Mixed in with all of the fan-favorite lovable characters in Modern Family are hilarious one-time appearances from sexy neighbors and old boyfriends alike. Recurring roles like Phil and Jay provide audiences with character depth and development over the length of the series, but Jay’s brother and the reptile lady from Luke’s birthday party are there to assist in the delivery of the jokes or drive the plot of the episode.
There are a few characters like this that have stood out over the course of the show’s 11 seasons, and it is worth noting some of the best appearances, even if it was only for a short time.
Kenny – “Party Crasher”
Kenny is just one of many of Haley’s boyfriends that Claire and Phil have disapproved of. Kenny’s hilarious jean puns and outrageously long hair make him a person fans and Phil alike cannot take their eyes off of. His presence helps to accentuate the differing parental styles of Claire and Phil. Claire sometimes struggles to parent Haley, but Kenny brings them closer and allows them to come to an understanding about what her college dropout life will look like.
Kenny never comes up again as the series progresses, but he was an important part of Haley learning how much her parents care about her education and career.
Eleanor – “New Year’s Eve”
Eleanor is exactly the kind of person you would run into at a beach resort in the 1970s. And like her top, the hotel she runs hadn’t been upgraded since then either. She commands the attention of the room and the screen, which makes her such a fun character to watch. With her help, Jay is able to meet with one of his role models, have a relaxing night of poker, and reconnect with his past in a way that his family would never understand. Eleanor’s bold personality is an interesting character parallel to Gloria’s, but Jay appreciates Eleanor’s ability to connect with him at his age, unlike Gloria. Although, Eleanor’s character does help bring the family together at the end. And even though she never returns in later seasons, she fit right in and it would have been fun to see her on-screen again.
Barry – “Slow Down Your Neighbors”
Cam and Mitchell spot Barry enjoying the afternoon in their hot tub. Barry’s character was a way for writers to accentuate Cam and Mitchell’s fight over who’s right, and their inability to communicate effectively. Barry plays on the ‘chill’ masseuse character trope and brings an interesting dynamic into the Tucker-Prichett household. His Reiki massages and spiritual connection juxtaposed to Cam and Mitch’s seemingly uptight personalities make for interesting on-screen interactions. It’s expected that his calm presence would rub off on Cam and Mitch when instead it creates more unrest and dysfunction in the household. Barry remains hilariously poised despite the obvious flirting for his attention, and in the end, neither Mitch nor Cam is right, and the feud continues.
Whitney – “Fifteen Percent”
Whitney is a woman many fans feel bad for. She is lonely, looking for love, and eventually turns to the internet for help. Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for audiences, she finds herself being wooed by a 12-year-old. She is just one of many women Manny flirts with throughout the series, but she stands out due to her quirky personality and ability to connect with audiences. She is relatable and loveable, and her sweet tone makes fans want to keep listening to what she has to say. It’s important for writers to include characters like Whitney so that audiences continue to feel like they could step onto the screen and be a part of the family’s story at any point. Whitney comes and goes, but just as she does to Manny, she stays in the audience’s hearts forever.
Tanya – “Fizbo”
“Fizbo” is arguably one of the funniest episodes of season one, Tanya acts as one of many reasons why Phil’s birthday party for Luke goes terribly wrong. Tanya, or Jungle Tanya, is Modern Family‘s version of Steve Irwin. She is quirky yet cool, and even though Phil thinks her reptiles aren’t scary enough, she shares many of his personality traits. It would be easy to imagine Phil taking her place, parading around the party with a snake wrapped around his neck. Her reptiles proved to be the tame ones compared to Haley’s jealous rage after seeing her flirt with Dylan, but Jungle Tanya was just as enjoyable to watch for audiences as she was for the kids at the party. Her involvement in the episode provided plot movement for Haley and Dylan’s relationship, and although she never returns, Haley and Dylan’s inability to think clearly are accentuated by many other characters throughout the series.
Desiree – “The Bicycle Thief”
As writers are still initially developing characters, Desiree acts as a way to prove Phil’s loyalty to Claire. Desiree is attractive, conveniently nearby, and recently divorced – she is the epitome of the classic ‘sexy neighbor’ trope that is often played upon in sitcoms like Modern Family. To have this character appear so early on in the series helps to establish the strength of Claire and Phil’s relationship. She doesn’t have many lines or big moments throughout the episode, but the idea of Desiree gives fans a reason to doubt their previous assumptions about Phil and then have those doubts relieved when Desiree leaves the picture.
Donnie Pritchett – “The Musical Man”
Donnie is Jay’s younger brother, and like a lot of sibling relationships, they show each other love by beating on each other and throwing insults. Donnie’s presence on screen gives viewers a chance to see into Jay’s childhood as well as his more empathetic side. Donnie is relatable, and in turn, makes Jay more relatable. When Donnie admits his cancer diagnosis to Jay, he is opening up another way for audiences to relate. Although sitcoms are meant to be comedic, even in comedy, real things happen. And although cancer is a tough subject, Donnie’s “I’m gonna be fine” speech to Jay is heartwarming and tugs at the audience’s heartstrings.
Laura – “Slow Down Your Neighbors”
There are many times throughout the series that audiences get introduced to characters that get under Claire’s skin and accentuate her controlling personality. One of the most notable of these characters is Laura. Laura is a mean, ruthless woman, who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. It is interesting to see the dramatic irony as she gets in between Claire and Phil without even knowing it. Audiences often see recurring characters talk about people behind their backs, and in this case, fans can be involved in the gossip with Claire and Phil. It’s important for fans to feel connected to the recurring characters, and villain roles such as Laura’s give them an opportunity to do just that.
Bo Johnson – “No Small Feet”
Bo is Cam’s sister’s ex-husband from back in Missouri. His thick accent, scruffy clothes, and unkempt hair stand out against Cam and Mitch’s white couch and patterned button-downs. Since he had been mentioned in previous seasons, having his character appear on screen was highly anticipated by audiences, and it made it even better that James Van Der Beek guest-starred as the heartthrob from Cam’s past.
Cam talks so much about Missouri, so it’s exciting for fans to see a piece of his home appear in California. It’s safe to say that fans wanted to see Bo return, but his shady intentions and lack of hygiene kept him far from the Tucker-Pritchett household.
Gunther Thrope – “The Feud”
Fans were surprised to find out that Jay’s arch-nemesis is the father of Phil’s long-standing rival, Gil Thorpe. Gunter, like many characters before and after him, helps bring Jay and Phil closer together. John Heard guest stars as the man who seems to show up when Jay is at his worst, and it has fans hysterical while watching Jay scramble to defend his masculinity. Gunter is demanding and intimidating, and that makes him so much fun to watch on screen. Although his name doesn’t rhyme with Jay, fans appreciate Gunter’s ability to cripple the head of the Pritchett household. Gunther never returns, but his son continues is sure to continue pestering Phil.