted also did us a disservice. They created expectations that no family, gay or straight, could ever live up to. Gay parents felt a subtle pressure to always put a positive face on our parenting, especially in public."
Co-creator Christopher Lloyd explains the series finale: "The idea of having people moving on to new paths, we probably started to like that maybe two-thirds of the way through the season," he says. "While that would be bittersweet because we'd be kind of breaking up with a family unit — a unit that America has enjoyed seeing together and the characters have enjoyed being a part of — it seemed like the right thing to do. I mean, it's always been by my principle on this that a good ending actually needs to be a good beginning."
A Modern Family spinoff would need a "solid idea" because of the "unfair burden" it would have: "There has been a little bit of talk among a couple of our writers that maybe there is an idea in there for something, but nothing solid has happened on that," says co-creator Steven Levitan. Fellow co-creator Christopher Lloyd adds: "It's tempting to think about what a spinoff might be. We have had conversations about it and we'll see if that comes to pass. It would need to be right; whatever a new show might be would be fighting a very heavy and probably unfair burden, which is a comparison to Modern Family. We don't want to do a series just because we want to keep the thing going or because we miss it. It would need to be a solid idea in its own right and that may happen, it may not. But it will get discussed. But it's a tall order."
Modern Family creators feel they left everything on table: "Look, no one foresaw this, and altogether it was the right decision to end after 11 years which is 250 episodes," says Lloyd. "That’s a long run in any era, a particularly long run in the era we’re living in now where a Netflix show that runs 40 episodes is considered a marathon. So I don’t think we will look back on it as a bad decision." Levitan adds: "I don’t feel like I left anything on the table. I personally don’t go like, oh, if only we had another season we could get into this or that. I feel like we made a really nice show that entertained a lot of people, that brought some joy and laughter into people’s lives, and it was time to go."
Modern Family's final days were expectedly teary and nostalgia-inducing: “It was like a really long funeral,” says Jesse Tyler Ferguson. “It also felt like a graduation at the same time. There was a lot of emotion.” Julie Bowen adds: “It was a little bit of a carnival atmosphere that at times made it difficult to actually get the job done. But at the same time, we had to be aware that this wasn’t just the actors’ show; this was everybody from props and casting to accounting to transpo. … Everybody wanted to be there as much as they could that last week.”
Sarah Hyland recalls the bonds she made with her female co-stars: "The show is a male-dominant cast, really, so the female relationships have meant so much to me," she says. "It’s been amazing to have Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara to look up to as role models because they're so funny, smart, talented, and kind. It's also been amazing to see Ariel Winter turn into a beautiful, strong, opinionated, smart woman as well. Aubrey Anderson-Emmons too."