I’ve watched Modern Family for a few years now. Mostly, I haven’t watched from a critical or analytical perspective—I’ve just enjoyed the show, as it is both funny and well-written. But over the last season or so, I’ve been paying more attention to the show’s intentions—what it’s consciously doing, and why. And I gotta say, I love this show. I love what it’s doing.
I’m not saying the show’s perfect—there have been episodes that seated feminine power in looks (in the case of Gloria, played by Sophia Vergara) or gave it away altogether, devolving into petty competition and jealousy (in the case of Claire, played by Julie Bowen). But the show is about not being perfect, and being OK with that. It’s about acceptance—of humanity, of sex, of parenthood, of childhood, of each other—of life. And I think we could all use a little acceptance.
In celebration of a show that helps us laugh at our foibles while embracing our true selves, here are a some of my favorite messages from Modern Family:
- Family is Family: I think the show has done a fantastic job of portraying the relationship between Cam (played by Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Over the years, we’ve gotten plenty of backstory about how Cam’s dad (Jay, played by Ed O’Neill) was uncomfortable having a gay son but came to accept it, and how Cam and Mitchell fit into this family. Their relationship is warm and loving—I’m so glad they show one another affection, such as the occasional kiss or arm squeeze. They are also very human, often squabbling over nonsense or bending over backwards to impress others. Kudos to this show for showing us that gay marriage is just like straight marriage—full of love and work.
- Kids are Themselves: Alex (played by Ariel Winter) and Manny (played by Rico Rodriguez) do NOT fit gender stereotypes. Thirteen-year-old Alex is far more interested in her studies than clothes or boys. She’s focused, smart as a whip, and a smartass to boot. Eleven-year-old Manny wears nice clothes, drinks espresso, and has poetic sensibilities, along with a new crush on a girl every five minutes. I love it that this show portrays kids in all their variety, and without a big “Girl” or “Boy” stamped on each one’s forehead.
- Growing Up: In “Virgin Territory,” which aired on February 22, 2012, Phil Dunphy learns that his oldest daughter, Haley (played by Sarah Hyland), is no longer a virgin. While I would have liked to see more backstory here—Phil finds out long after the fact, and we rarely see Phil and Claire speaking directly to their teenage girls about sex (aside from the occasional nervous admonishment against it)—I really liked the message here. Phil is understandably shocked and disappointed to learn that his little girl is no longer a virgin, and Haley is worried about his reaction. They have an awkward and indirect conversation about it, and Phil speaks an aside to the camera in which he says he thinks he messed up—he should’ve let his daughter know that while he isn’t thrilled with her choice, he wants her to be safe, and he wants her to be able to talk to him. But in the very next scene, we see him communicate just what he needs to in coded dad-speak: Haley is wondering about what table to choose, and Phil hugs her and says, “Whatever seems right to you. I trust you.”
- I Am Woman, Give Me Space: “Leap Day,” which aired on February 29, 2012, had me laughing so hard my husband had to pause the show. In the Dunphy family, both teenage girls and their mother all have PMS at the same time, which has Phil in a state of nervous trepidation. Toward the end of the episode, he gets so upset that he speaks the following lines: “I have been on an emotional roller coaster all day today. I’m afraid, I’m mad, I’m mad because I’m afraid. And now I can’t even think straight because I’m in so much pain from what just happened over there! And the whole thing makes me so sad, and I’m not even sure why and I’m nauseous and what’s that smell and I’m so hungry!” After this speech, all three females in his family embrace him simultaneously. Now that’s beautiful!
- Real Men Don’t Need Violence: Also in “Leap Day,” Gloria is upset when Jay won’t fight another man with whom she argues. After catching sight of himself in a light pink bathrobe, Jay decides maybe he should “man up” and takes the next opportunity to impress Gloria with his aggressive behavior. Gloria stops him and tells him that she likes the patient, understanding man he is. Then she decks the guy she’s mad at—who really didn’t deserve it—proving that women can be aggressive jerks too.
- Oh, the Humanity! There have been countless moments throughout the show in which we are given a chance to laugh at ourselves by laughing with this crazy family. We have seen Claire and Phil get themselves into more than one embarrassing situation as they try to keep the spice in their married sex life; we’ve seen Cam and Mitchell’s toddler curse and Cam laugh uncontrollably in response (this episode, “Little Bo Bleep,” was controversial—I thought it was fantastic because it was so real); we’ve seen Gloria called out for vanity, Mitchell wrap himself up in a conundrum for spite, and Phil walk on a homemade tightrope.
Yep, this is one crazy, loving, dysfunctional and functional family—just like all of us, they’re a mess. And I love them for it.