Sitcoms?  Don’t like them.  Modern Family? Love it.  This is the little show that could, opening with instantly good reviews and immediate viewer praise.  There are few television shows that make me laugh out loud.  Admittedly, I may not be the average audience—I tend to be wonky—-but I LOL at The Jon Stewart Show, and at Real Time with Bill Mahr, and, on BBC America, The Graham Norton Show. Though I laugh at Modern Family, I have some minor quibbles.  The “family” is supposedly the typical family of the Twenty-First Century, but let’s get real: typical it is not, fantasy it is; modern it is not, old-fashioned it is.

I understand that Modern Family is not supposed to be one of those so-called “reality” shows, but I do wonder how Phil (Ty Burrell) can possibly earn a living as a real estate agent in this down market. The only segments of the market that are active are at the very high end and the very low end.  Houses, priced at the middle level, where I believe Phil specializes, are sitting on the market in a standoff between sellers who don’t want to lower their prices and buyers who are looking for bargains.  Yet the show has never made much of the current difficulty of closing a sale in real estate, and Phil seems to be able to support a family of three children and a stay-at-home wife.  Perhaps next season, economic reality will hit the family and Claire (Julie Bowen) will have to get a job along with the rest of us.

Much has been made of the product placement of the iPad on Modern Family a few weeks ago.  TV Guide disapproved.  But I found Phil’s desire for the iPad more realistic than his real estate job.  On the day the iPad came out, I visited one of my local Apple stores (there are three within ten minutes of my home in the OC), just to watch the rich people buy their newest toy.  I would love to have an iPad, and I would also love to have an iPod and an iPhone; but all I can manage is a four year old MacBook Pro.  But the iPad is within the realm of financial possibility for those of us who are financially challenged.  We yearn and wait until the First Adapters have called Steve Job’s attention to the glitches.  Then we will pounce on our long-awaited treat.  So, get over it, TV Guide. The iPad is a beautiful object, and Phil’s birthday present was the most contemporary thing on the show.

The point is that Modern Family is not “modern.”  The vast majority of families need both adults holding down a job and this show has three stay-at-home Moms—-Claire, Gloira and Cameron.  The social model for these nuclear families is left over from the Fifties.  Although the prevailing notion of “family” is the one where the Dad works in a safe lifetime job and supports the Mom who takes care of the suburban home and family pets and the 2.5 children, preferably a boy and a girl, this ideal model is, in fact, a fluke of the Fifties.

The self-sustaining nuclear family, dependent upon the earnings of the father did not exist before the Fifties and ceased to exist by the Sixties.  Before the Fifties, the extended family was the norm and after the Fifties, the prices of consumer goods were unaffordable without the second income.  In the Twenty-First Century, no one has job security and no family can take the chance that the income of one adult will never be threatened.  Corporations and institutions have absolutely no loyalty to their workers, who are considered an expense.  Whatever social contract that used to exist between management and labor has been broken.  The second adult must remain in the workforce or the family is in constant jeopardy.  Sentimentality aside, we are talking about simple Economics 101.

A couple of weeks ago, the reality of a job loss did impact Lily’s family, when Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) impulsively quit his job.  To compensate, Cameron  (Eric Stonestreet) began working part-time at a greeting card company.  Doesn’t he know about e-cards?  Never mind.  Fantasy quickly reasserted itself, when a Fairy Godfather and hero of the Environmental movement offered Mitchell a job.  Cameron, who hated working and being away from Lily, could resume his at-home duties.   The nuclear family is restored.  Speaking of Lily—-is she not the most calm and placid child ever to grace television?   At first, I wondered if she had been drugged.   She never changes her expression.   I supposed it is the gay couple that makes the family “modern,” but the pair seems thoroughly conventional: one husband and one wife, one masculinized and one feminized, one is the father and one is the mother.  Gender really does not matter; the roles are the same as always.  That said,  this is my favorite family.  The guys are delightful.

The final family is headed by the patriarch, Jay (Ed O’Neill), whose second marriage was made in male fantasy heaven.  His beautiful and warm-hearted Latina wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara), is simply glorious.  She skates effortlessly on the very thin ice of being the butt of Anglo laughter like “Ricky Ricardo” on the grandmother of all sitcoms, I Love Lucy.  But Gloria is a wonderful wife and mother, full of love, especially for her wise little tubby boy, Manny (Rico Rodriguez).  Manny is one of the cutest and funniest children ever created for TV.  He is a great relief from those wise-cracking children, written by adult writers, who are rewriting their own unsuccessful childhoods in which they were clever, instead of dorky. The audience can actually believe that Manny is a combination of tiny adult and insecure child. But speaking of children, what I like best about the show is that Phil and Claire produced three children and that two out of three of the children are dumb.  Now that’s real.

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

The Arts Blogger

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