“Modern Family” is hardly the “Father Knows Best” of our generation.
The ABC comedy, which airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, features one nuclear family, one gay couple and a third clan featuring a young, gorgeous wife and a much older man.
Yet both liberals and conservatives have rallied around the show, and for some very good reasons. It’s routinely hilarious, boasting full-bodied performances which turn even stale gags into show stoppers.
On the surface, “Modern Family” suggests that families of all shapes and sizes are equal. Look closer. The series is all about ties that bind and strengthen us, even if we end up in families that appear radically different than the ones we watched in the ’50s and 60s on TV.
Those core values – friendship, trust, loyalty and warmth – are sure to resonate with conservatives.
Phil and Claire (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) have three bright, outspoken children. Phil brings home the proverbial bacon, but it’s Claire who puts the parental fear in their offspring. Phil’s naive approach to life is fodder for many running gags, but he’s not a source of ridicule as we’ve seen in other modern sitcoms. His unorthodox parenting methods often work, while Claire’s heavy handed approach brings more pain than joy.
Plus, Phil is a resourceful entrepreneur, a fact the show celebrates without irony.
Cameron and Mitchell (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are a committed gay couple raising an adopted Asian daughter. Cameron is the flightier of the two, fitting some of the gay stereotypes we see too much of on television. Yet he also has a masculine side, one that Mitchell often wishes he had. On a recent episode the pair ponder adopting a boy, but Mitchell isn’t sure he’s rugged enough to be the role model a growing lad may need.
“Modern Family” doesn’t strip away the gay couple’s flaws. Mitchell can be judgmental at times, and Cameron’s emotional nature routinely gets the best of him.
And then there’s Gloria and Jay (Sofia Vergara and Ed O’Neill), who together are raising the wise beyond his years Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Gloria seems like a gold digger on the surface. Jay is a wealthy man who clearly doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be younger than he is. But Gloria’s first husband was the epitome of instability, and she finds Jay’s reliable nature precisely the best fit for both her and young Manny.
Conservatives against gay marriage may never accept Cameron and Mitchell. But the show isn’t interested in stepping atop any soapboxes. The humor flows from the characters’ vulnerable spots, and the narrative doesn’t come to a screeching halt to share a very special message about tolerance.
“Modern Family” is too good, too keenly observed to fall into such traps.
It’s certainly possible “Modern Family” will stumble as it heads into its fourth season this fall. We’re already seeing a contract squabble develop, and it’s hard for great programs to maintain their level of excellence over an extended period.
For now, “Modern Family” is the best “traditional” sitcom on TV even if it’s “Office” style camera work and unconventional makeup may make it appear as anything but conservative.
Check out abc.com to stream recent episodes of the Emmy-winning series.