The ABC sitcom Modern Family wrapped up its 11-season run last Wednesday. The show spent most of its run as one of the most popular sitcoms on TV, and was a perennial nominee for the Best Comedy Series Emmy, which it won in each of its first five seasons.
Even so, Modern Family had a lot of the same problems that a lot of contemporary popular network sitcoms have had. It went on for several years longer than it probably should have, far outstripping the amount of funny ideas it had at its disposal. It was much better, and more consistently funny, in its early seasons than later on. It had way too many characters by the end, and didn’t do enough to serve them. And as the years went on, the show started writing the characters as loathsome jerks.
It went on for several years longer than it probably should have
Modern Family debuted in the fall of 2009, in the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency. The idea of the show was that it was like a traditional family sitcom, only about a more 21st century family. While Claire and Phil (Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell) were a heterosexual married couple with three kids, Claire’s brother Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) had a male partner (Eric Stonestreet), and an adopted baby daughter. Meanwhile, Claire and Mitchell’s father Jay (Ed O’Neill) had a much-younger Colombian wife (Sofia Vergara) and her son from a previous marriage, Manny (Rico Rodriguez).
That this sort of stuff doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking anymore is an indication of cultural progress- and also that Modern Family was on for a really, really long time. Indeed, Cameron and Mitchell got married once same-sex marriage became legal in California, and the show was often at the forefront of social progress in that respect. Even if there was a controversy in the early days of the show that the two men never seemed to kiss, while the heterosexual couples all did.
In the show’s early days, it came up with the sort of humor that no sitcom before had ever thought to do. Even in its later days, the show was capable of occasionally funny episodes and moments, and it mostly nailed its endgame. Still, the series was considerably better in its first half than its second.
Of course, Modern Family was also the show that had one of the weirdest behind-the-scenes stories in television history. The two co-creators, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, started the show together (Lloyd is not Christopher Lloyd the actor from Back to the Future; this Lloyd is a longtime TV writer who worked on Frasier and other classic sitcoms).
Modern Family was also the show that had one of the weirdest behind-the-scenes stories in television history
But since the second season, they’ve written separately, taking charge of alternating episodes – and for at least some of that time, they even ran separate writers’ rooms. There were “Chris episodes” and “Steve episodes,” which some fans of the series claimed to be able to spot the difference between the two.
While the creators of most shows that run for this long usually leave at some point or hand off to new showrunners, neither Levitan or Lloyd ever left the show, so this arrangement continued for a decade. Even the final episode had a first half written by Levitan (and several others) and the second half by a team led by Lloyd.
Modern Family hit great heights, and will certainly go down as one of the most popular sitcoms of its time. But the show probably would have been better off if it had not run for so long.