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Change can't be denied as Modern Family celebrates one final Christmas

Illustration for article titled Change can't be denied as Modern Family celebrates one final Christmas
Photo: Richard Cartwright (ABC)
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If you were to compare the tenth and eleventh seasons of Modern Family, you’d probably incorrectly assume that the tenth was the final one. The episodes and plot from last season felt like a final send-off, especially with the season-long story of Haley getting back together with Dylan and then getting pregnant with twins. It felt like closure and possibility all at once, an ending that gave the show a sense of this family moving on to a new stage of their life. There was a sense of change that, for the most part, has been absent from this season.


That lack of change has led to a lot of episodes feeling like filler. There’s hardly any overarching stories this season, no shape to how this is all going to play out in a way that feels satisfying for a final season. Modern Family is largely sitting in neutral, lacking any sort of narrative momentum. Thankfully, the show uses its final Christmas episode as an appropriate, timely look at how things could change down the line.

The catalyst for this reckoning with the future, and with all the uncertainty it entails, is Cam doing everything he can to make sure that nobody fights or argues during this Christmas because he wants it to be perfect. He’s adamant about it because he’s soon going to be flying to Missouri to interview for a head coaching job at the University of North Central Missouri. If he gets the gig, he’d start in the spring, and this would be the last Christmas with the entire family.

Modern Family usually does a good job with these ensemble episodes, where everyone is in the same space, causing all sorts of chaos. “The Last Christmas” is no different. It’s a tight, largely funny episode that creates comedy out of the hectic nature of the holidays and the generally dysfunctional dynamic of the family unit. There’s misunderstandings and awkward conversations and more than a few actions with bad intentions, but it all serves to make Cam the center of the story, as he speeds around the house trying to put out one fire after another.

Of course, there’s no stopping the in-fighting and arguments. Luke is trying his best to get Manny to understand that he really likes Sherry, but by the end of the episode Manny has actively, successfully sabotaged the relationship, which unfortunately removes what I thought was a lot of potential to give Luke and Manny a more meaningful arc for the rest of the season. Phil is fighting with Gloria because she interviewed for a job with another realtor, and Claire is doing everything she can to avoid her Dad and his pitch to get her on board as the VP of his dog bed business.

A lot of the conflict works well, and the episode does a good job of tying it all up in a neat Christmas bow. I specifically like what goes on with Jay and Claire. Their story is particularly character-driven. Jay feels like working with Claire was his way of repairing his relationship with her, and he wants that back. But as Claire tells him, that’s been fixed. They’re okay now, and it’s time for her to go do her own thing. That’s a promising bit of emotional maturation, and I hope the show follows through and gives Claire something substantial during the last half of the season.


The emotional payoff though come from Cam, as he’s forced to reveal his job opportunity when everyone won’t stop arguing at the dinner table. He feels like he’s ruined everything, but then other members of the family pipe up and talk about the changes that could be coming in their lives, like Alex moving to New York for a job and Haley telling her workplace that her and Dylan are open to moving to Paris.

Maybe it’s all too neat and tidy, but it feels genuine because this is how families work. There are long periods where everything stays relatively the same, and then suddenly there’s a massive shift. Someone gets divorced, someone moves away, or someone dies. It changes everything, and everyone is left wondering how they’ll cope with their new reality. Change, for the most part, is extremely difficult because it’s so hard to imagine a life that’s different than the one we have. Fantasizing is easy enough, but actually accepting and living with a big change to our day-to-day lives is hard to grasp. “The Last Christmas” builds to that moment of reckoning with uncertainty, and earns its moment.


Stray observations

  • Manny had a chance to redeem himself. Instead, he remains the worst.
  • Lily just wanting everyone to fight makes so much sense. An agent of chaos.
  • Haley’s understanding of Cam’s parents and living in Missouri: “Don’t they eat plants and animals that they find in their backyard?”

Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.