From the beginning of its current season, there’s been word that the writers of Modern Family were planning on killing off what has been described as one of the regular characters. More appropriately, said death, as it turns out, turned out to be a recurring character, in this case, someone who appeared in seven episodes over the course of the show’s 10 seasons. So who was killed off on Modern Family?
Beware spoilers ahead!
At the start of the episode “Good Grief” — set on Halloween — it’s disclosed that Shelley Long’s character, DeDe Pritchett, has passed away. DeDe, of course, is the ex-wife of Ed O’Neill’s Jay Pritchett, and mother to Julie Bowen’s Claire Dunphy and Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s Mitchell Pritchett.
Death is always tragic, but what’s interesting to watch in the episode is the way that everybody deals with it. And while, yes, there is some genuine grief, there is also an attempt by many of the characters to make themselves sad; to dig for what seem like touching memories, but ultimately having them tainted in one way or another by their relationship with DeDe.
The big question, of course, is why the decision was made. As series co-creator Steve Levitan explains it, the idea was seized upon early on in the development process of this year. “We gather [with the writers] at the beginning of the season and talk about the big arcs and things that we want to have happen — the milestone moments,” he details to The Hollywood Reporter. “It occurred to us that death is a giant part of the family experience and while Phil (Ty Burrell) had lost his mother in a previous episode, we’ve never seen the entire family have to deal with such a loss. It seemed like an interesting thing to have happen.”
Elaborating a bit with Entertainment Weekly, he adds, “We’re just trying to, at this point, put our characters through something new and interesting and challenging… Whenever people have any kind of a complicated relationship with somebody, and then they die, it brings up a lot of things. So when we were talking at the beginning of the season about some different places to go, this idea came up, and we liked it. There will be, in fact, another episode that will deal with ramifications of this.
“This seemed like the logical choice because it so directly affects three of our main characters,” he adds. “It was also just a very nice send-off to the character and to Shelley Long, so it seemed like the thing to do. The idea, though, for setting it on Halloween came about because I’ve always had a love for people going through something that is unexpectedly serious while in a silly costume… We always do Halloween shows, and they’re a big part of this year’s series, so we thought, ‘Well, let’s try to do something that’s wildly different this Halloween.’ And since it is, strangely enough, a holiday that deals with so many themes of death and things that are scary and all that, it seemed in a strange way appropriate.”
Modern Family is in the midst of its 10th season. There’s no word on whether or not the show will be returning for an 11th.