On Wednesday night, a death occurred on Modern Family—a death that had been teased throughout the duration of this seemingly interminable show’s 10th season.
Of all the people who could have died on this sitcom about a blended family in Los Angeles with a lot of time on their hands, it was a person I certainly didn’t expect to be shuffled off the mortal coil. DeDe (Shelley Long), the ex-wife of Jay (Ed O’Neill) and mother to the insufferable Dunphy adults that make up the nucleus of this modern family died off-screen, “peacefully in her sleep while on a trip with her women’s group.”
While it’s been years since I’ve watched this program, I am astonished that Ed O’Neill’s aged body is still up and ticking. I’m shocked that Gloria (Sofia Vergara) has not divorced him yet. Is their dog still alive? What about the son? Has Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), the world’s stupidest man, not injured himself grievously enough to eventually perish? The answer to all of my rhetorical questions is, of course, no. Everyone is alive. It was always going to be an ancillary recurring character who would die because this is network TV.
“It occurred to us that death is a giant part of the family experience and while Phil had lost his mother in a previous episode, we’ve never seen the entire family have to deal with such a loss,” creator Steve Levitan said to The Hollywood Reporter. “It seemed like an interesting thing to have happen.”
Would’ve been much more interesting to kill the whole family. But predictably, they kept it safe, teasing the death of a beloved character and having it happen off screen. Say what you will about the saccharine misery porn of This Is Us, but when Dan Fogelman wants someone to die on screen, he makes it count.