Feb 6, 2010

The Throwback Sweetness of 'Modern Family'

PopMatters has a very charming article about what sets 'Modern Family' apart from most sitcoms. Here is a sample of what PopMatters has to offer on the subject:

What is so refreshing about Modern Family is that it manages to be about a family where the individuals actually care about each other in a believable, non-cloying way. It avoids both the saccharine triteness of yore and the ugly animosity that has marked recent clans.

The article goes through a brief history of how sitcoms became so unnecessarily filled with spite through the 90s and 00s (think of Archie Bunker and Roseanne) and how Modern Family bucks this trend, being filled with heart all while maintaining a somewhat caustic bite. Basically, it asserts that 'Modern Family' is like the throwback Pepsi products we see in stores now, an ironic gesture for thing that's sort of always been an option.

What the article fails to do, however, is point out how truly now the situations and the problems are. Of course there is the issue of portraying an adoptive gay couple and an interracial white-Hispanic couple, but those are mere jumping off points for the show. It has become difficult to tiptoe the sitcom line in a post-ironic, post-postmodern world. How many reinventions of the "unhip dad" can we have? 'Modern Family', for example, seems to have another one, though, in a twist so old that it's new: a genuinely caring father (Ty Burrell), whose mistakes are less related to his need for a selfish kind of approval (common in most sitcoms) than a want to provide a good home for his children.

Mostly, the wonderful thing about the show is the soul of the characters. Every character manages to be old-fashioned and "new" at the same time, without seeming to be trying too hard, which is a problem I see in too many sitcoms. They are not mere archetypes, acting out in accordance with the stereotypes (the insensitive white man, etc.), but more or less flesh-and-blood people, whose dispositions are displayed so the sensitive moments in the show are not mere tacked-on crap (like in most sitcoms). When a character acts boneheaded, it fits. When he/she learns a lesson, that, too, seems genuine. That may have something to do with the confessional, 'Office'-style asides, but not necessarily. It could be the wonderful writing of the show, or else a natural desire for audiences to see families as more than merely horrible institutions where backbiting and bickering are necessary to survive.

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