|YMMV • Radar • Quotes • (Funny • Heartwarming • Awesome) • Fridge • Characters • Fanfic Recs • Nightmare Fuel • Shout Out • Plot • Tear Jerker • Headscratchers • Trivia • WMG • Recap • Ho Yay • Image Links • Memes • Haiku • Laconic • Source • Setting|
"We're from different worlds yet we somehow fit together. Love is what binds us."
Modern Family is an ABC sitcom that centers on three families:
The Dunphys, traditional two-parent, three-child set with Ty Burrell as Phil aka the "cool dad", and Julie Bowen as Claire, an overprotective mom and Former Teen Rebel. Their kids are Haley, Alex, and Luke.
The Pritchetts, a May-December interracial couple: Ed O'Neill as the 60-something Jay married to the 30-something Gloria (played by Sofia Vergara), with an 11-year-old stepson, Manny.
And finally, Mitchell & Cameron (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet), a gay couple who recently adopted a baby, Lily (Jayden & Ella in seasons 1 & 2, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons from Season 3 onwards).
At the end of the pilot, it's revealed that all three families are related (Claire and Mitchell are Jay's children from a past marriage) and cross over into one another's stories. Episodes tend to rely on standard family comedy tropes and plot lines, in a modern setting. The show uses the Docucomedy format popularized by The Office, and to great effect. But despite all these gimmicks, Modern Family's greatest strength is its excellent writing and acting.
When it began its first season, Modern Family quickly reached both critical acclaim and very high Nielsen numbers, becoming one of the best new comedies of 2009. Because of this success, the program has become the flagship title of ABC's Comedy Wednesdays along with Cougar Town and The Middle. Modern Family is currently running on its third season.
This series features examples of:
- Abraham Lincoln: "Robot Lincoln" is Jay's Favorite Disneyland attraction.
- Absentee Actor: Ariel Winter missed several episodes in season 2 for unknown reasons (some people think it's because she's under 14 and therefore subject to child labor laws — Nolan has been absent for quite a few episodes too for what many suspect the same reason).
- Absurdly Youthful Mother: Gloria, of the stepmother variety. She's actually 14 months younger than Claire.
- Actor Allusion:
- In "Fears" Phil speculates if there is treasure hidden under the porch and then if the Declaration of Independence is hidden in the attic, a reference to Ty Burrel's character in National Treasure 2.
- Luke tells Claire it would be cool if their plane crashed like in Lost; Julie Bowen appeared as Jack's wife in a few episodes (though she never appeared on the island).
- The entirety of "Fizzbo" for Eric Stonestreet, who created the clown character for himself at age 11.
- Pepper says of "Walk Like a Man," "I can sing it but I can't do it," referencing Nathan Lane's character in The Birdcage.
- A-Cup Angst: In S2 Ep17, "Two Monkeys and a Panda", Haley insults Alex after Alex complains about Haley wearing Alex's sweater without asking. Haley replies it was the first time the top half got any exercise. (Which is really quite humorous in this episode since the sweater is a form hugging one which made it very clear that Ariel Winter was growing "outward").
- Aerith and Bob: A non-fantasy example with Cam's list of friends he wanted to invite to his fundraiser in Regrets Only: Longinus, Pepper, Lamichael, Steven and Stephan, aaand... Bob.
- Affectionate Parody: In "Baby on Board", a telenovela-style drama, echoing the fictional "Fire and Ice" that Gloria, Cam and (shh) Jay have been following, takes place at the Mexican hospital's waiting room, which results in Cam and Mitchell being deprived of a chance to adopt another child that they had been expecting.
- Agony of the Feet: Gloria, wearing high heels in Disneyland, although she refuses to admit it.
- All Gays Love Theater: Cameron, increasingly.
- All the Good Men Are Gay: Subverted in "Treehouse". After Cameron has won his bet with Mitchell and gotten the phone number of an attractive woman at the bar, things progress to the point where he has to tell her. He invites her over to the apartment, from which he's carefully removed all open traces of Mitchell and Lily's existence. It turns out she wasn't fooled in the slightest, and only played along because she wanted to have a gay male friend. Hilarity Ensues when Mitchell comes back, and she gives Cameron the sort of angry, hurt speech you'd expect if the trope had been played (ahem) straight.
- Alpha Bitch: When Claire realizes in "Benched" that Alex has manipulated her fears that she's entering that phase of life where girls start not wanting to be seen with their mother into getting a twenty-dollar loan so she can blow off Claire and spend the afternoon with her friends instead, Claire pulls up next to them a short while later and loudly reminds her daughter that she needs to buy a new training bra, among other things calculated to seriously embarrass her. Lampshaded immediately thereafter when Claire admits to herself in the car that her goal was to get some emotional retaliation.
- An Aesop: Most episodes have one.
- Aesop Amnesia / Snap Back: In the Season 3 premiere, "Dude Ranch", Phil finally gets tired of Jay mistreating him and stands up to him. Despite Jay finally seeming to get it and this being a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Phil, he's immediately back to needing Jay's constant approval by the next episode.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Haley to Dylan. Of course, Dylan really isn't shown being all that bad, but he does have some of the traits associated with bad boys such as his hair, the way he dresses, and being in a rock band.
- If anything, he subverts the trope altogether. Haley's considerably more rebellious than he is.
- All Psychology Is Freudian
- All Women Love Shoes: Deconstructed somewhat in "Disneyland." Gloria insists on wearing her usual very high heels despite all the walking the trip will require, and rebuffs Jay's suggestion that she at least bring another pair. Later when it's obvious that Jay was right, he asks her ("don't go all Latin on me") if part of the reason she gets angry so easily is that she's wearing such uncomfortable shoes. She admits it, and he gets her a pair of ridiculously oversized yet soft yellow slippers, which she wears for the rest of the trip. Later, Jay gets a pair of baby high heels for Lilly, which her fathers had sworn never to do, but have the effect of stopping her from her sudden runs much better than the leash ... cough cough child protective tether they had been trying.
- Aloha Hawaii A three-episode arc near the end of the first season
- Artistic License Law: Mitch and Cameron adopted Lily from Vietnam. However, in reality Vietnam currently doesn't allow same sex couples or single parents to adopt children from there.
- Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny: Phil and Luke. Sometimes Haley. It tends to run in the family.
- Author Avatar: Luke tends to come across as this, even as The Ditz.
- Badass Santa: Technically Badass Temporary Mall Santa, but Scott from the Christmas episode still counts.
- The Beard:
- Tracy, Mitchell's girlfriend from high school. She even names this trope in S1 Ep13, when Cameron asks if Mitchell had a beard in high school, and she replies, "You're looking at her."
- Alex is one for her prom date, though he doesn't realize he's gay yet.
Alex: I guess I'm his beard. His pre-beard. His stubble.
- Beard of Evil: One gets drawn on Manny while he's asleep at a slumber party. He keeps it, and sets the drawer's bike on fire.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Phil in S2 Ep22, "Good Cop, Bad Dog" where he and Claire decide to swap on being the stricter parent and the nicer one. When Alex and Haley don't clean the bathroom as he told them to, it results in him getting a little upset.
- Big Screwed-Up Family : All the characters are related. This also leads to interesting relationships like Manny technically being Luke's (step-)uncle.
- Any time Manny refers to Claire or Mitchell as his sister or brother, they flinch briefly.
- Bilingual Bonus: Some of Gloria's lines.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Claire, at the end of "Me? Jealous?" After Phil has been proved right that his new business partner, Greg Kinnear, isn't flirting with her because he kisses everyone, even his own son, on the lips as a routine greeting, Claire gets Phil jealous anyway by laughing at Greg's jokes.
- Bittersweet Ending: "Election Day" ends with Claire losing the election for a city council position and Haley revealing that her college rejection letters have been piling up. However, the last college wait-lists her, which her family's willing to take as a win, and the re-elected city counselor gives in to Claire earlier request to put a stop sign in the neighborhood, which was her reason for running in the first place.
- Book Dumb: In contrast to her underperformance in school, Haley has proven to be quite the strategist.
- Breakout Character: Even critics who hate the show admit that they love Phil.
- The gay Cameron played by a straight actor sometimes has him called this. The same occurs with the heavily accented Gloria.
- Sarah Hyland might be a meta/actor-example, having recently made it in the top 50 of Maxim's Hot 100. This is twenty one places ahead of co-star Sofia Vergara, who's on her third consecutive year on the list.
- Brick Joke: In the third season, brick jokes have become part of the norm and unlike many comedies, doesn't always explain the joke with them. It pays to pay attention.
- In "Fizbo," Haley sets a scorpion free to stop Dylan from talking to a zoologist. At the end during her camera interview, we see the scorpion in the background on her dresser and we hear her scream over the end vanity plate.
- Also the bike shorts make a re-appearance several episodes later despite being the focus of the initial episode it was in.
- They were in a montage it could have been chronologically at the same point. This Troper seems to remember him wearing the same shirt. (although this might be because it is part of a work out outfit)
- And they appeared again in the 2nd episode of season 3 at the end of the episode where Cam and Mitchell are working out post-juice fast.
- In "Dance Dance Revelation", Phil gets frustrated with the constant pressure with Jay questioning his masculinity, and ends up chasing and repeatedly spraying "Oasis for Men" perfume on a clerk who gave him an unprompted sample. Then, in the ending credits:
[Cameron ends a sympathetic phone call]
- "Phil on Wire" has several including the traditional stinger one where Cam and Mitchell end up eating doggie treat cupcakes.
- Book Ends: Manny Get Your Gun has this.
- The Brainless Beauty: Heavily inverted by Gloria, who initially comes across as this but is actually smart, spirited, and very sweet.
- Played straight most of the time with Haley, though she still manages to trick her parents into losing their family's contest in who can the longest without using computer and phone technology so she could win. She also manages to fool her family into thinking she has a job as a waitress. She also was (briefly) able to teach Alex how to get popular. In short, Haley may be book dumb but she is also fairly creative and socially savvy.
- Discussed by Claire and Gloria. Gloria feels others treat her like this... but also feels that others treat her only as this and nothing more, rather than seeing her as someone who can actually do things. Also deconstructed in the same episode in that the one person who has a reason to think this (a male character) doesn't.
- Brainy Brunette: Alex.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Haley
- In "Benched" Claire laments Alex turning into this when Alex wants to hang out with some friends at the mall and doesn't want Claire anywhere near her while doing so.
- Brief Accent Imitation: Gloria puts on a deliberately terrible American accent after Jay points out one too many mispronunciations.
- In the 2nd season Valentine's episode, Jay does a spot-on impersonation of Gloria's exaggerated accent (which involves "Yay" and "Meeetch").
- He does it again in "Disneyland"
- Apparently imitating Gloria's accent is somewhat of a behind-the-scenes pasttime.
- Bumbling Dad: Phil. Justified somewhat by his being allergic to many materials commonly used in home repair. He is, however, shown in "Fifteen Percent" to be competent with technology to a far greater extent than his wife or father-in-law.
- But He Sounds Handsome: Cameron invokes this trope while dressed as a clown named Fitzbo.
- Butch Lesbian: "We had initially asked one of our lesbian friends to be a surrogate. Then we figured they're already mean enough, can you imagine one of them pregnant?"
- But Not Too Gay: The show was criticized by the gay community when Mitchell and Cameron hugged each other after a reunion at an airport, in contrast to straight couple Phil and Claire kissing. Of course, some noted that none of the couples seem overly affectionate with each other but this was a big sticking point.
- Another big problem was the season one Valentine's Day episode, where Mitchell and Cameron were relegated to helping Manny in his own romantic subplot rather than having one of their own, like everyone else.
- "The Kiss" brings notice to this. The explanation given is that Mitch was never comfortable expressing affection physically in front of people and feels that when Cam does it, he's being smothering.
- Of course, that doesn't explain why we never saw them kissing inside their house before. The episode established he didn't have a problem kissing Cam when they were alone, even if they were on camera.
- California Doubling: Averted, as the show takes place in the Los Angeles suburbs and the two times it's traveled for vacation episodes, in Hawaii and Wyoming, the episodes were actually filmed on location there.
- Call Back: Many in the season two finale "The One That Got Away".
- In "Leap Day", when someone proposes the Amelia's restaurant as an alternate site for Cam's party, Mitchell nixes it because of what happened between them and the owner in "Caught in the Act" the previous season.
- The events of "Bixby's Back" are brought up by Claire's political opponent (David Cross) in a political debate a season later in "Little Bo Bleep".
- The third-season finale, "Baby on Board" reveals that Luke hid Haley's college-acceptance letter because he didn't want her to leave. Underneath the closing credits, he shares with his parents all the other mail that he'd been hiding, most of which relates to events in other episodes that season.
- Call Forward: Played ironically during the stinger for "Lifetime Supply". It consists of the Game Show Appearance where Phil won the title amount of razor blades. During it he talks about his in-laws' marriage as something that he admires, one that will last forever. By the show's first season they will already have been divorced for a while.
- Call It Karma: In S1 Ep04, "The Incident" Dede, Claire and Mitch's mother and Jay's first wife, listens to Claire and Haley arguing about Dylan. She laughs and tells Claire, "Karma is a funny thing" and tells Haley that she went through the same issues with Claire and Claire's then boyfriend, Ricky.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Done notably by Phil to Jay in the Season 3 premiere, "Dude Ranch". Phil reveals to the camera that the reason for the trip is to prove to Jay that he can be a real man. Later, Jay makes a derogatory comment regarding Haley and Dylan clearly meant to apply to Claire and Phil. Later, Phil calls Jay out on it in a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
Phil: Jay, I wanna talk to you about that son-in-law crack you made at breakfast.
- Camp Gay: Mitchell and Cameron play with this trope. Cameron has the attitude of Camp Gay, while Mitchell has the interests associated with Camp Gay, so while Cameron is overly emotional, uses wide gestures and talks about art, he loves football. Mitchell has the more subdued Straight Gay Attitude but used to figure skate... (Incidentally, Cameron's actor is straight, and Mitchell's is gay. And both have at least some of the same interests as their characters.)
Mitchell: Cam, will you please tone it down?
- Speaking of The Lion King, Mitchell and Cam's friend "Pepper" Saltzman, played by Nathan(Timon)Lane. Pepper is this trope to the max.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Phil can't bring himself to tell Mitchell he's fired as the agency lawyer in the third-season episode "Tableau Vivant'. Doubled down since Mitchell can't bring himself to say that he doesn't really like the job and would rather quit.
- Captain Obvious: Gloria states that, in Colombia, it is considered very bad luck for your house to burn down.
- The Cast Showoff: One would think it would be Cameron's drumming, but an even better qualification would be Fizbo the Clown, who was created by Eric Stonestreet when he was nine.
- Catch Phrase: Jay's "Of course you did"
- Caught on the Jumbotron: In one episode, Phil and Gloria kiss at a Lakers game after being caught on the Kiss Cam.
- Chastity Couple: Cam and Mitchell, and arguably Gloria and Jay too. This becomes more pronounced when compared to Phil and Claire who share kisses in almost every episode.
- Recently both couples have begun working on averting this.
- Chekhov's Gun: The bar of soap and the sharpie in "Unplugged."
- At the beginning of "Door to Door", Mitchell reminds Cameron that the social worker is coming for their adoption homestudy later that day. After tension over Cameron's tendency to make a mess when cooking or playing with Lilly generally leads to a Crowning Moment of Funny finale where Mitchell calls Cameron on his bluff to make a mess himself by spraying whipped cream faces on himself and Cameron, and otherwise messing up their apartment, the social worker shows up at the very end of the episode.
- Christmas Episode: The fall finale of Season 1, Ep 10, "Undeck The Halls".
- And the fall finale of Season 3, "Express Christmas".
- The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Claire to the point that her husband and children won't acknowledge she was right even when she has video taped evidence to prove herself.
- Although partially they won't admit she's right because she usually is.
- Closer to Earth: Claire to Phil. Sometimes Gloria to Jay but he's generally well off. To some extent, Mitchell to Cameron.
- While Gloria is sometimes this to Jay, it should be noted that, depending on the issue at hand, it's fairly frequent that Jay is the one who's Closer to Earth.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Luke, and to a lesser extent, Phil.
- Dylan. Oh dear lord, Dylan.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Lily lets one out at a wedding, thanks to Cam not being able to stop laughing at it.
- Cold Open: Almost every episode begins with an Establishing Shot of one of the three residences: Claire and Phil's bungalow, Jay and Gloria's larger modernist house or Cameron and Mitchell's Mission-style apartment. The action then shifts to inside where the plot gets underway. A similar establishing shot serves as a transition to another household. The end of the opening becomes a freeze frame which another one of the families then holds as a framed picture, starting the credit sequence
- The Comically Serious: Mitchell on occasion, as his serious, uptight personality is contrasted by Cam's more free-spirited, dramatic tendencies.
- Continuity Nod: In the episode The One That Got Away, Haley and Alex's video for Jay's birthday consists of candid shots of the rest of the family during various past episodes that weren't shown onscreen.
- Phil keeps reminding Jay of the time he asked him to fix his computer printer in later episodes.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Luke's answer to anyone's failure of accomplishment is his water gun, as both Gloria and Haley learned the hard way.
- Cool Big Sis: Claire to Mitchell. Haley and Alex, meanwhile, are not this at all.
- Cool Old Guy: Jay, although he would probably take offense to the term "old".
- 85 year old next door neighbor Walt apparently plays video games
- Confession Cam
- Cowboy Episode: the thrid season opener was a dude ranch episode.
- Crappy Holidays: As of the middle of season 3:
- Two Christmas episodes ("Undeck the Halls" and "Express Christmas")
- Two Valentine's Day episodes ("My Funky Valentine" and its second-season sequel, "Bixby's Back", the highest-rated episode of the first two seasons)
- One Thanksgiving Episode ("Punkin Chunkin")
- One Mother's Day episode ("Mother's Day")
- Creepy Uncle: Manny, sort of. He has a crush on Haley, who is technically his niece. Of course, they're only related by marriage, close to the same age, and did not grow up together so how creepy Manny is will vary.
- Additionally, it's made very clear that Manny a) also has had interest in other girls and b) is all about the romance. Their scenes can still have some awkward moments, but it's not nearly as bad as it could be.
- Cringe Comedy: Cameron can be pretty clueless about how offensive he's being, the worst happening when he tries to pass himself off as Native American to get Lily into a high class preschool.
- Particularly in "Starry Night", wherein Cam has incredible foot-in-mouth syndrome towards Gloria. Here he is, stumbling to explain himself.
Cam: So when I said brown people, I-I wasn't talking about your...uh, brown people... I was talking about people who go to a university... Um, not your people... Not that your people couldn't go to college... Okay, now I'm hearing myself saying "your people" a lot.
- There's also the time he talks on the phone to Manny, feeding him lines to give to his love interest. To the other customers in the bakery, he sounds like an internet predator, and it doesn't help when he then clarifies "It's not what you think; I'm talking to a little boy."
- On a similar note, when Mitchell refers to Cam as "the sexy 8 year old I fell in love with" (Cam was born on a leap day) at an amusement park.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Gloria occasionally falls into this territory and is revealed to be much tougher than she initially appears. While not all that stupid, she's usually portrayed as considerably more ditzy than the other characters.
- Cutaway Gag: In the Season 2 finale, "See You Next Fall", Jay is talking about his Botox. He then mentions the doctor that tried to make his balance better. Cut to the Dunphy house, where Jay is trying to show Claire his new and improved balance, that is, until Phil bursts through the door and knocks him over.
- Cute but Cacophonic: As attractive as Gloria is, her singing and shouting voices are rather grating. A neighbor once even mistook her for a noisy parrot.
- Cute Shotaro Boy: Manny is a rare Western example.
- Daddy's Girl: Claire and Jay's relationship is an aged-up version of this (though some episodes have pointed out that this has always been the case); they often share their family issues over an occasional drink, and it's clear that Jay is closer to Claire than with Mitchell. Heck, Jay is closer to Cam than he is to Mitchell due to several shared interests such as football.
- Played with in Cam and Lily's case, where it's pretty obvious that Cam is all but rearing her up to be one.
- To a lesser extent, Haley to Phil.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Gender inverted. Phil is actually very fond of Dylan (to the point where Phil was more distraught over Haley breaking up with Dylan than Haley was), but Claire dislikes him and has tried breaking him and Haley up.
- Played straight with Claire, Phil, and Jay. The Season 3 premiere, "Dude Ranch" reveals that this is the reason Phil treats Dylan so well, because he went through the same issues with Jay.
- Dawson Casting
- Played straight with Sarah Hyland (Haley), (though, to the show's credit, she doesn't look it).
- Averted by Rico Rodriguez (Manny) and Nolan Gould (Luke).
- Inverted by Ariel Winter (Alex), with Alex being older than Luke but Winter being the same age as his and Manny's actors.
- Deadpan Snarker: Alex and Mitchell
- Gloria occasionally gets in on the act, too
- In the first two seasons, Lily very frequently looks like she would be this if she could talk. Check out her reactions to her daddies (particularly Cam). She gets a nice glance-aside in the Mother's Day episode of season two.
- In an early season 3 episode, Stella the dog gets one of these, too.
- Jay, literally the granddaddy of all deadpan snarking, but what do you expect from the man who used to be Al Bundy?
- Depending on the Writer: Alex's social life. Some episodes have either her being ostracized by her peers or her having a snobbish attitude toward them or simply being more concerned with studying and school. Other episodes show her having friends and being at least somewhat socially active. While this is possible in Real Life, especially for a teenager, what differs is how each scenario is shown.
- Phil's intelligence/goofiness.
- Determinator: In "Someone To Watch Over Lily", Alex reveals that she hates playing cello but continues to do so because she's never quit anything in her life.
- Didn't Think This Through: In "Caught In The Act" after the Dunphy kids walk in on Phil and Claire having sex, they get their parents a good lock for their door. The problem? Said lock is very loud, enough to be heard throughout the house, and basically informs the kids every time their parents are about to go at it.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: Alex in "Strangers On a Treadmill" when she's talking on the phone to a popular girl.
- Disproportionate Retribution: S1 Ep17, "Truth Be Told" Luke calls Alex a "dork-to-dork saleswoman," for which she actually fails to come up with a comeback to. That is, at least, until she proceeds to convince him that he's actually adopted.
- Another example is when, during a slumber party, Manny's friends doodled on his face while he was asleep. Jay suggested that Manny get even by pranking them back, and he did. How? By setting his friend's bike on fire.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Near the beginning of "Hit and Run" Jay has a hard time pitching his redesign for closets his company makes to his new boss. At the end of the episode he takes the same redesign but lets Gloria pitch it. The boss changes his tune and doesn't even bat an eye to the redesign.
- The Ditz: Haley and Luke. And, to a lesser extent, Phil and Cameron. Gloria isn't too much of this, but she's definitely portrayed as such.
- Genius Ditz: Luke occasionally shows signs of this. Dylan, as well. Consider that he's able to write an Intercourse with You song about Haley that's so catchy that he sings it for her entire family with her sitting right next to him, that even though they're initially horrified, the next morning, they're all singing it to themselves.
- Dragged Into Drag: Luke, at the end of "Me? Jealous?". Apparently it's something Haley and Alex had both done to him more frequently when they were all younger.
- Dueling Shows: With Parenthood.
- Dyeing for Your Art: Sofia Vergara is naturally blonde. Her hair has gotten lighter as the series has gone on but it's still darker than her natural hair color
- Ear Worm: In-universe, in S1 Ep04, "The Incident". Dylan sings a rather explicit song that he wrote for Haley called "In The Moonlight" to the entire family. While they're initially horrified, the next morning, every one of them is singing the song to themselves.
- Elevator Failure: After Phil finally brings himself to fire Mitchell as the agency lawyer in the third-season "Tableau Vivant", Mitchell is stuck in the elevator with the doors not quite shut for some time.
- Economy Cast
- Emo Teen: Dylan
- Ensemble Cast — So much so that the show has had Emmy nominations for every adult actor but all in the supporting category.
- Precious Puppies: Stella, from Season 2 Episode 22 onwards.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Some of the episodes have titles that are references to or plays on popular culture, while others have titles that simply describe the episode's plot or one of the sub-plots.
- Executive Meddling: Parodied in the show's sketch at the 2010 Emmy Awards, which shows various proposed "changes" to the show, such as: having Cameron and Mitchell adopt Stewie, making Cameron and Mitchell not gay, shooting the show in 3D (with an emphasis on shots of Sofia Vergara's chest), and replacing Ed O'Neill or Ty Burrell with George Clooney.
- Though some viewers may not mind the last two ideas.
- And neither did some of the actors.
- Though some viewers may not mind the last two ideas.
- Extracurricular Enthusiast: Alex. She plays the cello, plays lacrosse, and has participated in a bottle-collection program to help build schools in third-world countries. Note that she doesn't do all this because she loves all the activities, but rather to pad her resume for when she has to apply for colleges.
- Face Doodling: Happens to Manny at a sleepover in "The Incident".
- Fake American: Gloria's weird attempt at reducing her accent in "Halloween".
- "Did she just get back from the dentist?"
- Fake Brit: Edward Norton as Spandau Ballet bassist, Izzy Lafontaine, in "Great Expectations".
- Fan Disservice: Cam in bike shorts.
- Fetish: Haley sends a picture of her feet to a prospective boyfriend in "Egg Drop".
- Forbidden Fruit: In S1 Ep 12, "Not In My House," after Claire mistakenly believes Luke has been looking at porn online, not knowing it was Phil, Phil uses that as his cover story and explains Luke's behavior to Claire using this mentality.
Phil: Breasts are like these scary, mystical things that he's drawn to like Frodo to Mordor.
- S3 Ep01, "Dude Ranch" has this overlap with Dating What Daddy Hates when Jay tells Claire not to try keeping Haley from seeing Dylan because it will only drive her into his arms faster.
- Former Teen Rebel: Claire
Claire: Your kids don’t need to know who you were before you had them. They need to know who you wish you were, and they need to try to live up to that person. They’re gonna fall short but better they fall short of the fake you, than the real you.
- Future Loser: Haley is the butt of a lot of jokes that involve this.
- Game Show Appearance: Phil won his lifetime supply of razors on "Smarty Pants" in "Lifetime Supply".
- Gangsta Style: The way Gloria holds a BB gun in "Manny Get Your Gun".
- Generation Xerox: Quite a lot. Phil and Luke are this as are Claire and Haley, and Claire has mentioned she is specifically trying to prevent this with Haley. Jay has also shown similar traits to both Claire and Mitch.
- S1 Ep04, "The Incident", Claire and Mitch's mother, Dede, tells Haley how she went through a similar experience with Claire and Claire's former boyfriend, Ricky, that Claire is going through with Haley and Dylan, telling Claire that "Karma is a funny thing".
- S1 Ep08, "Great Expectations" Jay knows how Haley tries to escape the house from having the same experience with Claire (and Mitchell).
- S2 Ep03, "Earthquake", has this as one of the sub-plots. After getting into a conversation with a plumber about parenting, the plumber reveals he disliked his son because he saw his younger self in him, and this is the same with Claire and Haley.
- In S2 Ep08, "Manny Get Your Gun", the opening scenes for all three families show Claire, Mitch, and Jay having the same opening dialogue: "Let's go let's go let's go let's gooooo"
- S3 Ep01, "Dude Ranch" reveals that the reason Phil treats Dylan so well, despite Claire hating him, is because Phil went through the same issues with Jay and Claire.
- S3 Ep02, "When Good Kids Go Bad" does this twice. The first is with Lily having the same possessive tendencies as Mitch, and the second is Jay having the same obsession with proving himself right as Claire which is lampshaded at the end after Jay has the same reaction Claire had earlier upon proving herself right, to which the rest of the family responds with a big "Oooohhhhhh".
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Haley and Alex, different from the standard example in that neither sister is portrayed sympathetically.
- Sometimes subverted when the girls make a show of squabbling to try and get out of doing something.
- As of the middle of season 1, Alex is clearly winning.
- Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Lilly's Bunny. She keeps her dads up all night crying when he gets lost on the LA Subway in "Planes, Trains and Cars".
- Girls Night Out Episode: Subverted in "Go Bullfrogs!". After Claire drops Luke off at a sleepover, the mother hosting it invites her to watch Gone with the Wind with all the other moms. Claire lies about not feeling well and having already seen it in order to take advantage of all her children and her husband being absent to go out with Cameron and Mitchell.
- Gold Digger: Subverted with Gloria but who is actually a very nice person who genuinely loves Jay.
- S1 Ep05, "Coal Digger" has this as a plot point. It's revealed Claire originally thought Gloria was a gold-digger when she started dating Jay but had come to realize Gloria's sincerity by the point the show started. Gloria wasn't aware of this until this episode, however, and Claire still has to jump in the pool in her good dress to apologize.
- Good Is Dumb: Despite insistence from Claire that he's a rebel, Dylan is actually quite the good guy who is willing to do what it takes to ensure that Haley betters herself even if it's not best before him. And he's dumb as bricks.
- Go to Alias: Clive Bixby for Phil, Juliana for Claire.
- Grumpy Old Man: Mr. Kleezak, the Dunphy's next door neighbor, played by Phillip Baker Hall.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Normally, Gloria is a very fun and amiable person. She can also go berserk at the drop of a hat.
- Hates Being Touched: Mitchell 
- Barry, the handsome and homeless aspiring "Reiki" master in Slow Down Your Neighbors".
- Happily Married: Jay and Gloria. Phil and Claire.
- While Mitchell and Cameron are certainly happy, they're not married, not even civilly united. This is confirmed in S2 Ep 11, "Slow Down Your Neighbors", where their disgruntled landlord tells them how happy they should be that they're not allowed to marry.
- Has Two Daddies: Lily
- Hidden Depths: In "See You Next Fall", Haley talks Alex out of her mean-spirited middle-school graduation speech by admitting that she is actually very anxious about whether she'll graduate from high school with her own class or not.
- Hide Your Pregnancy: Julie Bowen was eight months pregnant with twins during the filming of the pilot, so they hid her behind laundry baskets and other assorted things.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: In the second-season finale, "The One That Got Away". Phil is shopping with Gloria, who has Lily in a stroller. He realizes everyone passing, particularly the men, think Gloria's his wife. Since he has seen an old college friend and romantic rival around, one he has always unsuccessfully tried to one-up, he does little to discourage the perception. But when the friend finally sees him with Gloria, he says he'd always thought Phil would end up with Claire, whom he thought was the most beautiful girl Phil ever dated.
- Hollywood Nerd: Alex is a Type 2. It's a little difficult to believe any of Haley's comments about her having issues with boys when she's played by Ariel Winter.
- S3 Ep08, "After The Fire" plays with both types. Luke and Manny are being harassed by a group of Type 1's. They stop when Alex approaches them, lets her hair down, and tells them to cut it out which they gladly do because they're infatuated with her. As she tells a disbelieving Haley, "You have your fans. I have mine. Someday, your fans are going to work for my fans."
- Homage: To The Godfather with Cam singing "Ava Maria" at a formal wedding, intercut with Mitchell destroying the house in slow motion as he tries to kill a pigeon.
- Hot Mom: Both Claire and Gloria.
- How We Got Here: "Fizbo" uses this to its fullest possible extent.
- "See You Next Fall" as well.
- Hyperlink Story: The Pilot Episode shows the three families separately, each with its own plot, and only near the end reveals that they are all related to each other.
- Hypocritical Humor: This show loves this trope. Most notable being in "Fears" after the doctor talked to Mitchell and Cameron (before leaving) about how her mother wouldn't be happy unless she was one big Asian Stereotype and then proceeding to back into the garbage barrels and sideswiping their car.
- And then in "En Garde", Haley teases Alex about knowing when fencing originated. Luke says that he thinks it's cool she knows that to which Alex just calls him a dork and looks annoyed.
- In "Phil on Wire", Claire rebukes Alex and Haley for gossiping about a classmate: "You don't know how hard she has it. Her mother can't get through a soccer game without going through a thermos full of Chardonnay."
- Gloria complains about how Americans see Colombians as violent: "What do they think we are ... Peruvians?" (Colombians actually do see Peruvians this way, and when a representative of a Peruvian-American group complained to ABC about this Sofia Vergara said something in Spanish that roughly translates to "get a life")
- Claire jokes on the phone with Mitchell about Cameron breaking down and crying when she told him he doesn't look good in bike shorts. Mitchell responds sarcastically that of course all gay men do that, only for Cameron to do just that off-camera.
- In "Leap Day", Gloria is trying to restrain Jay when the boat captain tells the extended family and cam and Mitchell's friends that they can't all get on the boat as the limit is 24. She reminds him that, contrary to what she'd suggested to him earlier in the episode, she likes that he is cool and rational. But when the captain refers to Jay as "grandpa" she punches him in the nose.
- I Have Boobs - You Must Obey!: Subverted and played straight in Season 3's Express Christmas. While shopping at Target, Haley uses this technique to acquire Lily's gift.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Apparently Gloria can do some impressive things with a BB-Gun, and can do them Gangsta Style
Gloria: [shoots an inflatable island Manny is lounging on]
- Incessant Music Madness: Jay gives Gloria a karaoke machine, and she keeps singing off key, to Jay's dismay. He keeps trying to break it to her gently, but in the end it's Manny who snaps and yells at her to stop. In The Stinger, Jay tries out the karaoke machine, but Manny pulls the plug and warns Jay, "This won't be the last plug I pull."
- In Love with Love: Manny
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Alex is constantly ridiculed by Haley for not having any friends.
- Intergenerational Friendship: By season 3 Luke and Mr. Slezak next door have started playing video games together. Then Mr. Slezak dies.
- Interrupted Intimacy: Claire and Phil, by their children, at the beginning of "Caught in the Act during the second season.
- The Internet Is for Porn: Claire thinks Luke is looking at internet porn in "Not In My House".
- Irrevocable Message: The email Jay sends in Gloria's name to Claire in "Caught in the Act".
- It Got Worse: Happens almost every episode. The season 1 finale has many examples:
- Phil's confession that makes Claire even more upset with him
- Claire attempting to fix the slightly broken step, which only worsens it
- Mitchell attempting to kill the pigeon, which leaves his house in ruins
- Invoked in the third season episode "Leap Day"
Mitchell: It turned out that Cam's anxiety really wasn't about the party. It was about turning 40. When we realized it, that made things much worse.
- Intercourse with You: "In the Moonlight", a song Haley's boyfriend wrote for her in S1 Ep04, "The Incident", which he then sings for the entire family.
The stars are falling from the sky
- While they're all initially horrified, the next morning, all of them are singing the song to themselves.
- It's a Costume Party, I Swear: Mitchell is told by his new co-workers that dressing up for Halloween is an office tradition. He arrives at in work in a Spider-Man costume only to discover no one else is in costume. (He later learns that the two he spoke to are the only two who ever dress up.) Hilarity Ensues as he puts a suit on over the costume and then spends the rest of the day trying to get an opportunity to change out of the costume.
- It Runs in The Family: Jay, Claire, and Mitchell have a habit of rushing everyone by shouting "Let's go!" repeatedly.
- Jail Bait Wait: Sort of. Manny meets an adult woman in an online book club who mistakenly believes he's much older than he is. After they've met, and she's lamenting about how she'll never meet the right man, he suggests they try again in ten years if they're still single.
- Just Add Bitch:
Mitchell(after the apparent reconciliation of his mother w/ Gloria): Okay, you see? We're all gonna move past this because of me, who's not a Momma's Boy but is a caring person with wisdom and emotional insights, so make a note, bitches!
- Karma Houdini:
- In "Regrets Only" Alex catches Haley faking having a job as a waitress, and convinces the family to have dinner at the restaurant. But she makes the mistake of gloating to Haley first, and Haley is able to fake the job until an incident erupts that she claims got her fired. And ironically, she would have inevitably been caught without Alex doing anything; she'd made a deal with her parents to earn half the payment on a car, faking it by holding onto the same sixty dollars each day, and would have been screwed when the time came to produce all the money.
- Phil in "When Good Kids Go Bad". Phil puts Claire into a physically dangerous situation while he flirts with another woman. Phil doesn't even ask if his wife is okay, and tries to blame the situation on her. Later he jokes about it with his kids, and gets them to agree with his version of events (despite them not being there). When Clair gets video taped evidence that's supports her version of events, the rest of the family guilt her into believing she went to far to prove she war right. At no point does Phil apologize for any of his behavior.
- Kidanova: Manny, at least in his own mind
- Kids Prefer Boxes: Luke is like this. One year, they decided to just give him a box for his birthday. Unfortunately they put it in a nice bag and he spent all day playing with the bag.
- When Phil's dad visits and brings a dog with him, Luke ends up in the dog's cage, presumably because he was playing with it. Spoilered to save the sight gag.
- Kitschy Local Commercial: Lily gets a part in one of these. Along with all of the usual cheesiness, this commercial is also extremely racist.
- Large Ham: Cameron, especially when he's on a juice fast. In the same scenario, even Mitchell became one.
- Leap Day: Promotion for the new episode revealed that Cameron was born on it and he's "technically" ten years old.
- No, he's technically only had ten birthdays. He has still been alive forty years, making him forty years old. Mitchell tries repeatedly to explain this to him in the episode, to no avail until the end.
- Lethal Chef: Haley's attempt at cupcakes.
- She was only failing to get out of doing it, we never find out if she is really that bad.
- At the end of the episode she makes a batch of cupcakes the family tries and as soon as she leaves the room they call for Poison Control.
- She was only failing to get out of doing it, we never find out if she is really that bad.
- Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: As Alex's supposed tomboyish-ness is an Informed Ability, Alex seems to be a light feminine (cares about grades, pleasing others, wants to buy a doll in one episode) to Haley's dark feminine (more interested in guys, popularity.)
- Magic Feather: Played straight in "Treehouse", when Mitchell gives Jay a little pill to cure his shyness about salsa dancing. Turns out it's chewable baby aspirin.
- Magical Queer: Played with in Cameron's urge to solve anyone's personal problem that he might stumble across (to the point of hosting a wedding). Mitchell is not happy about it at all.
- Cameron does, however, making a point of stating that he would not be a Magical Disabled Person, however:
(when Mitch is attempting to build a playhouse for Lily, badly) "If an accident does happen, I hope he kills me. Because I don't think I would be a very inspiring disabled person."
- Subverted in "Treehouse", when a woman to whom he's pretended to be straight in order to win a bet that he could get her phone number later tells him she knew all along that he was gay; she just wanted to have a gay male friend to confide in. He isn't at all flattered by this, and tells her as much.
- Malaproper: Gloria (due sometimes to her accent) and also Haley.
- Man Child: Phil
- Mathematician's Answer: In the season 3 premiere, Dylan goes missing in the wilderness near Jackson Hole. When Haley gets within shouting distance of him, he's characteristically unhelpful.
Haley: Dylan! Where are you?
- May-December Romance: Jay and Gloria. One episode has Manny accidentally going on a date with an adult though nothing serious happened.
- Meganekko: Alex (although in the third-season finale, "Baby on Board", she makes a point of attending her first prom without her glasses).
- Menstrual Menace: Played absolutely straight in "Leap Day," to the point that some viewers called the show on Unfortunate Implications.
- Metaphorgotten: "No, see, this is exactly why we sweep things under the rug. So people don't get hurt." "Well, yeah, until you sweep too much under the rug. Then you got a lumpy rug. Creates a tripping hazard. Open yourself up to lawsuits. Boy, you can go a really long time without blinking."
- In "Earthquake", "You know what they say, sometimes, when God closes a door...he closes it so hard your wife can't get out."
- Mind Your Step: The broken step in the Dunphy house is a running gag.
- Ms. Fanservice: Gloria is the Ms. Fanservice. Claire seems fits this role a little less often.
- Desiree in "The Bicycle Thief", at least to Phil.
- Haley manages to fill this role occasionally, especially in S2 Ep06, "Halloween."
- In-universe. S3 Ep 08, "After The Fire" has Alex as this to a group of teenage nerds just by undoing her ponytail. As she tells a stunned Haley, "You have your fans. I have mine. Someday, your fans are going to work for my fans."
- Mistaken for Cheating: S1 Ep17, "Truth Be Told" has an interesting inversion. Phil has been keeping in touch with his old girlfriend for a while, and she come to visit him. It's revealed she wants to have an affair with him and thought the whole reason had had been talking with her was to do so.
- Played with in the Season 1 finale, "Family Portrait". Phil believes that Gloria and Claire think he's cheating after Gloria kisses him at a basketball game when the kiss cam lands on them, and Phil and Manny receive some coincidental and unfortunately worded texts from Claire and Luke. It's more a case of "mistake for mistaken for cheating".
- S2 Ep09, "Mother Tucker" has this happen with Haley and Dylan. Even though they'd broken up earlier in the episode she gets extremely angry when she sees him in a restaurant with who she thinks is another girl due to the sweater on the other chair (which belongs to Phil).
- Mistaken for Gay: S3 ep06, "Go Bullfrogs" has Claire hanging out with a French friend of Mitch and Cam who she mistaken assumes is gay simply because he's their friend. When she gets drunk later in the episode she... says and does some things a married woman shouldn't do in front of another man.
- Mistaken for Pedophile: Happens on two separate occasions to Cam and Mitchell — Cam when he was trying to help Manny win over a classmate, Mitchell when reassuring Cam (whose birthday falls on Feb 29) that he's still the "same eight year-old [he] fell in love with".
- Mistaken for Racist: Phil wears a shirt that says 'If you ain't white you ain't right'. This is because he was on Team White at family camp. He is later confused as to why an African-American taxi driver seems rather disgruntled while unloading their bags.
- In "Starry Night" Cameron is talking about Columbia and Brown University and a lawyer friend of Mitchell's, and says "I wish that tart would go back to Columbia and take her weird, little Brown friends with her" right as Gloria walks by.
- Mood Whiplash: A recent episode goes from a serious discussion and realization of girls growing up quickly to Manny trying to impress a girl by slowly driving Mitch's car.
- As the series progresses, only the interview segments count, as much of the other action seem to take place without any cameras present (for instance, different angles of the same scene reveal there are no cameras around).
- Although even now, you can still see the characters doing takes to the camera, particularly when they are embarrassed by something (usually their spouse or child).
- The takes to the camera are inconsistent too — they're always filmed in the same location, but often a character will express a point of view that they don't endorse by the time they get back home to do a take to the camera. Of course, Rule of Funny is in place so it doesn't really matter.
- The original pilot script featured the man behind the camera as a character, which was quickly phased out.
- As the series progresses, only the interview segments count, as much of the other action seem to take place without any cameras present (for instance, different angles of the same scene reveal there are no cameras around).
- Momma's Boy:
Cameron: There's a fish in nature that swims around with its babies in its mouth. That fish would look at Mitchell's relationship with his mother and say, 'That's messed up.'
- S3 Ep08, "After The Fire", shows that this also applies to Cameron and Gloria.
- Cameron too.
- Mother-Daughter Threesome: Dylan has a dream about this involving Claire and Haley in "Chirp". Later on, when Haley gets sick and is lying in bed with Claire when Dylan calls Haley tells him she's in bed with her mother and then says, "Stop freaking out, It's not coming true."
- Murder Arson and Jaywalking: From "Slow Down Your Neighbors"
- Nerds Are Sexy: In S3 Ep08, "After The Fire", Haley is flabbergasted that a group of nerdy teenage boys worship Alex:
Alex:You have your fans...I have my mine. Someday, your fans are going to work for my fans.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: In a season two episode where Cam and Mitch think that being a gay couple with an Asian baby will get them into a good pre-school only to get beat out by...
Cam: Disabled interracial lesbians with an African kicker!
- No Periods, Period: Averted by "Leap Day", where Phil, Luke and Manny step gingerly around Claire, Haley and Alex when they realize it's that time of the month for all three of them.
- Not Blood Siblings: Manny has been shown crushing on Haley and Alex, and Luke has been shown crushing on Gloria.
- In the Season 1 finale, "Family Portrait" Alex and Manny are at basketball game, while the kiss-cam on the scoreboard is going around.
Manny: Wouldn't it be embarrassing if they put the camera on us and we had to kiss?
- Not What It Looks Like: In "Our Children, Ourselves", Mitchell sees an old girlfriend (Mary Lynn Rajskub), with whom he once had a tryst before he came out, in the mall accompanied by what appears to be a child with red hair. He frets that without realizing it he fathered a child by her, and Cameron persuades him to buy a gift and meet the boy. However, when they finally do, it turns out that he's a little person who's married to the former girlfriend. This sets up more Cringe Comedy when the gift Cameron and Mitchell bought turns out to be a baseball glove.
- Oedipus Complex: While they can manage to be civil, in general, Jay and Mitchell do not get along. This has gotten better in later episodes.
- Of Course I'm Not a Virgin: Early in "Virgin Territory", Alex laughs out loud when she mistakes her father's words "Haley's aversion" for "Haley's a virgin", which leads Phil to the realization that his oldest daughter isn't.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: This show's favorite trope. Notable examples include:
- Claire tries to convince Haley to break up with Dylan; her roundabout way of bringing it up makes Haley think Claire is contemplating divorce.
- A pair of vacation acquaintances have been told that Jay is going senile; when they ask Manny about it, he thinks they're talking about Jay's golf skills.
- Phil and Claire are shaken about their kids walking in on them having sex. Gloria assumes its about the mean spirited e-mail she accidentally sent to Claire.
- Phil paints an ad for his retail business on the family van, with an unfortunate setup making it look like an escort service. This leads to a call about someone wanting the little one if the carpet matches the drapes.
- Another example is Right Behind Me, below.
- Claire tells Luke that she and Phil are "splitting up", by which she means taking two different cars to Manny's birthday party. Luke immediately asks to go with Phil, which understandably bothers Claire when she realizes he thought they were getting divorced.
- In the stinger of "Egg Drop", Alex (in one of her rare scenes without her glasses) thinks she's having a deep sisterly chat with Haley about how she treated her mother in the episode. It turns out that Haley is talking to a boy on her phone.
- Phil sells a house in "Aunt Mommy" when the buyers, a gay couple who are friends of Cam and Mitchell, think Phil's phone conversation with Claire is with his office, leading them to believe the house will sell quickly if they pass.
- One Head Taller: Dylan and Haley, almost to Huge Guy, Tiny Girl extents.
- Only Sane Man: Even though she's much younger, Lily appears to realize how insane everyone else in her adopted extended family is.
- Alex sometimes acts like this.
"SHE NEVER WORKED HERE!"
- The Other Darrin: Lily was recast for season three when it became clear the little girls playing her really didn't like acting.
- Papa Wolf: Cameron, where Lily is concerned.
- "It's go time!!"
- Comes up again in "Slow Down Your Neighbors" as Cameron's first reaction to potential trouble is "Let me grab my bat." Suffice to say, disregard Cameron at your own peril.
- Jay, as well; don't endanger Manny, mess with Mitchell or his grandkids....
- Parental Hypocrisy: Claire has a rebellious past (including being driven home by the police in her underwear) despite reprimanding Hayley for similar behavior, though Claire justifies this as trying to prevent Hayley from making the same mistakes as her.
- Parenting the Husband: Phil and Claire.
- The Parent-Produced Project: Narrowly averted in "Starry Night" when Haley needs to bake some cupcakes for school and tricks her mother into making them by pretending to be incompetent in the kitchen. At the end of the episode, Claire catches on to the trickery and dumps the freshly baked cupcakes in the bin; telling Haley that now she has seen how it's done, she can do it herself. The ending subverts the trope, when everyone tries Haley's cupcakes and they're so terrible that Claire looks for the number for Poison Control.
- Inverted in another episode where the Dunphy parents decide NOT to help their kids for a change, since the kids have grown to take it for granted that the grownups will do all the work.
- Subverted by the third-season episode "Egg Drop". At the end Luke and Manny admit they manipulated Claire and Jay into doing their projects for them.
- The Pete Best: In "Travels With Scout", Cameron fills in for the drummer of Dylan's band when their old drummer is forced to leave the band after moving away. After an awesome show (and an extremely long drum solo), the former drummer returns, stating that he didn't have to move away after all and can stay in the band. Cameron, after several moments of awkward silence, leaves with the statement "Good luck following that, Ringo."
- "Dude, you really need to label those sticks!"
- Playing Both Sides: In "The Last Walt", Haley gets Gloria to let her have a pool party at their house while she and Jay are out by telling her her uncle will chaperone. When it's actually time for the party, Haley tells Manny he's the chaperone (It backfires somewhat when Manny takes that role seriously).
- Playing Sick: Cameron feigns a back injury after brunch at the Dunphys in "Virgin Territory" so he can search for a Tupperware bowl that hasn't been returned to him.
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: When Cameron and Mitchell think that there's a man in Lily's bedroom, Cameron immediately grabs a baseball bat and says, "It's go time..."
- Primal Scene: In "Caught In the Act" the Dunphy kids walk in on their parents having sex.
- Product Placement: Maybe. The show dedicated an entire episode to Phil's birthday quest for an iPad. Even though the episode aired two days before the launch of the iPad, all parties concerned swear no money or product changed hands over the placement.
Phil: The iPad is being released on MY birthday! It's like God and Steve Jobs got together to say 'Happy Birthday, Phil!'
- The show got this again in season 3, when Cameron & Mitchell went to see a violent movie, only to accidentally end up in a theater showing The Muppets (despite that movie not actually being out yet). Despite Disney producing the film, and Eric Stonestreet & Rico Rodriguez having cameos in it, the creators swear Disney did not pay them to promote the film .
- A definite product placement in the episode "Express Christmas", Target is mentioned by name and its logo is prominently shown in the shopping scene. And unlike the iPad episode, money definitely changed hands as Target received a promotional credit.
- The episode "Send Out the Clowns" was the first new episode to air after Oreo's 100th Birthday. Briefly Phil takes some time out to talk to Luke about how to open and eat an Oreo. As with the Muppets example above, an Oreo commercial aired at the first commercial break.
- Most of the "Disneyland" episode takes place at that attraction, owned by ABC's parent company. And once again a themed commercial appeared within the program, this time for Cars World, a new attraction in Disney World.
- Put on a Bus: Dylan takes a job in Jackson Hole in the season 3 premiere
- The Bus Came Back: Dylan returned in "Disneyland" at the end of season 3.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Alex plans on giving this to her classmates as her valedictorian speech at her grade school graduation but decides not to at the last second.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Any given pair among the main cast (whether married, siblings, or step-cousins), though sometimes the roles are switched.
- Right Behind Me: Cameron makes disparaging comments about Ivy League schools Columbia and Brown at a family event. Gloria (from Colombia) overhears and misinterprets. Cameron tries to explain himself. Hilarity Ensues.
- At the end of "Leap Day", Mitchell tells Cameron, who's been depressed about turning 40 and keeps saying it's only his tenth birthday, that "you're still the same 8-year-old I fell in love with" and then turns around to see a mother behind him hastily grab her son's arm and take him away.
- Also happens in "Mother's Day" when Gloria is telling Clare that the poems Manny writes for her aren't very good only to discover Manny standing behind her.
- Ring Ring CRUNCH: The smoke alarm variant. In "Chirp", Phil spends the entire episode trying to track down a smoke detector that is making an annoying chirping sound. He eventually becomes so frustrated that he starts smashing all the smoke detectors in the house.
- Rube Goldberg Device: Luke and Manny set one up in the Dunphy kitchen where picking up a cookie causes a carton of milk to spill in order to get Lily in trouble. Instead Cameron picks up the cookie and slips on the puddle of spilled milk on the floor.
- Running Gag: We have got to fix that step.
- Fixed for about two seconds in Season Two;
Phil: Seriously, I just fixed that!
- It's probably just a coincidence, but this also looks a lot like a Shout-Out to the Tintin comic, The Castafiore Emerald, which had the exact same running gag a few decades earlier.
- It seems to particularly annoy Phil as he comments on it more than the others. Happens multiple times in the season 2 finale.
- Phil's crush on Gloria.
Phil: "I got Gloria."
- It seemingly ends in "The One That Got Away", where he realizes how lucky he is to have Claire and catches her instead.
- Gloria doesn't know the English word for "helicopter".
- Phil's unseen co-worker, Gil Thorpe.
- Luke's accidental double entendres.
(Talking about Phil's receptionist)
- Mitchell really hates birds.
- Manny's fear of butterflies.
- Luke's distrust of the police.
- Luke's distaste for Lily.
- Screams Like a Little Girl: Cameron, generally when Lily is in trouble. Over the phone, he was mistaken for Mitchell's panicked wife.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Phil and Jay; Cam and Mitchell, at least comparatively. Manny and Luke sometimes fall into this.
- Sequel Episode: In "Bixby's Back", the second-season Valentines Day Episode, Phil and Claire decide to ditch a boring restaurant by resuming the same roles they played in the first-season V-day ep, "My Funky Valentine".
- Serious Business: In "Leap Day," it seems like the show exists in some bizarre world where February 29th of a leap year is a national holiday, complete with no school or work.
- Shaking Her Hair Loose: In "After the Fire", Alex undoes her ponytail and shakes her hair loose in front of a group older nerds who have crushes on her before she stops them from bullying Luke and Manny.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Alex, occasionally. Easy to do for Type 2 Hollywood Nerds.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Scott, the mall Santa that Mitch and Cam accidentally get fired in "Undeck The Halls".
- Shout-Out: Maybe Mitchell and Cameron, in reference to Cameron Mitchell.
- Let's not forget Alex and Haley.
- Jay's repeated "it's not fair" after his ebook reader is broken is a Shout-Out to The Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough At Last."
- Luke says it would be cool if their plane crashed on the island from Lost, while Claire then looks into the camera with a shocked look. The actress who plays Claire also played Jack Shepard's wife on Lost.
- Lampshaded by Phil when Dylan is playing his iPhone outside Haley's window in a scene clearly referencing Say Anything. Dylan has apparently never heard of this movie.
- Mitchell destroying the house undercut by Cameron singing at a wedding is a parody of The Godfather.
- There are a couple to Angela Lansbury early in season two, as well as Phil's "Good times she wrote" in "The Old Wagon".
- Significant Reference Date: The episode Leap Day aired Feb 29, 2012.
- Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Luke begins to see Lily as this.
- Skeleton Key Card: Gloria opening the locker in "When Good Kids Go Bad".
- Slasher Smile: Claire is horrified to learn that she gets one whenever she talks about death, and it causes some problems with the friends of her recently dead neighbor. "Please, I only just found out my face does this!"
- So Bad It's Good: Invoked; Phil and Claire love to watch B-movies.
- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: The infant twins who originally played Lily were replaced by four year old Aubrey Anderson-Emmons for season 3, due to their discomfort on the set. Less so than most cases of this since she only aged about six months.
- Sorry, I'm Gay: Completely inverted in "Treehouse". Cameron bets Mitchell and Longinus that he can get an attractive woman at the bar to at least give him her phone number. The inversion is compounded when you know that Eric Stonestreet is straight in real life.
- So Unfunny It's Funny: Phil's (lack of) sense of humor.
- Spicy Latina: Gloria, natch.
- Stacy's Mom: "Send Out the Clowns" made it official for Gloria, as Manny's new "friend" was only interested in her.
- Standardized Sitcom Housing: The Dunphy house
- The Stinger: Often during the credits instead of after, but the same concept. Sometimes pertains to the plot but oftentimes is just an isolated joke (such as Lilly being dressed as Carmen Miranda).
- Strangers on a Train Plot Murder: "Strangers On a Treadmill". Mitchell even references the movie by name and suggests using the movie's plot as a solution for him and Claire to break bad news to their significant others. And much like the movie one party doesn't go through with it.
- Straw Vulcan: In "Lifetime Supply", Jay and Manny go the horse track with Manny's father, Javier (Benjamin Bratt). Jay chooses his horses based on the information in the Daily Racing Form. Javier bets on a horse because "I looked him in the eyes, and he told me this would be his day". Guess who wins? To add insult to injury, Jay chooses a horse this way and it wins ... only to be disqualified.
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: Happens to Phil after a horrifically awkward speech about how much he loves sex with Claire. "Some sick bastard autotuned me."
- Surrounded by Idiots: Alex, frequently.
- Teen Pregnancy: In "Regrets Only" Haley lies to her parents about being a waitress at a restaurant, so when they have dinner at her restaurant, she has to fake the job, which she does by getting a table out of view of her family's table and orders whatever the family has ordered. When her server gets suspicious of how much she's ordering, she uses being pregnant as an excuse.
- Throwing Out the Script: Season 2 finale has an inversion: a sincere speech (Alex's mean-spirited valedictorian speech) gets thrown out in favor of a bunch of lies.
- Too Much Information: Dede, talking to Mitchell and Claire, her children: "Anyway, until I'm past this whole wedding debacle, I can't be intimate with [Chaz, the man she's moving in with]. We do things to each other; we use our hands..."
- Essentially the entire plot of "Caught in the Act"
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Alex and Haley, however, while Haley's girly girl is definitely the case, Alex's tomboy is mostly only implied, with the aspects of it, such as her being a lacrosse player, only being mentioned and not shown.
- Also, lesser example with Gloria and Claire, as Gloria occasionally shows signs of being a closeted Tomboy.
- Totally Radical: Part of Phil's "cool dad" schtick.
- Transparent Closet: Alex's prom date in "Baby on Board."
Alex: (to camera) Yeah, my bad-boy prom date is gay. But he doesn't know it yet.
- Trophy Wife: Gloria is a surprisingly sympathetic example.
- Twerp Sweating: Done unintentionally by Phil to Dylan in S1 Ep03, "Come Fly With Me". Dylan is sitting (uncomfortably) on the couch with Phil, waiting for Haley, watching baseball. Phil makes a comment about one of the players being "stuck at second base forever, and thinking about trying to steal third, which is just a terrible idea" then turns to him and asks how things are going with Haley. Claire, in the background, seems pleased to see Dylan squirm awkwardly.
- Twofer Token Minority: More than two. Mitchell and Cameron want to get Lily into an exclusive preschool and figure that they're shoo-ins because she's an adopted Vietnamese girl with two gay dads. They get beaten by an interracial lesbian couple, one of whom is Indian and disabled, with an adopted African baby.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Jay and Gloria; also, Mitchell and Cameron, as Dede is only all too eager to point out.
- The Unfavorite: Played with in regards to Claire, Mitch, and their parents. Claire is the unfavorite to Gloria and Dede, and is much closer to Jay, while Mitch is the unfavorite to Jay and is much closer with Gloria and Dede.
- Universal Driver's License: Averted in "Express Christmas". Cameron insists that having grown up on a farm and knowing how to drive heavy equipment like tractors gives him expertise in driving a rented moving truck, but it grows apparent that it does not.
- Uranus Is Showing : Averted in the episode Starry Night, Mitchell got sprayed by a skunk while star gazing with Manny and Jay. Any other eleven-year-old would made fun of him with a reference to Uranus, but what did Manny say?
Manny: Hey, Jay, is that Venus? Because I can smell the clouds of pure sulfuric acid from here!.
- Vacation Episode: To Hawaii.
- Vignette Episode: The pilot seems to be one of these, until the reveal at the end.
- Waxing Lyrical: In "See You Next Fall" Haley tells Alex that the best way to give a speech is to use song lyrics and to use the lines "don't stop believin'" and "get this party started".
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Phil to Jay.
- S1 Ep03, "Come Fly With Me", has Phil trying to be friends with Jay at Claire's request, as well as be accepted by Jay. Jay responds by eventually flying a toy airplane into Phil's face.
- In the Season 3 premier, "Dude Ranch", Phil finally gets tired of Jay mistreating him and stands up to him. Despite Jay finally seeming to get it and this being a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Phil, he's immediately back to needing Jay's constant approval after the episode.
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: In-universe, very frequently with Phil.
- Everything's in slow motion and overlapped with Cam singing "Ave Maria" when Mitchell tries to kill a pigeon, unwittingly wrecking the living room.
- Wicked Stepmother: Claire occasionally feels this way about Gloria.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Manny, to the point a woman online mistook him for an older guy. Alex believes she's this, but she is actually very immature.
- Wham! Episode: The third season finale "Baby on Board" ends with Gloria revealing she's pregnant.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Phil and clowns.
- Mitchell and mice.
- And Manny and butterflies.
- Women Drivers: Gloria and Haley. Plus Cameron and Mitchell's Asian doctor.
- That last one is more Asian Drivers. The entire rest of Cam and Mitchell's story that episode involved Cameron unintentionally attributing Asian stereotypes to the doctor, only for her to subvert them.
- who won an Emmy for this role in 2010
- FORCE FIELD!
- however, an ad for the movie did air during the episode, so you be the judge