ABC Serves Up 'Family' with PC Message
For all that critics have hailed ABC's “Modern Family” for its non-stereotypical portrayal of a gay couple, the show itself is stereotypical
“Modern Family,” filmed in a mock-documentary style, examines the lives of three couples from one family. Patriarch Jay (Ed O'Neill) is married to a much-younger, feisty Colombian woman. His daughter Claire is married to Phil who treats parenting like playtime. Jay's son Mitchell, is gay, and when the show began, has just adopted a baby with his partner Cameron.
Producers treated the 12.7 million viewers who tuned in Wednesday night for the premiere to a pro-gay adoption speech within the first two minutes of the program.
Keyed around an incident in which Mitchell mistook a fellow plane passenger's comment about creampuffs as a reference to him and Cameron, Mitchell told the full plane, “Excuse me, but this baby would have grown up in a crowded orphanage if it wasn't for us creampuffs. And you know what? No, to all of you who judge … hear this. Love knows no race, creed or gender. And shame on you, you small-minded, ignorant few ...”
The scene was played for laughs, as Cameron interrupted Mitchell to point out that the cream puffs in question referred to the pastries in the baby's hands. Mitchell's speech, however, appeared to be more of a Middle America-directed statement from
Naturally, Mitchell's dad is less than thrilled with his son's lifestyle. Writers portrayed him as a bigot. In the words of Mitchell, Jay “still isn't uh, comfortable with this. Um, he still does this thing – it's been five years now – and he still does this thing where he announces himself before walking into any room we're in, just to make sure he doesn't have to ever see us kiss.”
Later, as Mitchell explained that the trip to
Again, these scenes were played for laughs, but portraying Jay as a buffoon undermined the truth that kids do need a mother.
And of course, since this is a half-hour “family” sitcom, Jay quickly came around to accept the baby as his grandchild. He told his family, “Okay, I know that I said I thought this was a bad idea but uh what do I know? I mean uh, it's not like I wrote the book on fatherhood. Been trying all my life to get it right. I'm still screwing up.”
There was one cultural bright spot in “Family's” premiere: the skewering of parents who try to be friends with their children instead of authority figures. As The New York Times' Ginia Bellafante pointed out, the character of Phil “is every misguided middle-aged father who believes his teenagers would rather hang out with him than down a couple Budweisers in the back of the Sunoco station.” Bellafonte offered Phil's introduction as evidence: “I'm hip, I surf the Web, I text. LOL: Laugh Out Loud. OMG: Oh my God. WTF: Why the face?” Phil's explanation of how his eyes send a different message to his teen daughter's male friends than his words do rightly came off as pathetic.
Critics love “Family.” The Washington Post's Tom Shales wrote the show “is cause not just for cheer but also for outright jubilation. The writers and producers of the domestic sitcom … have found sharp new angles for tales of the great American family, and they juxtapose them in smart, savory ways.”
Bellafante from the Times labeled “Family,” “the best new half-hour of funny television in a season rife with half-hours of funny television.” USA Today's Robert Bianco bestowed the honor of “best new series in the fall” on “Family” in his review. Mary McNamara at the Los Angeles Times noted that the show's creators “have given us a comedy that is sharp but not cruel, amused but not judgmental.”
“Modern Family” may not be judgmental, but it is pushing an agenda.