Modern Family Christmas Episode A True Classic

As much as I have been enjoying watching animated Christmas specials the past week, I really wanted to take a break from doing so and watch a nice sitcom Christmas episode. I love cartoons as much as the next TV junkie, but I was feeling a little wonky and tired today, and knew I needed something with rapid fire jokes that would keep me awake and laughing. Having just received the blu-ray of Season 2 of Modern Family in the mail the other day, the show was fresh in my mind, and I remembered how funny the Season 1 Christmas episode is. I can honestly say, as soon as I popped in the disc, I started to feel my exhaustion slipping away, and was brought right out of my funk by some solid belly laughs. It’s a very funny show to have on DVD or Blu-ray and just watch a bunch of episodes back to back, but is the Christmas episode one worth going out of your way to watch? I’ll talk about it in a second, but first a run down of the show for those who aren’t familiar with it.

The show is shot in a mockumentary style, much like The Office or Arrested Development, and focuses on the lives of a quirky extended family, split into 3 smaller families of their own. The first is Jay Pritchett and his young, beautiful, Colombian second wife Gloria, as well as her very mature for his age son from her first marriage, Manny. Their stories mainly focus around Jay and Gloria and their cultural clashes. Next would be Jay’s daughter Claire’s family. She is married to Phil, a quirky man child who makes his living as a real estate agent. They have 3 kids together: Haley, a popular 15 year old who isn’t the sharpest crayon in the box, Alex, a nerdy 13 year old who resents Haley and focuses mainly on her grades, and Luke, their 10 year old son who marches to the beat of his own drum. Their stories focus mainly on the complications that arise from raising 2 teenage girls and an odd ball middle school aged son, as well as Phil’s goofiness and how it doesn’t sit well with uptight Claire. Finally, we have Jay’s son Mitchell’s family, consisting of himself, his long time boyfriend Cam, and their adopted Vietnamese baby girl named Lily. Their conflicts mostly arise from the two of them trying to keep each other in check, with Cam being fairly high strung, while Mitchell is more laid back, but very much a snob and a perfectionist. Most episodes switch back and forth between all three families and occasionally has them all together for larger family gatherings where they confront the larger, overlapping issues. Those are the basics, now on to the Christmas episode titled “Undeck The Halls”

The episode starts on Christmas Eve Day with Claire’s branch of the Pritchett family tree all standing around Phil’s laptop dressed in hideous Christmas sweaters. It turns out that Phil has got his father down in Florida on Skype to show off the sweaters that Phil’s mother had sent them. While showing him their tree and the new glass ornament Phil’s dad had sent them, Claire notices a small cigarette sized burn on the arm of the couch and loses it on her kids. Phil tries to stay upbeat and keep talking with his father and try not make a scene, but with all of the kids denying it was them and Claire about to explode, he quickly wishes his dad a Merry Christmas and logs off.

Everyone in their Christmas sweaters

After the theme song, we cut to Jay and Gloria’s house, where Jay is on the couch watching Miracle on 34th Street with Manny, whom up until this year has spent every Christmas in Colombia and has never seen the Christmas classic. Jay, ever the manly man, is even moved to tears by the film, and just as he thinks Manny is getting into it, a scary monster pops up on the screen and Manny and Gloria start laughing and calling Jay the “Innocente!” It turns out in Colombia, everyone plays tricks on each other at Christmas time, and Manny has just gotten Jay good. Jay is upset not only because he was frightened, but because he doesn’t buy into most of their Colombian traditions and wants to have a traditional Christmas like he used to have when Claire and Mitchell were kids.


We then cut to the mall where Cam and Mitchell are in line to get Lily’s first photo with Santa, and Mitchell is doing nothing but complaining about how long they have had to wait. Just as Cam is trying to tell Mitchell to look on the bright side of things, a group of carolers come along and Cam becomes visibly perturbed. It turns out it is the singing group Cam founded a few years back who gave him the boot last year, and he is still bitter about it. Now both Cam and Mitchell are about at the end of their ropes, when they finally get to the front of the line. Just as they do however, the jolly fat Santa goes on break, and a much slimmer, very un-jolly Santa takes the chair. Mitchell makes a fuss and says he’d rather wait for fat Santa to come back, so he and Cam go to the side of the line while Cam heckles the carolers.

Now back to Claire and Phil’s house, where all three kids have been sat down on the couch and are being grilled about who it was that smoked in the house and burned the couch. After they all continue to deny it, Phil takes the dramatic step of telling them that unless someone steps forward, he and Claire will be cancelling Christmas. The kids, and Claire, are all upset and don’t believe Phil, but he even goes so far as to tear the tree down and drag it outside.

Phil, taking away the tree

Back to the mall with Cam and Mitchell, they have finished their visit with Santa and their shopping, and are packing things into the car when slimmer Santa comes along to help them fit Lily’s stroller in the trunk. He tells them he is an expert car packer, after having lived out of his for so long. They thank the helpful Santa, who tells them he was just fired from his job as Santa because people complained that he didn’t look the part. Both Cam and Mitchell feel awful, so to help themselves feel better about the situation, Cam invites homeless and now jobless Santa to Christmas Eve dinner.

Meanwhile at Jay’s house, Jay is running down his usual Christmas routine with Manny and Gloria, who are upset that Jay doesn’t want to include aspects of their Colombian Christmas in his traditions. Manny becomes very upset and goes up to his room, and Jay just doesn’t get why Manny doesn’t want to just go along with his traditions.

Back at Claire and Phil’s, the kids are all trying to figure out who burned the couch, but none of them will say they did it. Alex has the idea that if they all come forward ala Spartacus, their parents would be so touched that they stuck together that they’ll just forgive them, and they’ll get their Christmas back. The girls talk Luke into confessing first, and after he does, Alex and Haley back out. Just as Phil is bringing the tree back in, Luke admits it wasn’t him and the kids all start fighting again, and Phil drags the tree back outside.

Over at Cam and Mitchell’s, Scott (Homeless Santa) is telling them the stories of his hard luck life, from being in the Marines, to going now from town to town picking up odd jobs. He is really grateful that they invited him over, and are letting him do his laundry. Just as they are feeling bad enough to tell him they got him fired, he gets pretty intense and they decide to keep it a secret. Scott goes to throw in another load, and Jay shows up to drop off a few presents for Cam and Mitchell. He starts telling them about how Manny and Gloria are trying to change his traditions, and they tell him that what he is aiming for is recreating memories, while he should be making new memories and new traditions. Cam and Mitchell tell Jay that they love making new traditions every year for the holidays, to keep things fun and interesting, and just then Scott walks back into the room wearing only his Santa pants, and the room is filled with an awkward silence as Jay doesn’t know what to say.

I don't know what I'd say either

While Jay is out, Manny and Gloria are taking the opportunity to talk about Jay’s resistance to their traditions. Gloria explains to Manny that Jay is just set in his ways and is looking forward to recreating his old memories from his old family with his new family, and Manny finally gets it and decides the best present to get Jay is to try and uphold his traditions.

Meanwhile Claire and Phil are trying to decide whether cancelling Christmas is really the best option when Alex comes downstairs and tells them that she is the one who smoked and burned the couch. She begs that they bring Christmas back, and is willing to accept any punishment handed down. They ground her for a week, and then Phil goes outside to get the tree while everyone else sets the decorations back up.

A little bit later, dinner is winding to a close at Cam and Mitchell’s, and Scott is packing things up to go. They still want to tell him that they are the ones who accidentally got him fired, but just can’t bring themselves to. Just as Cam is saying goodbye to Scott, he hears the carolers outside, and flys off the handle. Scott tells Cam to calm down and that the best thing he could do would be to forgive them, because if he hadn’t forgiven Cam and Mitchell that afternoon for getting hin fired, he never would have had such a great Christmas dinner. They realize now that Scott knew all along, and Cam takes the high road to go tell the carolers that they are doing a great job, when the new leader of the group insults Cam. Scott isn’t going to let him get away with it and punches the guy square in the jaw, and then realizes he better high tail it out of the neighbourhood, telling them that while forgiveness is nice, some people are just assholes and need a good pop in the mouth.

Scott punching the caroler in the mouth

Jay has come back from being out to drop off presents, and walks into the kitchen to see Gloria and Manny making Colombian food instead of a traditional Christmas feast and yells at them about how he wants things his way. They both look hurt until Jay yells “Innocente!” and tells them he is excited to make a few new traditions, starting with setting off fireworks on Christmas like they do in Colombia. Manny and Gloria are ecstatic, and Manny and Jay go in for a hug.

It’s now Christmas morning, and Claire and the family are all opening presents when the couch starts to smoke. It turns out the glass ornament from Phil’s dad acted as a magnifying glass and burned the hole in the couch, not a cigarette. Phil and Claire realize they were wrong to not believe their kids were telling the truth, and to make it up to them Phil foolishly tells them he will take the family on a vacation to Italy, much to Claire’s dismay.

We now cut to a montage of Christmas dinner at Jay and Gloria’s and a voiceover by Jay starts playing. He goes on to say “We talk a lot about tradition this time of year. But as much as we love our traditions, sometimes our best memories come from the times that were…untraditional. We remember when Mom and Dad when crazy, we remember when Santa punched out the caroler. But for me, this was the year the word “tradition” got a lot bigger.”

Everyone enjoying Christmas Dinner

We have a final sketch as the credits roll, and as Jay and Manny are watching the DVD Jay made on Christmas, the monster pops up on the screen again and Manny has made Jay the “Innocente!” one last time, a nice light ending to the episode.

This is a great current sitcom episode, and hard to fit under my usual categories. It is mainly an episode to get a few nice Christmas lessons across, but at the same time is not totally a one off, because the show does have certain continuity that pops up again in later episodes. The first lesson is that Christmas is a time for forgiveness, and if someone didn’t mean to wrong you (Like Cam and Mitchell toward Scott), all can be forgiven if you’re willing to make an effort. The other lesson they teach is basically what Jay touches on in his speech, that as nice as it is to have regular Christmas traitions and memories, the years that really stand out are the ones where things don’t go according to plan, because they’re the ones you’ll always remember. Both are very nice lessons for a Christmas episode to try and get across, and because of the human connection of live action shows, they feel slightly more real than most of the cartoon Christmas episodes I’ve been watching.

I shied away from using the world special when talking about this episode, because while it does touch on a few lessons everyone could do to be reminded of around the holidays, it’s not a special in the sense that it sets out to do nothing else but teach lessons. It’s a regular episode of the show that just happens to take place at Christmas, and while the lessons are a nice touch, most of the first season of Modern Family focussed on a lesson or two being taught by the end of each episode. Not that this in any way detracts from the show. Quite the contrary, I like the fact that the show is so well written that they can get away with inserting a Christmas lesson or two and not make it feel hokey or out of place. This show really was perfect for having a sweet and funny Christmas episode that can be enjoyed by both fans of the show and casual TV watchers alike.

I recommend this episode to adults and families, but wouldn’t recommend that kids watch it on their own, because most jokes might need explaining to a younger audience. This show is really great for most demographics, and I can’t say I think that one age group would enjoy it more than another, because there are just as many jokes aimed at teens and 20 somethings as there are aimed at people in the 35+ demographic. It’s a really great family show that I actually watch with the family when they are around, but at the same time I love watching it just me and my girlfriend as well.

I would consider this episode to be a new classic that I have put in my regular rotation for the holidays, and would recommend it to pretty much anyone with a sense of humour.


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