Christmas may be just around the corner, but here on the Los Angeles set of Modern Family, the Dunphy household is commemorating another special occasion: the 16th wedding anniversary of Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen). A celebratory breakfast of eggs and toast has already been whipped up by the couple's PJ-clad kids — Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter) and Luke (Nolan Gould) — who stand outside the 'rents bedroom, excitedly preparing to present their gift: "1...2...3...surprise!"
When their door opens, Phil and Claire are definitely surprised — and so are the kids, who discover Mom and Dad in the midst of a very private, no-clothes-required celebration of their own. A moment of stunned silence is quickly shattered by a cacophony of horrified screams and the sound of the breakfast tray crashing to the ground. "Nothing's happening!" Phil cries unconvincingly, as he and Claire scramble to cover themselves with a sheet.
Leave it to Modern Family to find a way to make even the most embarrassing situation — walking in on the parents doing it — daringly funny. Then again, what else would we expect from a show that's revered for deftly exploring all manner of naked truths about contemporary family life? 2010 ranks as the year that ABC's comedic portrait of a multigenerational clan developed from fledgling newcomer to modern classic, thanks to pitch-perfect writing, a sparkling ensemble cast, an Emmy win for Outstanding Comedy Series and a legion of loyal fans. With an average 14.7 million viewers tuning in to Season 2, the show recently edged out Grey's Anatomy as the network's highest-rated scripted series. All of which means the cast and Family brain trust — creators Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd — have ample reason to rejoice this holiday season.
"Anybody who's been doing this a long time realizes how many lucky things have to come together just right for [success] like this to happen," says Lloyd. "You have to take a moment and enjoy it, because the likelihood of it happening again is so remote."
To cap off a year that 12-year-old Rico Rodriguez, who plays Manny, enthusiastically describes as "the awesomest," America's favorite family plans to make merry with their own real-life clans. Ed O'Neill, who plays patriarch Jay, will be in Hawaii, where he has a home, for Christmas with wife Catherine and their daughters, Sophia, 11, and Claire, 4, while Bowen and her husband, Scott Phillips, are packing up son Oliver, 3 1/2, and 18-month-old twins Gus and John to visit the grandparents on the East Coast. Just don't expect the actress to help prepare the holiday feast. "Cook?" she says with a laugh. "I'm sorry, what does that word mean?"
No matter: Bowen's already got her hands full with another task. "We do a Secret Santa gift exchange in my family, and I institute and organize it every year because I'm a control freak," she says, sounding decidedly Claire-ish.
While Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell, looks forward to decorating his new Los Angeles home with luminarias — "these beautiful paper bags with sand and little tea-light candles inside," which are a tradition in his hometown, New Mexico — his on-screen partner, Eric Stonestreet, will be in Kansas City, Kansas, visiting his parents with actress girlfriend Katherine Tokarz. Finding the perfect parental gift was easy. (Stop reading now, Mr. and Mrs. Stonestreet, if you want to be surprised!) "I'm giving them the Emmy," he says, referring to the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy statuette he walked away with in August. "I can't wait to be able to hand them a trophy that literally represents what they made possible. First, by having me, but also by always telling me I could do anything I wanted, and then being behind me emotionally, financially — whatever it took."
Meanwhile, new dad Burrell and his wife, Holly, are "superexcited" to experience their first Christmas with 10-month-old daughter Frances. Not that Baby Burrell will be the family's only cause for celebration. "My brother and I are opening a bar in Salt Lake City, hopefully by New Year's Eve," says the actor, a part-time Utah resident who plans to be a hands-on investor. "I've always wanted to be a bartender! My brother's going to teach me."
For more with the cast of Modern Family, check out this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, December 16. Collect all three holiday-themed covers!
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