Of all the TV shows portraying modern American life in the context of family, ABC’s award-winning, critically acclaimed comedy sitcom Modern Family may be one of the few getting it right. The show, soon in its sixth season, tells the story of three different families, each one representing a completely believable modern-day American family: the traditional mom and dad, who are middle-aged, with three kids; an older man with a much younger wife – who is both a foreigner and a mother – both on their second marriages; and a male homosexual couple who has adopted a Vietnamese baby. The show accurately illustrates the diversity of the American family based on a set of criteria: an evaluation of how each family on the show accurately represents modern-day American families, in turn accurately depicting modern American life.
In all, the show, winner of numerous Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy, is so beloved by millions of fans not just because of its lovable, believable characters, but because these characters, in some way or another, represent people (and problems they experience) Americans see and know each and every day. In the show, we see depictions of ourselves as Americans, and we come to understand ourselves better because of it. In evaluating how well Modern Family accurately portrays American life and American people in the context of family, it is important to consider how the show’s characters depict actual people living in today’s American society. Each of three immediate families belongs to the same extended family; but each is vastly different from the next. Brian Lowry, a TV columnist for Variety.com, in his 2009 review of the show, says this about the show’s illustration of family: “Flitting among three storylines, it’s smart, nimble and best of all, funny, while actually making a point about the evolving nature of what constitutes ‘family.’ ” The social institution of the family and marriage has evolved overtime, and the show captures this changing dynamic.
Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) Dunphy are the everyday white American couple. He is a real estate agent, the sole breadwinner for most of the show’s duration; she is a stay-at-home mom for a majority of the show, though she ends up working for her father’s company later on. Together, they have three children and live in a very nice middle class home in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. Their family, the characters comprising it, epitomizes the American modern family: the parents are about the same age as the other, as most American parents with teenagers; they are also Caucasian and upper-middle class. While not every American family today is fortunate enough to have just one parent working to support the family – as Claire doesn’t work most of the show’s five seasons – there are plenty of families where this is the case. And so the Dunphy’s do indeed illustrate a modern American family quite realistically.
But not every American family is like the Dunphy’s. Claire’s father Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neil) is an older, divorced businessman who marries a much younger woman – a spicy Latina named Gloria Delgado (Sofia Vergara), who is from the country of Columbia and does not work at all. Together, they live in an upper-class, wealthy part of Los Angeles in a large, fenced-in home, and raise Gloria’s son, Manny, born from her past marriage. Though they do not resemble the traditional notion of a modern American family – like that of the Dunphy’s – they are still an accurate depiction of today’s modern American family. Not only are older men and women in America marrying younger – much younger – spouses, a good portion of American families are also interracial, bi-lingual and multi-ethnic. No critics can complain that the Pritchett’s – Jay and Gloria and their son, Manny – do not accurately depict a family in today’s American society, which has become more accepting of interracial marriages, as well as marriages where the spouses are quite far apart in age. In today’s society, one of the most diverse in the world, it is becoming increasingly likely for marriages and families that resemble the Pritchett’s – and so they do, also, accurately depict a modern American family.
Then there is the third family – Mitchel Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet), a homosexual couple, and their adopted Vietnamese daughter, Lilly. Mitchel is an environmental lawyer; Cameron, for much of the show, is a stay-at-home dad, though he does become a football coach, music teacher and drama teacher later on. While they do not necessarily represent the everyday family in America, they do still depict accurately a small percentage of American families in today’s society. More and more homosexual couples are getting married today – mostly because gay marriage is now legal in most states – and then adopting children and starting a family. While it may be rare for a Caucasian homosexual couple to adopt a little girl from Vietnam, it’s still not exactly unheard of. Cam and Mitchel’s family does indeed – like the other families – accurate represents a modern-day American family. In an article by the Associated Press on Today.com, “‘Modern Family’ a freshman hit for ABC,” the writer talks with the show’s co-executive producer Christopher Lloyd. “We wanted to do a gay couple that was not sort of finger-snappy and fabulous,” Lloyd said. “These guys are a little bit nerdy, like college professors who are a little anti-social. They care about their kid, and over think things. That's kind of winning to America, especially an America that might be a tiny bit hesitant about a gay couple.” While they are not the everyday couple, and whether or not they are accepted by society for being an openly gay couple, Cam and Mitchell’s family with baby Lilly is an example of a modern American family, as well.
If evaluating Modern Family’s merit based on how accurately these three families represent today’s American family, it is safe to say that all three make believable families in American society today. However, the families could have a little bit more diversity, though. Sure, the families represent a good percentage of American families today, but there are some inaccuracies, too. First of all, each family is upper-middle class to upper class. This is not the case with most Americans who are dead-center middle class. This is where the show gets it wrong. Each family is fairly wealthy – or at least financially stable and fiscally comfortable – and each family, at some point during the show’s five seasons thus far, has one parent who stays at home with the children while the other works. These families are exemplary of only a small portion today’s American families.
In conclusion, the show deserves its namesake, “Modern Family.” The three families in Modern Family do indeed illustrate families in today’s American society, in part because our culture is so diverse. In evaluating the show based on its interpretation of modern American society, and the modern American family, the show is excellent, believable, accurate and realistic based on the demographics of the each family. The families also experience conflicts and dynamics that are expected of modern American families – such as the Dunphy kids not getting along or getting into trouble at school, Cameron feeling unfulfilled in his life, and even Gloria being an overprotective mother to Manny. However, the show seems to forget a large population of American families who are not financially successful, as all three families clearly are; the show seems to illustrate modern American life, but somehow forgets to include the families where both parents must work to survive, to keep the family afloat, since a character in each family doesn’t work for much of the show’s history and is a stay-at-home parent to their children. But, overall, Modern Family, when being evaluated based on this criterion, is a show that deserves the title of portraying the modern family in American culture today.
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