ABC’s Freshman Hit Redefines TV’s Modern Family

Modern Family (ABC)

Modern Family (ABC)

The Huxtables, The Cleavers, My Two Dads: great families throughout Hollywood TV history.

But with many things changing, so is the face of – and popular reception to – mainstream network family sitcoms. With people increasingly watching their favorite TV shows online, ABC’s ‘Modern Family’ is a grab at bringing the family back in front of the TV.

‘Modern Family’s core relationships, whether they be cross-racial and May-December (as with Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara), same-sex (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson), or traditional (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen), are “modern” mostly because of the cast’s physical appearances, the stars insist. Otherwise, the show’s storylines are the same TV family stories of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, they say – just with different social tastes.

“I would say I think the stories are still the same – it’s just that everybody looks different,” Burrell told Fancast at a PaleyFest 2010 event for the show Feb. 26 in L.A. “I think that’s why this may hopefully be comfort food for some people. Even our older audiences can say that’s a storyline we dealt with 50 years ago or something. Comforting, I hope.”

Preview Wednesday’s episode “Starry Night”:

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‘Modern Family’ boasts prime-time network TV’s first male couple raising a baby daughter. Previous gay landmark shows ‘Will & Grace’ and ‘Ellen’ didn’t have that dynamic. It is revolutionary, in that sense.

But not revolutionary. The two actors have never shared an onscreen kiss.

“‘Modern Family’ is the name of the show, but it is fairly traditional,” says Bowen. “Ultimately, it is about dedicated couples who are raising their kids. It’s just that they come in all shapes, sizes and ages – I guess that is what makes it modern.”

Some of this season’s stories have included anniversaries, Valentine’s Day romance, and the first day of school: pretty typical.

Read: ‘Modern Family’ Star Was Prepared To Fight Gay Stereotype

Besides the 10 million people who watch ‘Modern Family’ every week, the press has recognized it as a conventional show done particularly well. The Hollywood Reporter wrote of the show at its September release, “Long on heart, brimming with great characters, smartly cast, expertly written and funny from start to finish, ‘Family’ is the obvious choice for best new fall comedy — and possibly best series.” Eighteen episodes into its freshman season, the show will be back in the fall.

Characters besides the two dads are sextagenarian Ed O’Neill and decades-younger Sofia Vergara, who has a pre-teen son Manny (Rico Rodriguez), and traditional mom and dad youth-obsessed Burrell and former party girl Bowen, who have the closest resemblance to the typical family unit.

Preview Wednesday’s episode “Starry Night”:

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“They’re functional in their dysfunction,” Bowen explains of the families. “They take care of business and get everything done. Everyone is fed and gets to bed at the end of the day. But not always perfectly.”

While all the show’s couples get laughs, the two dads (Mitchell and Cameron) have sparked considerable interest as a show symbol.

“Speaking as a relationship with a gay dad, that is very much happening in America right now,” says Ferguson, who is also gay in real life. “We’re shining a light on it and bringing it into this platform. ‘The Brady Bunch’ may have been the first show where the husband and wife are in bed together. That was risqué at that time. Here we have two men in bed together. I don’t know. We have taken pretty big lengthy strides in the past 30, 40 years.”

Read: ‘Modern Family’s Two Dads Taking “Small Steps” With Their Physical Relationship

What has definitely changed since ‘The Brady Bunch’ is how modern American families interact with TV. The days of the traditional sitcom are more a relic with every passing day. While comedy will never be dead, the traditional sitcom doesn’t speak to family dynamics in the same way.

Cast say part of the show’s success comes from that social observation about the medium.

“It’s just that multi-cam formula – people were getting a little tired of it, I guess, and knowing how they were supposed to feel,” Bowen says. “On our show, it’s a nice surprise …  I think basically with the jokes, they are laughing about the same thing. You’re still having a good laugh at what we see everyday in our own homes.”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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