For those of you who have yet to indulge, let me make a recommendation. Give up a half hour a week to watch the show Modern Family with your family. For our “modern family,” it has literally transformed our lives. And I’m about to tell you how… I know that there will be some skeptics out there who tell you that television is bad for you. Or that they’re too busy to watch a silly sitcom with no educational merit. But before you stop reading, let me explain.
Back in the golden age of television, before TV became “reality”, or cable provided thousands of specialty channels to choose from, there was the “family” sitcom… A half hour show that provided funny situations with a conflict or difficulty that usually resolved itself in a satisfying way and represented the American way of life. We could relate to them. Some were even considered ground-breaking. The characters were our role models of the time.
It started in the fifties with shows like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. Then prime-time transformed itself into shows like Family Affair, a program about a single dad raising 2 kids, and The Brady Bunch, which perhaps was the best of the lot. Robert Reed, who played Mike Brady on the show, was the perfect dad. The moral lessons gleaned from that show still resonate today. We couldn’t wait to watch it all together on a Friday night. Every kid wanted Mike Brady to be their dad.
Later came such groundbreaking shows as Norman Lear’s All in the Family, which brought current political and racial issues to the forefront and reflected the temper of the time. I remember watching it with my Bubby and Pop-pop. Both even had their own special chair! One Day at a Time portrayed a divorcee and her two daughters trying to make ends meet. Then there was the quintessential show about the 1950s way of life, Happy Days. Everyone wanted Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham to be their parents. They were so loving and always gave good, solid advice.
In the 80s, there was The Cosby Show, which finally portrayed an educated and well-to-do black family living a normal life. Claire and Bill Huxtable changed a lot of stereotypes. There was Growing Pains, and Michael J. Fox in Family Ties, which pitted liberal parents’ views against their son’s radical conservatism. And finally shows such as Roseanne and Married with Children came on the scene. They were more realistic and reflected normal day-to-day family dysfunction. They let us know that it was okay for our families not to be perfect. They let us off the hook. Things weren’t always wrapped up neatly in a tight little bow at the end, as they seldom are in real life. Which brings me to discuss the merits of Modern Family.
First and foremost, it is a show that my husband, son and I can all enjoy together. In this ever-changing world, it is difficult to find a family activity to engage in that everyone can relate to. My son and husband are primarily all about sports, and I like the hour-long drama. On this show, however, we all agree.
Modern Family portrays an openly gay couple – Mitchell and Cameron – raising their adopted Asian daughter Lilly. Mitchell is an uptight lawyer, and Cam is the emotional, over-the-top Drama queen. Mitchell’s father is an older guy, a real manly man – Jay Pritchett, who thinks he knows it all, and is less than open to new ideas. He is divorced and re-married to a young, hot trophy wife from Columbia, Gloria Delgato. Gloria’s cultural differences set her apart. Gloria has a very atypical 12- year- old son named Manny who is an old soul into poetry. He dresses much older than his years and is wise and responsible, usually moreso than the adults around him, but he still makes some occasional mistakes. Then there is Mitchell’s sister, Claire, who is married to Phil Dunphy and they have 3 kids all with very different personalities. Phil is a dreamer, magician, jokester and goofy real estate broker. Claire is a neurotic perfectionist who plays by the rules and seldom lets her guard down. She is less than amused by some of Phil’s outlandish schemes. She is the perfect foil to Phil’s quirkiness. They have an older daughter – Haley, who is popular, into fashion and not too successful academically. Their middle daughter Alex is a total geek who gets all A’s in school, plays an instrument and is a high achiever – but lacks her sister’s social skills. This, as you can imagine, is fodder for many sibling rivalries. Then there’s Luke, the youngest son. He’s an oddball like his father and engages in somewhat off-beat antics. He is always trying to lead straight-laced Manny down the “wrong” path. Blend these combinations together and we have – the “modern family.” This is certainly no Leave It to Beaver.
The neat thing about the show is that it starts off with each couple sitting next to each other on a sofa and relaying an incident that occurred from their personal points of view. The events are filtered through each character’s lens, each telling their version of the story. The couples’ personalities are opposite, so of course they each have their own version of what happened, who was at fault and how the incident “should” have been handled. Their re-tellings are replete with eye rolling and sarcasm, and a touch of annoyance as they explain their side. The conflict begins…. We, the audience, are shown the events, most of which are pretty hilarious, and are left to judge for ourselves, although there seldom is a clear right and wrong. As with parenting, we see that there is no one right way to handle things.
The beauty of the show is not just its humorous presentation, however. As the events unfold before us, we can see and understand each character’s point of view as events go awry or not as expected. The show teaches empathy and respect for different temperaments and personalities. We, as the audience, can see all sides. After the events transpire, although each character has a different way of perceiving what has happened, they always come back together as a loving team. Modern Family shows us that it is okay to disagree and argue as a family and still love each other, even if we don’t always agree on the other person’s point of view. And they manage to do all this in half an hour’s time.
In our family, the show has taught us how to be more tolerant and accepting of each other. It has demonstrated to us that things probably won’t work out exactly as planned, and that’s okay. It has allowed us to have our own unique thoughts and points of view. It has imparted to us that we are human and that it’s okay to make mistakes or misinterpret events. It happens to Claire and Phil, Cam and Mitchell, and Gloria and Jay, not to mention the kids, all the time. The juxtaposition of how these events happen is hilarious, which makes it okay for us to laugh at ourselves and not take things too seriously. Countless times throughout the day, my family compares our own situations to something that has occurred in Modern Family. We have a frame of reference to use now, like, “ Mom, you’re acting just like Claire.” We don’t feel so outside the norm, as if we are the only family to experience such mishaps.
I’m not sure if my husband and son realize just how much they are gleaning from this show! I am convinced that they think that it is just enjoyable entertainment.
But as for me, I know “my” truth. The half hour that we spend watching this show together is invaluable. It has transformed our nuclear modern family. It has demonstrated how to disagree without being disagreeable. It has given us imperfect role models that we can see ourselves in. Finally, the show is a reflection of today’s current societal issues. So give it a try and watch an episode or two. See if it helps your modern family to breathe a little easier. I don’t know how our family ever survived without it!