Now updated to include Season 5!
34. Goodnight Gracie (Season 4, Episode 24)
“So, dear Alex, who I love so dearly, who’s probably too much like me for her own good, don’t be afraid to break the rules. You never know what might happen.” – Alex
Everyone flies down to Florida for Phil’s mother’s funeral. Her last wish, to have Phil set her widowed husband Frank up with another woman, puts Claire and Phil at ends. Cam spends time with a few residents of the retirement community and thrives on the gossip-fuelled nature of their relationships. Phil’s mother leaves Alex a lighter that led to her meeting Phil’s father and Alex comes to understand what she meant to her grandmother. Jay runs into the woman he lost his virginity to before shipping off to Vietnam, but she has trouble remembering him from her other conquests. Gloria faces court over an arrest warrant for running a brothel, and brings Mitchell to represent her. A successful day in the courtroom as a posturing lawyer for Gloria and many desperate citizens prompts Mitchell to want to return to working in the courts.
33. Suddenly, Last Summer (Season 5, Episode 1)
“Sometimes I don’t know if I love how much I fear Claire or fear how much I love her.” – Phil
As gay marriage is legalized in California, Mitch and Cam plan their perfect proposals, not realizing that the other has something planned. Cam calls for the help of Jay and Gloria and Mitch rallies Claire and Phil to help make their evening perfect.
32. Me? Jealous? (Season 3, Episode 14)
“You know, I should probably tell Manny this story. It might help him with that trainwreck, Danielle.” – Cameron
Claire believes that Phil’s new prospective client is inappropriate, but she cannot convince a trusting Phil. Meanwhile, Cam and Mitchell stay with Gloria and Jay, while their house is being fumigated.
31. Australia (Season 5, Episode 20)
“This country’s number one export is hot surfers. I’m not gonna buy the first one I see, I’m still browsing.” – Haley
The family travels to Australia as Phil tries to fulfill his mother’s wish for him to visit the country where he was conceived. Unfortunately, Phil’s attempts to embrace his native land are met by a lot of rejection, while Jay and Claire let work eat into vacation time, and Mitch and Cam get reacquainted with an old friend.
30. Truth Be Told (Season 1, Episode 17)
“All because he called you a dork-to-dork salesman?” “The Empire Strikes Back.” – Alex
Phil meets an old girlfriend on Facebook. Jay accidentally kills Manny’s turtle. Mitchell tells his boss the truth.
29. Fizbo (Season 1, Episode 9)
“I’m Fizbo, the ass-kicking clown” – Cameron
When Phil and Claire try to throw a party for Luke, things go wrong and leads to a trip to the emergency room; Cameron decides to dress up as his clown character Fizbo; Manny has a hard time impressing a girl after taking advice from Jay.
28. Las Vegas (Season 5, Episode 18)
“Vegas, you have a gambling problem – and her name is Claire.” – Claire
The adults take a trip to Vegas in which Jay tries to obtain the best room. Claire rekindles her gambling addiction while Cam attends Mitch’s ex’s bachelor party. Gloria tries to hide a female version of the dog Butler. Phil presents his case to enter a secret yet prestigious magic society
27. Election Day (Season 3, Episode 19)
“She’s high, the whole family’s high – there’s your headline.” – Phil
On Election Day, the family does some last-minute campaigning for Claire; Claire experiences technical difficulties during interviews.
26. Airport 2010 (Season 1, Episode 22)
“You seem to know a lot about sneaking contraband on to an aircraft.” “Yeah, I’m Colombian.” – Gloria
Gloria surprises Jay with a trip to Hawaii for his birthday, but he isn’t pleased to find out that the entire family is tagging along. When everyone arrives at the airport, chaos ensues with forgotten identification, breaches of security, and flying phobias.
25. Regrets Only (Season 2, Episode 16)
“You don’t do one thing wrong. You do everything wrong, I don’t know why she even talks to you. Chin up. Up!” – Gloria
Phil and Claire had a huge fight and Phil hasn’t a clue as to what it was over, so Gloria steps in to counsel Phil and Jay takes Claire. Meanwhile, Jay may have some regret in buying Gloria a karaoke machine, and Cameron is in full prep mode for a huge fundraising event and enlists help from Mitchell and Luke — which might not be the best choices.
24. The Wedding (part 1 & 2) (Season 5, Episodes 23-24)
“Thanks to 35 dollars on the Internet you are looking at the Good Reverend Phillip Humphrey Dunphy.” – Phil
Cam and Mitchell’s wedding arrives, but their big day gets questioned when things go wrong. Gloria and Jay give relationship advice’s to Cam’s parents, and things take turn for the unexpected. Phil and Claire get to know the kids better and Haley puts herself in the middle of a relationship breakup.
23. The Kiss (Season 2, Episode 2)
“He’s not gonna think I’m a lesbian!” “I thought you were, you totally have the sandals for it” – Haley
After Claire finds flirty texts from a boy on Alex’s phone, Claire tells Haley to give her advice, in which she tells Alex to kiss the boy, which makes her go up to the boy, and ask him in front of his friends, embarrassing him. Mitchell is having trouble kissing Cam in public, Phil works hard to fix Jay’s printer, and Jay must cope with Gloria’s customs.
22. Hawaii (Season 1, Episode 23)
“We had a fire drill not the hotel just us.” – Luke
Jay’s plans to do nothing but relax on vacation are interrupted by an unwelcome reality check. Meanwhile, Phil tries to make the trip romantic for Claire, Mitchell and Cameron disagree on whether they should go sight-seeing, and the kids get themselves into trouble.
21. Earthquake (Season 2, Episode 3)
“I wanna go to the museum of tolerance.” “Fine. How far’s tolerance?” – Haley
Claire gets stuck in the bathroom with the plumber when an earthquake hits, and Phil scrambles to hide the damage. Meanwhile, Cameron and Mitchell try to evade a friend’s party, and Jay takes Manny golfing instead of going to church.
20. Open House of Horrors (Season 4, Episode 5)
“You put egg on my house, I kill what you love!” – Gloria
Claire must rein in her enthusiasm for Halloween and keep her celebration kid-friendly; Phil decides to hold an open house on Halloween; Mitch and Cam have a costume party; Gloria’s hormones make her more quick-tempered than usual. Manny questions his judgement when given the opportunity to hang with the ‘cool’ crowd in recognition of something he did not mean to do on purpose.
19. The One That Got Away (Season 2, Episode 24)
“You are the prettiest, smartest, funniest girl in the sixth grade, I’ve enjoyed talking to you online and I think we should be boyfriend and girlfriend… Oh no, it’s not what you think I’m talking to a little boy” – Cameron
Jay wants to go fishing on his birthday, but the family insists he has a big party, leading Claire and Mitchell to get trapped in their childhood yard, Phil to encounter his college nemesis at the mall and Cameron to have trouble at the bakery.
18. The Old Wagon (Season 2, Episode 1)
“What’s the plan, Phil?!” – Claire
Phil finally agrees to sell the old station wagon, but only after a family trip down memory lane; Cameron asks Jay for help when Mitchell decides to build a life-size princess castle for Lily.
17. Schooled (Season 4, Episode 2)
“I wrapped my son with one hand while driving a stick. I know how to keep my kid safe.” – Gloria
Claire and Phil embarrass Haley when they drop her off at college. Manny makes Gloria and Jay take a class on how to care for a baby. Meanwhile, Lily gets into a tussle on her first day of kindergarten, and when Mitch and Cameron get into an argument with her assailant’s lesbian parents, the principal orders them to have a play-date.
16. Yard Sale (Season 4, Episode 6)
“I’m just 90% sure, he’s 100% gay” – Claire
Jay and Gloria hold a yard sale to help Manny and Luke with their school’s charity fundraiser; in the process, Luke and Manny unearth an old trunk of Gloria’s that she wishes to remain a secret. Mitch and Cam help Claire assess Alex’s new ‘boy friend’; Phil feels pressured to both sell and buy something; Mitchell struggles on how to tell a slimmer Cam that he is not fully confident he can keep his dietary practices going.
15. Punkin Chunkin (Season 3, Episode 9)
“I love your ‘I love you’, getting pretty tired of your ‘but’… I heard it” – Phil
A former neighborhood resident, now rich and successful, returns for a visit; Jay thinks Manny needs constructive criticism; Mitchell questions the authenticity of Cameron’s colorful childhood stories.
14. Tableau Vivant (Season 3, Episode 23)
“Is that jealous? My poor sisters.” – Gloria
Gloria and Jay bicker while trying to order lunch at a diner; Claire and Cam have different theories on how to discipline kids; Luke accepts an award under false pretenses; Phil has a hard time firing Mitchell from his temporary job at the real estate agency; the entire family participates in Alex’s living art display of Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving painting “Freedom from want”.
13. See You Next Fall (Season 2, Episode 23)
“Yes, I’ll be a carnivorous, amazonian fish.” – Alex
The whole family gathers at Jay’s house before heading out to Alex’s graduation ceremony from middle school, but while at the house, Jay is preoccupied hiding a botox mishap from everyone, Cameron is upset about Mitchell’s habit of laughing at him, and Phil tries to sympathize with, yet also criticizes Claire on her impending breakdown over the kids growing up too fast.
12. Princess Party (Season 2, Episode 15)
“I’m screaming at a princess party, mom!” – Claire
The guest list for Lily’s princess-themed birthday party gets a little out of hand when Mitchell decides to invite his mom, much to Claire’s dismay, and disinvite Fizbo, much to Cameron’s dismay. Things get even more strange when DeDe shows up with Claire’s old high school boyfriend in tow, and Jay and Gloria each turn to their own unique methods of dealing with this gathering of misfits.
11. Manny Get Your Gun
Season 2, Episode 8
The first of six season 2 episodes to make the top 10 is ‘Manny Get Your Gun’. The episode is set around the birthday party of Manny and his concern that he forgot to have a childhood, prompted by Jay’s gift of a gun for ages sixteen and up. Claire and Phil decide to have a race to the restaurant, Luke misconstrues when Claire says she and Phil are splitting up whilst Phil deals with the devastating news that Alex and Haley don’t want to go back to family camp the following summer. Meanwhile, Cam and Mitchell still have to shop for Manny’s birthday present before arriving at the restaurant. Mitchell becomes frustrated when Cam stops to help two cheating pensioners when he is trying to surprise Cam by performing in a flash mob. Cameron gets upset with Mitchell, feeling betrayed that he didn’t tell him about the surprise. The episode is scaled to fit the 25 minutes before Manny’s dinner party and shows the more hectic elements of the family combined with three thoroughly entertaining subplots. In fact, this episode should be in the top ten for Gloria’s shooting skills alone.
Season 4, Episode 7
Quite simply, the most relieving episode of season 4. Every MOFY was devastated when Haley went off to college in ‘Schooled’ and quite frankly, we were thrilled to see her booted out. Haley is ousted from university for assaulting a police officer (it’s not as violent as it sounds). Claire and Phil rush up-state with Mitchell, as their lawyer to bail her out of prison. Gloria and Jay get another delightful visit from Dede. Jay tries to hide Gloria’s pregnancy from her but only manages to deflect her disdain for Gloria on to himself. Cam meanwhile is left looking after the kids, in Claire, Phil and Mitchell’s absences and seeing as Luke and Alex end up needing medical attention, it’s safe to say he didn’t do the best job. The episode hits top marks from the start, and is indisputably up there with the series bests, if not with it’s consistency in hilarity and it showcasing Mitchell’s ability to provide comic relief in stressful situations but for the best quote of the show since Alex’s “The Empire Strikes Back” quip from three years earlier.
9. Coal Digger
Season 1, Episode 5
The most obvious issue in the family’s dynamic was addressed as early as episode 5 when Gloria finds out that Claire has been calling her a ‘gold digger’ behind her back. The episode starts with Gloria, Jay, Claire and Phil being brought in to the school due to Manny and Luke fighting. Luke is upset that Manny refers to himself as his uncle and when Gloria infers that Luke is weird, Claire’s resentment is refuelled. The family gather at the Delgado-Pritchett’s to watch American football but Luke accidentally reveals Claire’s bitching just after her and Gloria had made peace. Naturally, Phil heads to Gloria’s room and takes many colourful thongs to the face in an attempt to resolve the feud. But in the end it takes Claire jumping in the pool to earn Gloria’s forgiveness.
8. The Incident
Season 1, Episode 4
Without doubt the best addition to the main cast of Modern Family is DeDe Pritchett played by Shelley Long. You might think that Phil and the kids wind Claire up but you haven’t seen anything until Claire’s mother starts to push her buttons. In episode four, DeDe returns to Cheviot Hills in an attempt to apologise to Gloria following the revelation that she ruined her and Jay’s wedding. The hilarious flashback of a drunken DeDe mocking Gloria and then being carried out of the room and subsequently destroying the wedding cake is just a prelude for the laughs that ensue when the family meets at the Dunphy’s house later on and DeDe attacks Gloria in front of everyone. And as if this wasn’t enough, Haley is still trying desperately to convince her parents that Dylan is responsible enough to take her to a concert. But what’s funnier is the very own concert Dylan treats the family to at the end of the episode…
7. Little Bo Bleep
Season 3, Episode 13
Admittedly, Season three may not have been Modern Family’s best but it still had enough about it to produce some genuine heavyweight episodes. A compliment especially apt for ‘Little Bo Bleep’. Claire is embroiled in a race to beat Dwayne Bailey and become the new councilwoman. So the Dunphys prepare her for a live TV debate in their living room, picking out her every flaw to Claire’s frustration. Of course, with all the in-depth prep, Claire’s debate is a complete disaster as Phil goes viral on YouTube in the season’s funniest moment. Meanwhile, Jay is battling to save Stella from her suicidal ways, believing that Gloria is bullying her and Mitchell and Cam are preparing Lily to be a flower girl but are concerned when she starts dropping the ‘F bomb’, to Cam’s amusement. Just like ‘Manny Get Your Gun’, this episode has three solid story arcs that each create moments of genuine hilarity. A significantly under-rated episode.
6. The Musical Man
Season 2, Episode 19
Maybe not as consistent as some of it’s predecessors, ‘The Musical Man’ makes it to number six for the brilliance of two of it’s three main stories. Ignoring Jay’s storyline with his cancer-inflicted brother; the episode could have been number one on the countdown. Claire becomes reminiscent about college as she tries perilously to convince Haley to leave the coup next autumn. However, unbeknownst to her, she is driving around in a car clad in an advert for Phil’s company that makes her and her daughter look like prostitutes. Meanwhile, Cam is back to pursuing his musical passions as the director of the Franklin Middle School play. The situations are intensified by Phil, when he is questioned about the physiques of his wife and daughter unbeknownst to him and like his daughter in the show’s seventh best episode, Cam drops a rather embarrassing ‘F bomb’ of his own…
5. Caught in the Act
Season 2, Episode 13
It’s probably fair to say that I like to go against the grain when it comes to things like this but it would have been near impossible to keep ‘Caught in the Act’ out of the top five, let alone the top twenty-five. The situation in this episode is centered around Haley, Alex and Luke walking in on their parents having sex; mix this in with a fiery, accidental e-mail from Gloria to Claire and you get a culmination of comedy at the Dunphy household. Claire and Phil are co0ped up in their room trying to figure out what to say to the kids who themselves have fled the household. When the pair finally work up the courage to talk to them they are met by an apologetic Gloria who assumes Claire is distressed by her forthright e-mail. Modern Family feeds off the humour created from misunderstandings and none of them have been as funny as when Claire misconstrues Gloria’s comments as an offer for a lesbian romp. Meanwhile, Cam and Mitch are out to impress the owner of a new restaurant, Amelia by organising a play date for their kids. Fortunately for the viewer, everything goes horribly wrong and the couple are left with a rug and vase to pay for.
Season 2, Episode 6
Another critics’ favourite is in at number four. The episode starts with the focus on Claire’s love for Halloween and her desire to host the scariest house of horror in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately for her, the family are not up to standard. Gloria is furious with Jay for insinuating that people don’t understand her so she drops her harsh Colombian accent for a ‘proper American’ one. Phil is intent on declaring his love for Claire at every possible opportunity due to the sudden divorce of a happy couple, the Dunphys know. Cam is haunted by a dreadful Halloween memory that he milks for every bit of drama he can get and Mitchell isn’t feeling participatory following a difficult day as Spiderman. All in all, ‘Halloween’ doesn’t serve up as many laughs as some of the other episodes in the countdown and the individual storylines are maybe not as strong, but for its adventurous and well-executed gimmick alone, it is worthy of its place.
3. Good Cop Bad Dog
Season 2, Episode 22
Perhaps an unconventional choice for a top three spot but a fair one. ‘Good Cop Bad Dog’ sees two good story arcs pitted against a superb one. Jay and Gloria argue over the potential of Guillermo’s dog training system in a turn of events that eventually sees the introduction of Stella to the show. At the Pritchett-Tucker’s, Cameron is very unwell but the couple have tickets to see Lady Gaga, resulting in Mitchell having to battle with his morals and Cam over-reacting to his fire-haired partner’s betrayal. However, this episode truly belongs to Phil and Claire Dunphy who are on red, hot form throughout after they decide to switch parenting roles; Claire becoming the ‘good cop’ and Phil, the bad. However, things go horribly wrong for both resulting in car crashes and starvation. The pair are so good in this episode, they barely go a sentence or an action without inciting roars of laughter from the audience. A true Dunphy delight.
2. Family Portrait
Season 1, Episode 24
The first season is crucial for the success of any new sitcom and that is true too of Modern Family. The opening twenty-four episodes accumulated a massive three Primetime Emmy’s but it was the season’s ultimate episode that would prove to be its very best. The episode is based around Phil, Gloria, Manny and Alex’s trip to a basketball game. Claire spots him on TV ignoring a phone call from her and when Jay is being interviewed by Luke, the little one is led to believe that Jay wants to fight him. The situation is a lot funnier when you realise Phil has just kissed Gloria on the KissCam. While all of this is going on, Claire is tirelessly organising a family photo but caves to her perfectionist disposition and asks to hold the shoot at Mitchell’s house, which is impossible as his house has been destroyed whilst he tried to spur the ambush of an invading pigeon. The episode makes it to number two for three reasons; 1) it’s chock-full of one-liners, 2) it encompasses the family ideal at the heart of the show and 3) it laid down the marker for the first season, establishing Modern Family as a genuine television force.
1. Mother’s Day
Season 2, Episode 21
I can pretty much guarantee that any Modern Family fan who has followed this countdown all the way from number twenty-five to now would not have had this down as number one. Admittedly, it’s not a particular favourite of the critic’s, being labelled as ‘respectable’ and ‘satisfying’. In truth, had those critics bothered to look a bit deeper they would see that this episode of Modern Family is twenty-two minutes of comedy perfection. This episode, like so many of the show’s other greats, is centered around Claire and Gloria. The unlikely pair take their kids for a hiking trip, whilst Jay and Phil cook dinner. Claire and Gloria are left to battle with their whiny kids as they bemoan the walk, their mothers are making them face; Gloria and Manny reconcile but Haley, Alex and Luke are hoping to give Claire some grief for inflicting boredom upon them. Across town in Century City, Mitchell decides to dedicate the day to Cameron, who is offended given the nature of the day. The pair spend the interlude between the opening and the family meal, running in to situations highlighting Cam’s somewhat maternal nature. I’ve spoken before about the fact many episodes have story arcs with varying success but in ‘Mother’s Day’, they all hit the top bracket. The stories are funny, fresh and in Cam and Mitchell’s case, brave. In truth, not one of the eleven main cast members is off form, in this episode and if critics don’t think this can go down as one of the show’s greats, I struggle to think what else can.