Over the last decade, ABC's beloved comedy Modern Familytackled stories about parenting, adoption, gay marriage, and the role technology plays in our lives, while fans have watched the kids on the show grow up. The 11th and final season, which debuts Wednesday, holds new challenges and life changes for the Pritchetts and Dunphys.
At the end of Season 10, Haley (Sarah Hyland) and Dylan (Reid Ewing) became parents to twins, whose real names will be revealed in the Season 11 premiere episode. Alex Dunphy (Ariel Winter) has realized she likes to sing but her science background is still her main career track. Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have been caring for Cam's nephew Cal while his sister was in prison, and Cam wants the family to move to his family's farm in Missouri. Cam and Mitch's adopted daughter, Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), is 12 years old and experiencing teenage emotions. Manny (Rico Rodriguez) is now 20 years old. He had a Canadian girlfriend who he proposed to, but she broke up with him after the proposal, leaving him with a broken heart. Jay (Ed O'Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) are raising Manny and their son Joe (Jeremy Maguire), who is now in grammar school and very precocious.
In anticipation of the final episodes, co-creator Christopher Lloyd teased what viewers can expect as the show closes a wildly successful run.
TV Guide: Was this final season harder to break than the others?
Christopher Lloyd: It's both easier and harder. Hard because there's pressure to cobble together an ending that makes people feel OK with where these characters are left in the world. Due to the nature of a family show, you draw people in like you do actual family members. We feel we owe it to our loyal fans to set our characters on paths that the loyal fans will be happy about. There's been a bit of debate about that. Of course, we won't nail that for everyone. We want to do that for ourselves as well as the fans. There's pressure on that. At the same time, it's easier to write toward an ending, and there's a lot of good adrenaline among the writers and cast to do the last season as well as we can.
Probably half the episodes in the final season will be standalone episodes, one will be a farce reminiscent of the Las Vegas episode we did years ago. We also have touchstone/milestone episodes that are more emotional. Those episodes have a bit more pressure on them because they push us toward what will ultimately be the end of the season and the series.
What's in store for the families in this final season? Let's start with Jay and Gloria.
Jay is looking at his wife becoming more career-oriented. Gloria's gone back to school for real estate and she's a unicorn in that she takes to it instantly. She becomes a little bit of a legend in local real estate circles and ultimately forms a partnership with Phil. It kind of reminds Jay about what starting a business was like and what he misses about not being in Closet World. He's torn; he enjoys spending time at home with his young son and Manny but still has some fire in his belly left.
Phil and Claire are now grandparents. What else is going on with them?
Lloyd: Claire is running her business solo, which she enjoys. She goes through a bit of an Icarus journey in that she gets a little bit of ego about being a CEO and enjoys some of the trappings of that success and finds herself in a bit of a scandal relating to that. For someone who has a lot of conscience and has been the conscience of the family, to be on the wrong side of something is a new place for her to be.
What are Mitch, Cam, and Lily up to?
Lloyd: Mitch and Cam find themselves at a little bit of a crossroads in that they are looking at things like possible changes in their lives before those changes won't be possible again. Those changes might include expanding their family, relocating, things they have talked about theoretically. Now, they're looking at them more seriously as one does in middle age when one asks, "If not now, probably never." They also are in a number of standalone, funny situations. We just shot one where they bring a smart refrigerator into their house. She's named Bridget, and she becomes almost a third party in their relationship. It basically becomes kind of a threesome episode with all of the high emotion that people who engage in threesomes experience.
Lily is 12, and she's experiencing boyfriends and heartbreak. That puts Mitch and Cam in a funny place because they've always felt a tiny bit ill-equipped to deal with the tribulations of a girl, but now that she's having boy troubles, that is an area they know a little bit about, so they're coming into their own as parents.
Let's talk about the Dunphy kids: Haley, Alex, and Luke
Lloyd: Luke is not one to take a conventional path. He's in community college, but he's exploring his entrepreneurial side with business ventures that show talent and smarts. He's also on a more unconventional path in his romantic life because he discovers that for whatever reason, he's extremely attractive to women in their 40s. He finds that attraction is a mutual one and explores that and draws Manny into that world.
Alex graduated at the end of last season. She goes through a head-versus-heart struggle. She wants to bring her skills into more of a humanitarian place, working for a nonprofit or saving the world. We find her shivering in Antarctica, having signed on with an environmental concern, but she's hating it. She tries the other side, a more corporate path, which pays her well and offers her a lifestyle she's unaccustomed to, but there's a bit of a conscience thing there. What that results in is her living a more superficial life while Haley is loafing around the house in sweatpants, dealing with her twins. It's a bit of a role reversal for those ladies.
How are Haley and Dylan doing as new parents?
Lloyd: They find themselves completely at a loss sometimes but also discovering some surprising natural abilities. At heart, Dylan is such a good person that even though Haley is frustrated by him sometimes, she can't help but appreciate that. They take the twins to Disneyland at one point and forget the diaper bag, so when they come home, all they've used to cover the twins is hamburger and fast-food wrappers that were in the back of Dylan's van, which is a very funny visual. They're not fully there on parenting yet.
What's Manny doing now?
Lloyd: Manny is still in the arts. He's a third-year in college, and he's directing and starting to mull what his next move is. He's spent a summer at an elite dance and movement institute. He's still very frustrated by women, with his soft heart and great sensitivity. He also has an encounter with his first love; that's a person he pursued in the pilot of the series when he wanted to bring a poem to an older woman. Now, 11 years later, he has a chance encounter with her.
Modern Family has always had great guest stars. Who will be guesting in the final season? Are any past guests returning?
Lloyd: We have juicy parts written for guests that haven't been cast yet. At the same time, we're trying to give a curtain call to some of our more prominent guest stars over the years. Phil's father (played by Fred Willard) will come back for a very touching, heartfelt episode. We would love to have Elizabeth Banks back but haven't worked that out yet. The ones who have worked their way into the fabric of the show, we'd love to have back.
Will there be time jumps during the season?
There are backward jumps. We're taking in the whole 11 years and wanting to revisit some earlier situations and see the characters earlier in their lives. We've found ourselves incorporating bits from earlier seasons to inform what's happening in the present. It adds a nice, almost geological layer to episodes and allows little glimpses to characters and families in the past, which adds a nostalgic feel to this final season.
What has it been like watching the kids grow up over the last decade?
Lloyd: It's been interesting because it feels like we have a whole new set of characters on the show that we didn't have at the beginning. The adults look the same, and the kids are completely different. While we love them younger, and there's nothing like telling a story about 12-year-old Manny wearing a puffy shirt or Luke getting trapped in a Chinese finger puzzle at 11, there's also something fantastic about them facing the problems of a 20-year-old. Haley has babies now. Alex has always been the adult of the family; now she's an actual adult, and that sort of frightens her, and she regresses a bit. These are things you can only do in a long-running series. You can't help feeling a twinge of sadness looking at early episodes and saying that was lovely when they were all young, and the families were more closely-knit as you are when kids are young. They're all starting their diaspora at this point, and that's true to life, and we're exploring that.
What do you think this show's legacy is, and what do you hope it is?
Lloyd: I hope that people remember it as a series that made them laugh and also made them feel good, that they were moved by it in moments and maybe saw themselves in it. That's one of our favorite things that people say to us: "It's like you had a camera in my house." We hope people have a warm feeling about Modern Family because it helped them escape their day-to-day and also felt validated in their own lives and they might want to revisit these families because they have a special place in the viewer's heart. That would be lovely. We're going to try to get back to what was our model at the beginning: to tell stories that are funny first but also have a surprising emotion that sneaks up on you and feels real and feels true to people who have been in families, which is everyone.
Modern Family Season 11 premieres Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.