Fall TV Preview

Modern Family Season 3 Scoop: Ranch Life, Happy Holidaze, Sisters at Arms and More!

Modern Family is expanding! Or is it?

Last season, Cam and Mitchell decided to add another member to their clan by adopting a second baby. But when ABC’s Emmy-winning comedy returns on Sept. 21, they’ll start having some doubts — that is until some throws out the words “dude” and “ranch.”

In an exclusive interview with TVLine, Family co-creator and executive producer Christopher Lloyd teases the Pritchett-Dunphy brood’s big cowboy adventure, offers details on a looming sibling showdown, and reveals why Season 3’s Christmas episode will be a seriously mixed-up affair.

HEY DUDE | The show is going more salt of the earth for its next family trip. After Phil’s Family Camp idea gets shot down, everyone goes to a dude ranch for the hour-long season premiere, which was shot in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Hawaii, it’s definitely not. But Phil will find a silver-lining to the adventure. “He [decides] it will be a chance for him to once again demonstrate to Jay that he is a worthy son-in-law,” previews Lloyd. “So Phil does a lot of practicing in the driveway, like shooting a gun and roping things.” The dude ranch might be just what Mitchell and Cam need too. They make a big decision – to adopt a baby boy! – but then “start to have some uncertainty” about whether they have what it takes to raise the little guy. “They figure, ‘A dude ranch sounds like a good way for us to rediscover our macho side,’” says Lloyd.

A VERY MIXED UP CHRISTMAS | If your favorite episodes are the ones where the family dynamics get shaken up, you won’t want to miss this season’s Christmas outing. “We have Gloria [paired] off with Luke,” reveals Lloyd. “We’ve got Phil with Manny, Mitchell with Alex.” Lloyd says one of the advantages of having such a talented ensemble is it allows the show’s writers to “put them in pairings we’re not used to seeing and discover new dimensions. It seems very real because they are family members.”

SISTER ACT | Remember that nice, genuine moment of peace Alex and Haley enjoyed at the younger Dunphy’s middle school graduation? It’s not going to last for very long now that the girls are attending the same school, which, naturally, Haley is not very happy about. In one episode, they’ll find themselves in the same math class and “hating it.” But Alex and Haley are family, so “they ultimately love each other, and they can help each other,” says Lloyd. And they’ll do so by turning that shared math class to “their mutual advantage.”

WHO’S YOUR MOMMY? | If you’re wondering what kind of a woman raised Phil Dunphy, you may have to keep wondering. Ty Burrell previously told TVLine he’s got “a feeling we’ll never meet Phil’s mom,” something Lloyd all but confirms. “It enables us to paint a picture of a larger than life character,” he says. “And it would certainly make sense that Phil would come from colorful, larger-than-life parents.” It’s not the first time the show has built up a character with just words. “We’re doing that maybe a little bit with Cameron’s sister, with allusions to this slightly strange creature she is,” he continues. “For example, she was born with a whole set of teeth. That’s something we find out in a throwaway moment — Cameron points it out almost proudly — and we may fill in that portrait a little bit as we go.” While the possibility of seeing Phil’s mom on screen remains uncertain, Fred Willard as Papa Dunphy “is certainly one [person] we would love to have back.”