Sunday, October 4, 2009

Modern Family, or How I LOVE this show (but hate 'family' shows' in general)

Okay, I promise not ALL of my blog posts will be soapbox-opportunities for my opinions from Twitter (like that Glee post) but the other day Tapeworthy called me out for not liking Once & Again (which for me will always be the reason Sarah Michelle-Gellar isn't a Golden Globe Winner), to which I simply responded that I'm no big fan of "family" shows. And the more I thought about it, the clearer it became: shows that revolve around a happy (or even not-so-happy) heterosexual nuclear (white) family just don't appeal to me. At all.

If i simply run through a list of my all-time favorite shows I find - not families - but particular groupings (the 'Charmed ones,' a couple of 'Friends,' the TGS cast & crew, a Battlestar fleet, a 'Scooby gang'...). Shows that center on just family (ie. Everwood, Everybody Loves Raymond, Once & Again, 7th Heaven, Malcolm in the Middle, Brothers & Sisters, to name just a few) just don't appeal to me. Or I guess, I don't connect with on a 'OMG I LOVE IT' level.
I mean mom-dad-kids shows just bore me to death (which is not to say they're not good or well written or engaging): but I do believe there is something more fascinating about seeing non-traditional families being represented (which is maybe the reason why United States of Tara and Big Love - the only "family" shows I could think of that I actually seek out and enjoy - appeal to me). They turn the family formula on its head and try to reformulate what it means to be a "normal" family.
But that's actually a long way of prefacing my love for one of the new Fall shows, namely: Modern Family. While the two shows that precede it on Wednesday nights on ABC actually take a page out of the shows I've been talking about (I mean, what is The Middle if not a long-lost cousin of Malcolm in the ?), this new mockumentary show follows three different families. In a way, what is most appealing about this premise (and its title presents it as such) is the fact that these are indeed "modern" families: here we have variations of the nuclear family that self-consciously work with/against the formula.

- We may have mom/dad/son but it's actually (latin) mom/mom's (white) rich husband/son from earlier marriage.
- We may have (white) mom/(white) dad/children but to see these parents at work ("I'm a cool dad!") is to see that the traditional model of parenting (think All in the Family/Simpsons/Cosby Show) is slowly being displaced.
- And lastly, and (hard to think it's 2009 and this still being) most groundbreaking is the (gay) dad/(gay) dad/daughter configuration.

This could sound like a mere hokey premise were the writing, casting, acting and directing not also top-notch. The pilot was a master-class in comedy (which, when paired with Ms Cox-Arquette's show which followed... well, it put it to shame, really) with a moment that had me rolling over laughing hysterically - so much so that I had to rewind and watch the scene again to make sure I got all the dialogue. I am talking of course of the Circle of Life scene where the very familiar/familial image of Simba being presented as heir to the nuclear lion family in The Lion King becomes the way in which Cameron presents Lily to Mitch's parents. Hilarious (oh so hilarious!) but also emblematic of the show itself and of the type of family-reframing I've been praising. Can't wait to see what the rest of the season has in store!


Vance said...


Okay, funny that you grouped those shows about JUST family since I love some (Everwood, O&A), hate others (ELR, 7thH) and love/hate depending on the season (MitM, B&S). Still comes down to the quality of the show to me and that I just love Americana shows just as another genre. (I'd group UTofT along with EW and O&A).

Anyways, not a counter argument, just a statement. And yes, Modern Family is a hoot.

Marcy said...

Growing up watching network television, I've always liked shows about upper- middle-class, white families. There's always been a sense of familiarity about them that I can't quite put a finger on. In short, I love those shows. I catch myself suddenly watching Brothers & Sisters on Sunday nights and I have absolutely no idea how I got there.

I loved (adored, worshiped, embraced) Everwood. Huge fan of Malcolm in the Middle and Roseanne (lower middle class). Loved The Cosby Show. I even loved Family Matters 7th Heaven back in the day.

I've heard some incredible things about Modern Family. It's time for me to start watching.

brent said...

what about Home Improvement, did you like that show?

Anonymous said...

OK we know that Mitch and Cam are gay and it was wonderfully understated up until a couple of weeks ago. Now the show beats you over the head with the fact that they are gay multiple times a show. Is the show about the whole family or just Mitch and Cam's sexuality?

Anonymous said...

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