Sitcommunication

Those looking for objectivity in this blog (if they’ve ever found it) will be sorely disappointed by this post. The attachment I have to the programme I’m writing about today cannot be quantified by my predilection for well-made, heartwarming American sitcoms. Everything I think about it has something to do with the way I feel about the person who is my life. So my account of watching it is also a story of how I found love in a strange land I’d known all my life. It’s not unknown for me to remember the past through American TV. Memories of my early life are intertwined with images of American family sitcoms. I now see my upbringing through the prism of Roseanne and The Cosby Show. In the future when I look back on this past year, and the love that has changed my life, I know there will be a little bit of Modern Family mixed in.

The Cast of Modern Family

A diverse and tradition-defying family

In the irksome tradition of G introducing me to and then lambasting me for not knowing American TV shows that she (and I secretly also) think should be a part of my mental archive (‘How can you call yourself a Doctor of American TV and have never seen Full House?’) and because of Rupert Murdoch’s caste system for imported TV that puts US shows in the unreachable noble classes, I was first shown Modern Family on US network TV during the virtual epoch that is Halloween in the States. The Halloween episode is usually a low point for the American sitcom, a season nadir where character and story get pushed aside by wardrobe people indulging in their own sweep stakes week. But even this seasonal pageantry couldn’t disguise its obvious quality. And it was pretty obvious from the outset that this sitcom was going to be for and about me and G. But more of that later; what is this show that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t want you to not to pay to have to see?

Modern Family is ABC’s answer to the NBC mockumentary sitcom, with the same vague sense of a documentary film crew presence, interludes of straight-to-camera interviews and frequent acknowledgements of the camera. It re-imagines the American family as diverse and tradition-defying; made up of interracial spouses and families, gay couples with adopted children, and multiple divorces and remarriages. While it gets a lot of comic mileage out the cultural and character clashes that inevitably result, it never rests on its concept or lets its formula become obvious. This is largely because of the sharp and clever writing with quality character gags fired out at screwball rhythms and preconceptions about stock characters upturned with them losing their pleasing familiarity. The show has a healthy sense of slapstick and appetite for absurd coincidences, a combination which echoes cutting-edge sitcoms like Arrested Development and Curb your Enthusiasm.

Despite its representational radicalism and fashionable form, the show’s strengths are quite traditional ones. It is frequently and unashamedly heartwarming, a quality all family sitcoms should have in some measure lest they leave a gaping hole of humanity at their centre in the manner of Family Guy. It is also a very conventional sitcom in many ways. The casting of Ed O’Neill, formerly America’s premier maritally dissatisfied slob husband and father Al Bundy in Married with Children, as family patriarch Jay signals that the producers want a contemporary sitcom that plays by the rules. Indeed, the pairing of white-American Jay and Columbian Gloria which sparks so brilliantly plays like a gender-reversed Lucy and Desi from I Love Lucy. But what really makes Modern Family truly special is how it became the medium of mine and G’s relationship.

Gloria and Jay

Gloria and Jay: the medium for our relationship

Leaving aside that I’m a none-too-stunning white man who’s somehow managed to attract a ridiculously hot Latina woman, so much about Gloria and Jay’s marriage defines our relationship. They’re both loves propelled by laughter from awkward cultural and linguistic miscommunications (and we’ve got American-English as well as Mexican-British!), to the point where I forget which is the TV one and which ours. G’s translation of a romantic sentiment from Mexican into English with the caveat that ‘it involves dead sheep’ could’ve come straight from Gloria. And G knows when I laugh at Sofia Vergara, I’m inadvertently making fun of her. We also know we will one day be Claire and Phil; the no-nonsense-with-children woman married to a goofy man-child playing at adulthood. G thinks of me like a grown-up Luke, the semi-autistic scruff, even though I know that as a kid I was more like Manny, the self-aware sophisticate allergic to physical exertion. Modern Family is not just an outstanding sitcom in a TV milieu that’s increasingly looking and sounding the same, it’s also mine and G’s secret language, one which we will always understand completely.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Sitcommunication”

  1. Simon Harper Says:

    Really lovely post. I’ve heard lots about Modern Family but have never seen it and don’t give money to Murdoch, but will find a way to give it a try. It’s interesting that you mention Family Guy – I might be remembering this wrong, but I’m sure in the earlier seasons (i.e. before it got cancelled) that there were a few moments of heart, before it became all about the cutaways and gags at the expense of the characters. Not on the same level as early Simpsons, though, before they decided to make Homer a complete jerk rather than a loveable oaf.

    For myself and Ash, our show would probably be 30 Rock (I really like it, she LOVES it), though we’re quite similar in that neither of us watches loads of TV but we mostly watch comedy and Mad Men. Your post brought back memories of us watching 30 Rock on Netflix while I was with her in New York.

    Re Halloween episodes…it was a bit gimmicky but I enjoyed the Community episode from Halloween last year. For a show which makes a virtue of its meta-ness and giddy pop-cultural referencing, it still had some nice character moments and had the characters behaving (mostly) as you’d expect them to – although there is one curveball which I’ll wait to catch up with the second half of Season 2 to see how it plays out. Of course, it’s not strictly speaking a family sitcom but I think the way the group bonds together throughout the show is like a family dynamic of sorts, possibly even with familial roles (Jeff as father figure, or at the very least older brother, in the way the group looks to him as their figurehead).

  2. Patient Fwrris Says:

    Aaahh!

    It’s great story and a great program, one of the things I most look forward to watching each week (yes I bought into the Evil Empire), I think one of the things I like thee most it’s the complete lack of snark. That can be funny for a while but becomes wearing very quickly, I find. I can only take Family Guy et al in small chunks, not true of other sitcoms with a little more heart like The Office or even the first series of Gavin and Stacey.

    Clearly the program won’t mean the same to me but I think a lot of couples have ‘our program’, ours is’ Entourage’ (don’t judge me, we also love The Shield!) and our enjoyment of watching it together transcends the content although in my case it also makes new not want to talk about it with other purple we know, because it’s ‘ ours’.

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