Attention: Spoilers Ahead.
10 years have gone by since the hit ABC comedy, Modern Family, first premiered in 2009. Earlier this week, the well-loved show aired its season 10 finale in which Haley, portrayed by Sarah Hyland, gave birth to twins.
In wake of the episode, Hyland and Modern Family’s co-creator, Steve Levitan, sat down with EW to discuss the eventful finale. The birth coincided with the 51st birthday of Phil (Ty Burrell), who was preparing to perform at a children’s piano recital (he had pledged to learn something “new and scary” following his 50th birthday, a moment captured early in the episode) when his daughter rushed to the hospital.
Hayley herself was never actually depicted during labor. Instead, the show celebrated the monumental event by showing her alongside her newlywed husband, Dylan (Reid Ewing). She was then joined by family. Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) characteristically celebrated the occasion by wearing matching orange robes and parading the newborns as two human Simba’s. This alludes to Modern Family’s pilot, as the two introduced their own daughter, Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) to “Circle of Life.”
Hyland readily expressed her approval for the episode to EW. “I don’t think it’s been done in that way leading up to such a momentous occasion,” she says, happy that the show managed to side-step clichés of childbirth depicted on television. “That was a really cool way of executing it, especially ending it with such a big thing.”
Levitan, who both wrote and directed the season finale, added that the premise of the episode had been in the works for a while. It was fittingly entitled, “A Year of Birthdays,” and showcased the birthdays of Dunphys, Pritchetts, and Tuckers alike. The concept took time to develop, and he touched on the brainstorming difficulties during the interview. “I was very concerned about all the tropes involved in a birth episode,” he said. “I said, ‘Wait a minute, a birthday is the day someone’s born, too. Wouldn’t that be cool to integrate that into this?’”
There was of course the problem of integrating so many birthdays into a 30 minute long episode. “How do you make them each different and lively?” Leviton asked. “How do you not make it just feel like a bunch of sketches? How do they flow from one to another?” He also did not want to simply book-end the episode with the birth of Hayley’s twins, as the moment was much too significant. “Everything had been done that we could think of: the mad dash to the hospital, the going into labor,” he explained. “At the end of the day, this just felt fresher to [us], to really put it in the context of everybody’s birthday. “I liked that it’s just the pure moment of you get to it — you’re not living in that for a long time of someone’s in pain and they’re stuck in an elevator or car.”
Ultimately, given that the episode’s ending so powerfully paralleled the pilot’s, the final scene carried with it a sense of closure, completeness. As described by EW, it made season finale seem all the more like a series finale. This is fitting, as Modern Family was originally set to end after 10 seasons before the show was extended for an 11th.
Hyland agreed that the cast approached the scene with this in mind. “Going into season 10, I was told beforehand that Haley was going to be pregnant, and this is also when season 10 was going to be our last season,” she continued. “I thought that this season or series would end exactly like this season did, which was having the babies, having a circle-of-life moment. I definitely was like, ‘That would be a really beautiful, full 360 to pay homage to the pilot, wrap it all up with everybody being together and having this new modern family.’ But now we have another [season] after it, so we’ll see how they actually decide to end it. We have amazing writers, so I know they’re going to end it perfectly and top this season finale, but… I can’t imagine anything better than this.”
The uncertainty surrounding the series finale had been ongoing, Leviton admits. “For a while there we were like, ‘Well, if that’s involved in our [series] finale, that will be great. And if it turns out that we go another year, then we’ll come up with something else.” And while he notes that he would not have anchored a series finale to this year-of-birthdays story that preceded the birth — “we’re going to probably want to attack that in a much different way” — he acknowledges the sense of completion provided by Haley’s hospital ending. “It does have that feel,” he said. “And believe me, that occurred to me several times. Like, ‘Wow, this ending would’ve made a good [final moment].’”
He elaborated, speaking to Mitchell’s contribution in the scene. “When we decided on twins, that made it even better because now Mitchell was involved in it, so we liked all that. We had some different variations of this ending, and what we liked about it was that as with Lily, this was the first time many members of the family ever see the baby when these babies are presented in this way.”
The significance of the birth was not lost on anyone in the cast. With this being said, Leviton explained that he tried his best to curate the right filming atmosphere for the shoot. “Everybody was really nervous, to tell you the truth, because we needed them to be not crying and we wanted them to be comfortable,” he explained. “We really warned everybody, ‘Okay, while these babies are on the set, there will be no talking. I don’t want to hear a word from anybody.’”
The result? A truly powerful moment, as anyone involved in filming would probably attest. Not all of it was by the script though, and Leviton noted multiple moments where actors took control over their characters. As Leviton came to explain, the process was permeated by improvisation. “There were a few lines that were scripted, but then we would shout out — well, not shout — but whisper, ‘Hey, say this,’ and, ‘Do this. And they really felt like a family in that moment. That was, in a weird way, the more emotional moment, just watching these people have this very life-changing moment together. It was very, very touching…. There’s a moment when Mitchell says to Alex, ‘You’re next,’ and Claire [Julie Bowen] gives him the look. I think we came up with that on the fly. Even the moment of Claire, in a weird way, finally kissing Dylan. And Dylan getting a little bit emotional, which he was. Those were all just kind of sweet little moments that happened there.”
These changes to the script were not the only surprises to come in season ten. Hyland spoke about this, as so many plot twists centered around Hayley. “I definitely thought she was going to be ending up with Andy,” she said, having been shocked to find out that her character would marry Dylan over Adam Devine’s fan-favorite role. “People yell at me on social media for ending up with Dylan because they want Haley and Andy to be together so bad.”
This suprise was coupled with another: twins. “I definitely was like, ‘Well, thank God we’re not doing season 11! All joking aside, I thought it was really cool. It’s a showbiz thing to say, ‘Never work with kids and animals.’ When you’re at this stage of the baby, you have to think of babies crying and all of that. So then you have two and you’re like, ‘Okay, now we’re going to have four babies on set.’ [Two babies are used to play one on screen because of their limited availability and general fussiness, so two onscreen babies requires, well, you can do the math.] I was just really thinking of the technical aspect of it, especially when we found out we were going to be doing season 11. Thank God I’m at an age in my life where I have friends that have babies, and I at least know how to hold them and I’m good with kids. I’m grateful that I have experience with friends’ children.”
When asked about what kind of mother Hayley would be, Levitan had this to say: “She’s going to be very strong-minded, and Haley strikes me as a very practical person, like the way that she parented Lily when Lily was having her first period. Haley might kind of just say it like it is, and I think she and Dylan will have very different styles. And at the same time, like a lot of new mothers especially with twins and especially if you have a busy job with a demanding boss, she will get overwhelmed quite a bit. But at the end of the day, I think she will be a fierce and ferocious protector of her kids.”
Hyland elaborated upon this, saying, “There will definitely be a learning curve. I think Claire is terrified for Haley because she was her. But I think she forgets how well she actually handles things.”
Of course, Hayley will also have the support of her parents, Phil and Claire. This is something that fans have to look forward to in season 11. At the beginning, Leviton reveals that Hayley and Dylan will continue to live in their house. “The way that we have it designed is that it really affects the entire Dunphy household on a regular basis,” said Levitan. “We gave them twins because they’re going to need more help, and it gives Phil and Claire and the rest of the family something to really be engaged with.”
Leviton also revealed that the next season might be shorter than its predecessors, and that he and Christopher Lloyd, co-creator, hope to conclude the series with an 18-episode season. As contrast, former seasons have been 22. This will end Modern Family on its 250th episode. “That’s a nice round number,” remarked Leviton. But nothing is set in stone. “[I]f it makes sense creatively to do more, we’re possibly open to that.”
Season 11’s premiere date has yet to be revealed, but in the meantime fans have 10 year’s worth of episodes to re-watch in preparation for the series finale.