‘Modern Family’ had its pilot airing in September 2009 on ABC and since then created an enormous, solid fan base – all for the good reasons. The show follows the everyday trials, downfalls and triumphs of family life, particularly focusing on the parents. While the tenth and final season is currently being filmed let’s be joyful with the fact that Netflix has released the comedy series’ first to eighth season. And it’s worth binge watching – let its awards prove it.
This show is unique and does not follow the normal primetime drama pitfalls; instead, it utilises a multifamily approach and mockumentary form which redefines, updates and invigorates the family-comedy genre on TV. Also, in case you are wondering, this is one of the few primetime TV shows that finally took the risk to deviate from the laugh tracks. The show manages to have one good line quickly followed by another. For those who were longtime fans of ‘The Office’, you will notice similar shooting and directing style such as the direct-to-camera production and confessionals without feeling overly cheesy and sentimental.
‘Modern Family’ presents a good mix of comedy and seriousness, making it more realistic rather than ideal. The show’s creators, Christopher Llyod and Steven Levitan, have tapped into a different, more self-centered anxiety – less focused on how families interact with the outside world; more centered on how they function internally. Topics of politics and religion are kept at bay in favour of using issues for interpersonal relationship development within the household.
What makes this sitcom different from the other usual series we used to watch is the fact that you don’t really have to watch it episode per episode. You have the choice to skip an episode or watch any episode randomly without getting worried about not being able to follow the story through. Instead, think of watching the show as if you are flipping through your smartphone photos. It doesn’t matter which photo you open first; you will still recall the moment you took it and the nostalgia and happiness flow freely after.
In ‘Modern Family’, the stories do not necessarily connect with the previous or succeeding episodes; each scenario is independent from the other and tells a story significant enough to stand on its own. Just like what happens in real life, isn’t it? Random, free-flowing, unrestricted.
In the pilot episode, the viewers are introduced to three groups in pods, individual sections which become unified in the end.
First, there is Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen who play Phil and Claire, a suburban couple with three children (all with distinct personalities from each other). Claire and Phil are typical parents who try to be helpful to their kids but just end up embarrassing them. Phil thinks he can talk teen slang and knows all of the cool texting words, but of course, he just looks lame to his kids.
Claire’s father Jay (Ed O’Neill), an older man who has recently married a Latin bombshell Gloria (Sofía Vergara), becomes a reluctant father to her idealistically romantic young son Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Gloria’s backstory of coming from a small place in Colombia with the highest murder rate creates a foundation for how she is as a mother. On one hand, she expresses her readiness to kill another mom for saying her son needs to be taken out of the soccer game. But like all mothers, all she wants is to see Manny become a strong man.
Then there’s Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his enthusiastic partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) who have just adopted Lily, baby girl from a Vietnamese orphanage. Mitchell doesn’t want to tell his family just yet that they took the large step to adopt a child because he knows what their reaction will be. Cameron knows Mitchell is an avoider and wants him to get it over with or else, they will have to keep the secret for years.
It’s safe to say that they’re an odd couple. Mitchell is buttoned-up and anxious very lawyer-like woman while Cameron is big and boisterous, a man who loves to eat and loves football. One of the most iconic and perhaps funniest scenes of the entire show is when Cameron presents his adopted daughter to a family gathering while wearing an African robe and playing “Circle of Life” from The Lion King.
There are three main conflicts in the pilot episode alone. First is that Phil wants to be ‘the cool Dad’ while Claire wants to be ‘the parent of the year’, and they clash and cause problems for their kids who are all so busy making problems themselves, too.
The second is Mitchell’s uneasiness towards the fact that he is gay while Cameron just doesn’t really care much – this paradox between the couple is mirrored by their parent’s attitudes to their relationship.
The third conflict involves Jay being awkward and conscious on his and his wife’s age gap. Well, he somehow has an acceptable reason for this – he often gets mistaken as his wife’s dad. His insecurities become a central factor that leads to other conflicts.
With all these primary struggles that eventually spiral into more dramas playing throughout the entire show, it is easy to understand where all their hurts and joys are coming from. The life crisis faced by each member of the family become something we can all relate to and learn from along with the characters themselves.
But unlike in real life, the problems that arise in each episode get solved within the 20-minute airing time. This doesn’t, however, weaken the show’s realistic portrayals and impacts to its audience. Plus, none of the drama is overly serious. They are all, in fact, comedic in some ways.
In one episode, Mitchell and Cam deal with the fact there are no classy high-end restaurants near them, and they’re stuck eating at the usual shawarma place where they dine every night. When the “IT” restaurant opens near them, they do everything to get a reservation to only have their whole plan turn in on them 10 fold.
I personally think that this show has managed to portray insightful views on relationships, as viewed by society. In most western countries, we focus on the nuclear family. But in reality, we have the step-family and extended family that the ‘Modern Family’ is trying to give justice to. The show presents that there are more people (within the family but not necessarily the immediate ones) that bring about fun, problems, insights and comedy into the mix.
The show successfully and creatively proves two things: first, these individual families are interesting and worth spending time with; secondly, when you bring the three families together, their individual neuroses are going to become much more entertaining.
I think that despite this being a story of a typical modern American family, most Cambodians can relate to the day to day life of having a whole host of family members around you.
So gather up on the family couch or floor and binge watch Modern Family. It will surely make you think about your own lives and family dynamics. But whatever happens, like in the show, you can all just laugh out loud together.