Credit: Richard Cartwright/ABC; Inset: Paul Zimmerman/WireImage
Mitch and Cam, Modern Family

Not even a relaxing vacation can go smoothly for the Dunphy-Pritchett-Tucker clan, which sets out to watch the total eclipse at Lake Tahoe in the season premiere of ABC’s Modern Family. But before they even arrive, their insecurities have overshadowed the natural phenomenon. Jay (Ed O’Neill) frets about his legacy after learning that a former business competitor has passed away, while Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) try to prove they’re just as adventurous as they were before their children all graduated high school and left the nest (well, sort of — hurry up, Luke!).

Phil dons an ill-advised water jetpack for the first time, which meant Burrell had to hover 20 feet over the lake while attempting to deliver his lines without ruining the stunt. “We had written all this choreography for me to do, but it turns out it was funny enough just watching me try to not kill myself,” he recalls. “It was absolutely ridiculous.” Here, he teases more of what’s to come in the season 9 premiere.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are we in for when Modern Family comes back for season 9?
TY BURRELL: Well, we’re all up there in Lake Tahoe to see the eclipse, and Jay finds out that one of his old competitors has passed away, and through social media, he discovers that this guy was just beloved, and Jay starts to worry about his mortality and about how he’s going to be remembered. The vacation basically becomes about Jay trying to make sure he’s memorable and trying to get people to see how wonderful he is.

Worrying about your legacy doesn’t sound like a fun vacation activity.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. I wouldn’t want to be in that position, I don’t think there’s any way that I could succeed. [Laughs] But it was really a lot of fun to shoot, because the Phil and Claire storyline is about them trying to recapture a feeling of being adventurous when the kids get a different brochure than they do. They get the old people brochure, which has, like, chair yoga and water coloring, and it throws both of them, so they spend the episode trying to prove that they are still young. And at one point, Phil climbs on a jetpack, which, oh my lord, we had written all this choreography for me to do, but it turns out it was funny enough just watching me try to not kill myself. [Laughs] It was absolutely ridiculous.

You mean one of those water jetpacks?
Yeah, you hover over the lake. [Laughs] You know, when I was up in the air, I was just literally trying to control the thing. We didn’t need any choreography. It was haunting, just trying to say my lines while trying to control this machine.

How high were you?
At the highest maybe 20 feet. That’s not crazy high…

High enough.
Oh, it was.

Did you see the eclipse after all?
We did, actually! The day that I was training on that jetpack, which was Monday, the stunt guys and I watched the eclipse that morning, and that was really fun. The rest of the cast didn’t get in until the next day but I watched it. And then the day I shot the jetpack was my 50th birthday, so, you know, I can’t imagine that I’ll remember that birthday. It’ll be one I’ll forget for sure, my 50th in a jetpack. [Laughs] Nothing really happened at all.

Post-eclipse, how is all of the Dunphy children graduating high school affecting Phil and Claire? They’re not really empty-nesters, right?
They are and they aren’t. The kids, like a lot of people in the 18-to-25 range, they tend to hang out, they tend to not be moving out. [Laughs] I was guilty of that when I was that age, too. So, Phil and Claire are going through wanting to be empty nesters, wanting the kids to move out, and then when the kids are out of the house at different points, they’re missing them. That’s where they’re at.

Modern Family EP Steve Levitan has said that the show will probably end after 10 seasons. What are you most excited to explore in these final seasons, if they do turn out to be the final seasons?
I’m excited to think about, you know, it really is a hard thing in real life, people finding their identities [when they’re] without their kids, and also the kids finding their identities as they become more independent. I think that’s really what we’re going to be exploring over the next two years. What do the kids become? What becomes their paths and also what of Phil and Claire? What are they gonna decide to do on their own? Other than jet-packing?

Modern Family returns Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Episode Recaps

Mitch and Cam, Modern Family
Modern Family

Parents just don’t understand… and neither do kids or spouses in this hit ensemble comedy

  • TV Show
  • 10
  • Wednesdays at 09:00 PM
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