Modern Family‘s first major death received mixed critical responses upon its initial release, but the episode holds up much better when you consider the ramifications it had. Season 10, episode 5, “Good Grief,” opens with Modern Family‘s central characters discovering that DeDe Pritchett had died. While some perceived this as an anticlimax, the remainder of the episode explores critical themes for Modern Family‘s future and delivers on at least part of showrunner Christopher Lloyd’s promise for essential development. As Cam says in the episode itself, “The two most emotionally complicated people on Earth are facing the loss of the most complicated relationship of their lives.”
DeDe Pritchett was Jay’s first wife and the mother of Mitchell and Claire. Played brilliantly by Shelley Long, DeDe appeared in a handful of episodes throughout Modern Family. Dede’s death in Modern Family was teased by co-creator and showrunner Christopher Lloyd, in the build to what was intended to be Modern Family‘s last season. As such, the season deals with important character developments in an attempt to wrap up their character arcs. “Good Grief,” in particular, delivers this.
Why Some Felt DeDe’s Death Was An Anti-climax In Modern Family
Christopher Lloyd teased a major character death over a month before the episode, “Good Grief,” aired, stirring greatly excited speculation. While promoting the release of Modern Family season 10, Lloyd warned a “significant character on the series would die,” and that it “will be a moving event – and an event that has repercussions across several episodes” (via Entertainment Weekly). Jay’s prized French bulldog Stella was strongly rumored, and many might consider this a more appropriately “significant” character than DeDe, who only appeared in 6 episodes of Modern Family’s 11 seasons.
Furthermore, the episode chosen to depict DeDe’s death was the annual Halloween episode. This meant that disappointed fans were also subsequently deprived of the anticipated and beloved Halloween-themed Modern Family romp. Thus, “Good Grief,” delivered two blows to excited fans, who were soon underwhelmed and quickly felt their enthusiasm wane. But “Good Grief” does deliver on some of Lloyd’s promises for Modern Family season 10.
DeDe’s Death in Modern Family Was Better Than You Think
While the choice of character might be anticlimactic, Modern Family’s “Good Grief” had a huge impact on the other characters. It provided Claire the opportunity to finally work through her issues with DeDe, which was a necessary step in anticipation of Claire’s daughter, Modern Family‘s Haley Dunphy, having her own children. DeDe was always relentlessly cruel and critical of Claire, and it powerfully shaped her personality. It also drove Claire towards her father, Jay. Negotiating these resolved many of Claire’s character arcs on the route to concluding Modern Family.
For Mitchell, DeDe’s death provided him the chance to recognize his problematic relationship with his mother and acknowledge the role that played in Mitchell and Claire’s allegiance to one parent each. Subsequently, Mitchell becomes closer to his father. Jay and Mitchell’s relationship is (at first) based on Jay’s struggle to accept Mitchell’s sexuality. Coming together to mourn DeDe’s death after these emotional strands are resolved, allowed Mitchell’s emotional journey to conclude. DeDe’s death directly instigated both of these character resolutions in Modern Family.
Those unaware of the comments made by Lloyd (who is also known for his work on the soon-to-be rebooted sitcom Frasier) would likely be very surprised by DeDe’s death in Modern Family. Its presentation in the episode is very left-field and leaves the audience as shocked as the characters. While “Good Grief” may be divisive, disappointing those interested in a more salacious, exciting character death, any other character would have been either too important or too incidental. DeDe was the appropriate middle-ground for this, and as Lloyd promised, the repercussions are felt throughout the remainder of Modern Family.
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