So, you’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing but you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some hidden gems you might not yet have seen. This week, Juliet Meyers wants to be adopted by Modern Family.
You don’t get to my age (which I’m not telling you) without watching a whole lotta sitcom, especially ones based around family. Obviously there are the animated delights of Family Guy and The Simpsons, but the words ‘family’ and ‘sitcom’ paired together normally brings me out in hives. Cue the apparently funny jokes about mum’s bad cooking. It’s hilarious because she can’t. But she’s a woman. It’s crazy! Dad’s being grumpy because he’s trapped in a loveless marriage with irritating kids (maybe they’re supposed to be precocious) and has to pay the bills.
And then Modern Family comes along, changes the formula, provides a breath of fresh air and I’m laughing out loud and grinning my tits off.
Why is it so great? The brilliant pace and dialogue, but predominantly for me, the characters. The show revolves around the Pritchett family, headed by sixtysomething Jay, on his second marriage to younger feisty ex‐Colombian beauty queen Gloria with her teenage young fogey son Manny.
Jay also has a gay son, Mitchell, who is in a long‐term relationship with Cam. They have an adopted Vietnamese daughter Lily. Jay’s daughter Claire who is ‘straight’ in both senses (although she used to be a go‐er) is married to sweet estate agent Phil Dunphy and they have two daughters: nerdy Alex and ditzy Haley and a son – cheeky, cute and (recently) hormonal Luke.
“My favourite Phil moment would be when he wore a skintight suit because he’d ‘dialled down the sexy for too long’ and kept posing around the house waiting to drive his wife wild with desire.”
All of the above would give scope for absurd stereotyping if the characters weren’t multidimensional and also in the hands of talented writers.
I often host heated debates in my head about who the best character is. First contender would have to be puppyish try‐hard, cheerleader-in-his-college-days Phil, who would do anything to be down with the kids, make a house sale and gain his father in law’s approval. My favourite Phil moment would be when he wore a skintight suit because he’d ‘dialled down the sexy for too long’ and kept posing around the house waiting to drive his wife wild with desire. She didn’t notice.
But then maybe even better than Phil is overly emotional, farm-raised, slightly chubby football coach Cam. Even when he isn’t being tragic clown Fizbo (who his boyfriend hates) or organising overly elaborate cat funerals, his facial expressions and confident camp physicality add to his brilliance.
The beginning of the show is normally one or two of the family members talking to the camera. Cam and Mitchell are the ideal pairing for this as Mitchell so often despairs of Cam’s overdramatic nature and tries to get him to rein it in. These segments are normally funny before they’ve even run the opening credits.
Much of Cam and Mitchell’s conflict occurs over their parenting styles, which brings me to another favourite character – their daughter Lily. Strong-minded, clever, manipulative, occasionally homicidal in outlook, yet ultra-girly too. Her cynicism towards even her parents’ gay marriage is beautifully delivered by actor Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who started in the role at four years old and was incredible from the start.
Most of the women in Modern Family are strong but the crown must go to fiery Latina Gloria who genuinely adores Jay. Her portrayal of her home country is hilarious with her seemingly far-fetched stories. She is overprotective of Jay and her son Manny, even offering ‘the Colombian necktie’ to the latter’s principal when he accuses him of stealing a gold locket from a girl.
Manny is great. Even in the words of his mother he is all “poems, puffy shirts and panpipes”. Despite being quite effeminate, to the amazement of stepdad Jay, he develops obsessions with women and girls in his school.
Jay is a man’s man. On learning Manny actually did steal the locket, he tentatively asks, “The locket – you’re not wearing it, are you?” Jay is the stabilising voice of reason. In one episode he despairs that grandson Luke doesn’t know how to build anything other than suspense, so teaches him woodwork and that the best place to kiss a woman to seduce her is her neck.
He is a curmudgeon at first sight who initially despairs at Colombian Christmas traditions or not having a jock for a son, but he always accepts things and adapts for the happiness of his family. This arc is often where the heart of the show lies, so actually maybe the character award should go to him.
The show is not wacky or set in a parallel universe, just a contemporary one. It’s simply gloriously funny. Unlike many family sitcoms, despite the conflicts, they all love each other. The characters evolve in each series and it has true heart.
Dear Prichetts and Dunphys, please adopt me. Or at least bring out the next series quickly!3488 Views
Juliet Meyers is a writer (for radio and television), comedian, feminist and middle-lane swimmer. @julietmeyers