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Modern Family to crash New York, explore gender-identity questions in season 8

Plus: Nathan Fillion guests as a weatherman and Gloria speaks Russian

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ABC/Eric Liebowitz

You may have seen the Dunphys arrive the Big Apple in the season 7 finale, but now you’ll see them take a big bite out of it. Titled “The Tale of Three Cities”, the season 8 opener of Modern Family (which airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC) picks right up where the finale left off, with the three families in three different locales (Jay and Gloria at a wedding in Mexico, Mitch and Cam in Missouri, and Phil and Claire — as well as Haley, Alex, and Luke — exploring Gotham). What happens when NYC meets Dunphy? Which non-holy holiday is Jay obsessed with? Which character raises some gender-identity questions? What is the outlook for Nathan Fillion’s guest stint as a weatherman? Executive producer Christopher Lloyd gives EW the season 8 forecast.

The City That Never Sleeps is about to get its Phil.

The family comedy that has invaded such locales as Australia, Hawaii, Wyoming, and Las Vegas over the years now aims to take New York City by comedic storm. “Yes, lots of shows have gone there, but especially with Phil [Ty Burrell] leading the charge and being so enthusiastic, it seems like the energy of Phil meeting the energy of New York was a natural pairing that would be fun to see,” says Lloyd. “There’s a combination of children fun and adult fun, and there’s a little bit of adult fun that the kids want to have on their own, without the adults knowing about it. So it’s a little bit of them trying to coordinate how to remain children for the adults’ sake, but also indulge their more spicy desires while they are in New York.” How enthusiastic does Phil get about the New York visit (which includes trips to Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and 5th Avenue)? “He does at one point say, ‘Is there any more majestic bird than the great American pigeon?'” says Lloyd. “He’s very entranced with pigeons. He’s very into being in this hotel, and they try to compress as many of the New York City highlights and iconic textbook New York experiences into a compressed period of time. He’s Phil at his Phil-est.”

Jay wants to upgrade the family’s Father’s Day celebration.

“[The season premiere] is a very cool episode because it’s sort of a triple-travel show,” explains Lloyd. “And then everybody reconvenes for the latter part of the show to celebrate Father’s Day back at home with their travel experiences all coloring how they reintegrate into home life. And it gives us a chance to do a Father’s Day episode, which is one of those holidays you don’t see on television very often because new [episodes] aren’t usually on in June and July.” Be warned: The grand patriarch, played by Ed O’Neill, has this day circled in red pen on his calendar. “Jay takes it very, very seriously,” says Lloyd. “His attitude is, ‘Christmas is for everybody, and birthdays are depressing because they add a year, but Father’s Day is the perfect holiday.’ The families have a history of not showing him the proper respect on Father’s Day, in his opinion. He goes on and on about it, like, ‘We don’t have a song.’ He actually goes about trying to compose a little song for Father’s Day.” Which family members are helping to tarnish this Day of Jay? “There’s conflict going on between Gloria [Sofia Vergara] and her sister, which emanates from what happened in Mexico when they were there for the wedding,” says Lloyd. “And there’s a little bit of a carryover from an incident that happened in Missouri when Mitch [Jesse Tyler Ferguson] and Cam [Eric Stonestreet] were there that doesn’t show Mitchell in the best light, which also doesn’t please Jay. It’s a little bit of everybody disappointing Jay on Father’s Day in a funny way.”

Alex is down for some coffee talk.

Not only does the smart Dunphy child (Ariel Winter) try to beat the case of mono so she can return to Cal Tech, she is inspired to take a job as a barista. “She feels like she’s worked so assiduously on working her brain that she doesn’t really feel like she’s got the common touch,” offers Lloyd. “She finds herself becoming a little bit of a sidewalk psychiatrist to a bunch of customers who come through there. But she’s almost becoming a little bit more Haley in that sense of working at this coffee shop and really learning about people. It’s a little bit of an adventure for her… Working at this coffee shop, she finds herself a little bit questioning her whole path in life.”

Haley and Andy shippers should prepare for Haley to sail off with a new man. For now. 

“There’s a little bit of a hiatus taken between Andy (Adam DeVine) and Haley (Sarah Hyland), and ultimately she does get involved in a new relationship,” says Lloyd. “But whether that lasts, or to maybe what extent Andy intersects with that, is left an open question… He moved off to get his career going. They felt they needed to really see where they were, to take some time apart, and to test how strong their relationship is, and one of the ways Haley does that is to get involved with a new guy. But we’ve talked about maybe rolling Andy back in to the middle of that and seeing how that plays out.”

Luke goes old-school and acts like a new man.

When Luke (Nolan Gould) takes a job at Jay’s country club, he “starts to come into his own a little bit,” says Lloyd. “He becomes a little bit of a wheeler-dealer and adapts certain expressions and mannerisms that he sees from these older, successful guys that integrate into the household.”

It’s Take Your Father Problems to Work Day.

Poor Claire. She’s having trouble with one of her employees, which is tricky because not only did he used to be her boss, he remains her father. “Claire [Julie Bowen] is trying to manage how to be the boss of her dad because she sort of invited him back to work — it’s still his company,” says Lloyd. “But, as you can imagine, it’s a difficult situation to be the boss of your father, take care of his feelings, make him feel respected, but also try maintain her authority at work. It’s hard to tell your dad that he’s late for work.”

Care to spend some time with the original Modern Family?

Jay, Mitch and Claire attend a cousin’s wedding, unaware that Didi [returning guest star Shelley Long] has also been invited to the wedding. “The foursome wind up spending a lot of time together over the course of the episode, and we really haven’t seen that unit very often,” says Lloyd. “They grew up together, those two were kids in that household, and it gives us a chance to see what Jay and Didi were like together, and how Claire and Mitchell reacted to having those parents. We’ve heard a little mention of them from time to time, but this is the first time we really explore that central unit of the family. And I think it will give people some insight into why those kids are the way they are, and how all of this began.”

NEXT: Why are Phil and Gloria going away for the weekend?[pagebreak]

Coach Cam is leaving it all in the field, but he isn’t leaving everyone on the field.  

“Mitch and Cam are still running the B&B — the rental unit they have upstairs,” shares Lloyd. “We’ve had some fun with the people that have been brought into their lives with that little venue, so that will continue.” In related news, “Cam has his best football season this year,” says Lloyd, “but it’s going to turn on one particular player that he develops a complicated relationship with, which should be a funny, new dynamic for us to see.”

Lily makes a new friend — and makes Cam and Mitch think twice about their own views. 

“Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) is coming into her own,” says Lloyd. “I don’t want to say she’s an outspoken preteen because she’s been outspoken since she could talk, but she does have an interesting relationship with a friend, who may be considering a transition or has some gender-identity questions, which in turn leads Cam and Mitch to question how liberated they are. They are quick to judge other people, but how entirely liberated are they?”

Phil and Gloria go away for the weekend! (But not like that.)

“Manny and Luke are in their final year of high school, so they’re looking at colleges and, of course, that’s a tough one for Phil,” says Lloyd. “We do an episode where Phil and Gloria jointly take Manny and Luke on a college tour. It’s the one college that Luke thinks he’s got a long shot to get into and it’s Manny’s safety school, but they go as a foursome away for the weekend on a college visit. It’s a very sweet episode for both of those parent/child relationships — and the Phil/Gloria pairing that we don’t see very often.”

Look for Joe to steal the show. Or rather, just steal.  

“Joe [Jeremy Maguire] is becoming a little bit of a more kleptomaniac,” says Lloyd. “That’s always been a little bit of a lingering concern for Jay that the sort of darker genes in the Gloria gene pool may be popping out in Joe, and we’ll see a little more of that.”

You won’t go long without a Short visit.

Maya & Marty star Martin Short will pop up in one episode as a promotions maven who takes Haley under his wing. “Haley is experimenting with a new career path, which is more in promotions,” notes Lloyd. “Phil happens to know this guy that he considers a guru in the advertising and promotions world — an old-school kind of guy — so he arranges a meeting with this guy to try to [get him to be] a mentor to Haley.”

There’s a 100-percent chance of Rainer Shine.

Nathan Fillion will appear in several episodes as a self-important weatherman with whom Phil develops a friendship. “He has always been Phil’s favorite weatherman,” says Lloyd, adding: “Phil imagines that might have been a career path for him had things worked ever so slightly differently for him, but the guy is small-time celebrity and imagines he’s a little bit larger celebrity than he is. Phil idolizes him and then gets a little jealous when that guy starts lavishing attention on other family members.”

Gloria now speaks … Russian?

Thanks to her burgeoning sauce empire, Gloria has become “a little bit more of a local celebrity, which Jay likes and doesn’t like,” says Lloyd. “He likes being the Closet King and she’s becoming a little bit better known. We do learn in an upcoming episode, Gloria speaks a little bit of Russian, which gets her out of a problem. And believe it or not, there is a very reasonable explanation for why she speaks Russian.”