Modern Family is one of the most watched, highest-rated shows on TV today. From the very first episode, viewers were intrigued due to two reasons.
Firstly, the idea of the characters talking directly into the camera came as a fresh breath of air – different from the barrage of traditional sitcoms that we have seen over the years.
Secondly, the ensemble cast played three families that were different from each other, though they were part of the same extended family. The old patriarch with the young, trophy wife and her son, both of whom happen to be Latinos, the gay couple with a daughter, whom they adopted from Vietnam, and the quintessential, all-American white middle class family.
It was interesting to see the dynamics between these family members and it gave the show runners so many opportunities to infuse a healthy dose of humor into what should otherwise have been a bland portrayal of suburban lifestyle.
So, what exactly is the problem with the show? For starters, the title itself!
For a sitcom that prides itself on being so modern and progressive, Modern Family ticks pretty much every box in the stereotype chart.
Gloria Pritchett – The Walking, Talking Latino Stereotype
Gloria Pritchett, played by the gorgeous Sofia Vergara, is easily the most stereotyped character on the show. Everything she says and does make her stand out from the rest of the family, thereby ensuring that the audience sees her as the ‘funny foreigner’. Heck; they even acknowledge it on TV. In ‘The Incident’, Haley’s boyfriend Dylan says that the Pritchett/Dunphy family is accepting of ‘hot foreigners’ and ‘gay dudes’. It was perhaps the moment that the show writers let it slip, albeit inadvertently, that Gloria is meant to be the trophy wife and an object of funny insults from the rest of the family.
Gloria is the typical, boisterous Latina that we have seen in so many movies and TV series over the years. She is loud, opinionated, wears dresses that are two sizes too short to show off her curves.
The show’s fixation on Gloria’s looks
Moreover, viewers are reminded on a constant basis that she is a ‘hot woman’, right from the very first episode. In ‘Coal Digger’, Claire says that Gloria looks like someone who fell off a mudflap, in reference to her hourglass figure. In ‘Good Night Gracie’, when Mitchell asks if anyone would mistake Gloria for someone who runs a brothel, the camera zooms in on Gloria’s ample bottom – the inference being that she does indeed look like someone who runs a brothel.
Ridiculing Columbian Culture
Gloria’s hometown is also the butt of jokes on the show on a consistent basis. Jay, in particular, takes great pleasure in ridiculing Columbia, its culture, and its customs. Of course, it is done in a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek manner.
In ‘Unplugged’, Jay chastises Gloria for stealing the neighbor’s dog and says it might be legal in Columbia, but not in the U.S. In ‘The Kiss’, when Gloria cooks a traditional Columbian dish made of a pig’s small intestines for dinner, Jay retorts ‘why can’t we eat regular food like normal people?’. Yeah; because eating a pig’s head, shoulder, ribs, and legs is totally fine, but small intestine is where we draw the line!
Gloria’s family is also an object of ridicule right from the start. Her mom brings a gun as a gift to a christening ceremony, her sister gifts a sword to someone at a wedding, and each and every one of the family member is as just as loud and unfiltered as Gloria. In ‘American Skyper’, Gloria’s cousin comes to the U.S. to stay with her for a few days and Jay constantly complains about him – he drinks all the booze, sits around all day doing nothing, and so on. Later, he has a change of heart and wants to treat him nicely. At this point, we find out that the cousin is indeed a lowlife who has stolen Jay’s cigars, for which Gloria admonishes him and kicks him out of the house.
The gay couple conundrum
Now, Modern Family certainly did raise the bar in terms of inclusivity by making a gay couple prominent characters on the show. The problem, however, is in the way they are portrayed. Mitchell is introverted, timid, and effeminate. He is not into sports and not good with tools, but is into figure skating and musical theatre. It is like a checklist of gay clichés!
Cameron, on the other hand, has an interesting background. He is from the South, grew up on a farm, and played football as a kid. You would think he would be manly enough to compensate for Mitchell’s over-the-top gayness. It is not the case as he too is effeminate in his own way – he loves being a stay-at-home dad to take care of their child, cries at the drop of a hat, loves to gossip, and even walks, talks, and behaves like a woman. To top it all, Mitchell and Cameron are both called ‘ladies’ on more than one occasion by Claire and even Lily!
The bossy wife – Beta husband pair
Now, what about the all-American white family? Claire is the typical bossy, controlling, domineering woman who, after painting the town crimson with alphas, has settled down with a beta guy. Phil is the ‘cool dad’ who was a male cheerleader and loves to be bossed around by his wife. He is careless, childish, irresponsible, and loves doing silly things with his son. Claire, on the other hand, is a responsible helicopter-soccer mom who takes care of the entire family.
It is a trope that we have seen on TV many times before – from Monica and Chandler in Friends to Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, the bossy, responsible wife – careless, goofy husband pair is not exactly a groundbreaking invention as far as sitcoms are concerned.
Modern family – Not so modern
This is not to say that Modern Family is bad, bland, or boring in any sense. The show has had plenty of genuinely funny and heartwarming moments. After all, it has won 22 Emmy awards so far. The problem, however, is that it is not as modern or as political as it is portrayed to be. Not even close! And it is precisely my complaint.