The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Modern Family Is Arrested Development’s Successor

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageComedy on television has changed in recent years. Sure, there’s still the occasional traditional three-camera-sitcom with laugh track to be found (How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men), but mostly comedy TV has moved on to a more subtle approach. The laugh track is almost gone and there is a newfound will to exaggerate without becoming too “on the nose”.
It started with the hilarity of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development a while back and the trend towards the outrageously-funny-because-rooted-in-real-life comedy continues, see ABC’s new hit show Modern Family.

Arrested Development
, of course, was stacked full of characters that were crazy and satirically charged with clichés, which was precisely its strength. It never attempted to take itself seriously and therefore drove home many a point about family, loyalty and the general chaos of the world.
(As much as I like How I Met Your Mother, it bugs the hell out of me that every episode is tied up with a nice little bow of “wisdom”, which really are just trite sayings like “Shouldn’t we hold out for the person who likes our quirks instead of just tolerating them?”. That may be true, but it comes across so pompous, it is nauseating.)

In much the same way as the characters on Arrested Development were plain bonkers most of the time (hence not realistic at all), the ones in Modern Family tend to be a bit one-dimensional and stereotypical, but let’s face it, we all have a little stereotype in us. I am not sure the gay community feels adequately portrayed in Mitchell and Cameron (not every gay man wears pink and loves Madonna, and I know this for a fact), but at least they are an openly gay couple, who just adopted a baby, on a major American network. Now, I am waiting for them to kiss on screen. That will be the moment when they have truly arrived in mainstream America.


We’re gay, but we’re non-threatening.

On the same note, Phil is a little too much “doofus” for the audience to really get why Claire ever married him, but what he lacks in depth, he makes up for in hilarious awkwardness.
And who could resist Sofia Vergara and her adorable accent as Gloria? Paired with Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill, these two steal the show every week.

Even the interview-style bits of the show work to its advantage, because they aren’t overused. I am not sure who is interviewing these people and for what purpose, but given how much people seem to care about Jon and Kate Plus Eight, I am certain this stylistic device and the pretense that Modern Family is a reality show about a family are both major factors in its success.

ImageSo far, Modern Family hasn’t been groundbreaking. It hasn’t left safe territory, at least not in my opinion, but I am not sure that is the point anyway. It is common knowledge that if we look at our own families from the outside, we can pretty much describe any family as “dysfunctional”. That’s just the way we work as humans. So taking one example of a family, which includes gays, different nationalities, kids of many ages, an unlikely marriage and a typical marriage, Modern Family got a lot of things right for a majority of people. Even if not all families have a representative of all the relations Modern Family incorporates, we all have at least one. Uncle remarried a way younger woman? Parents got divorced and it almost split the siblings up? Mom and dad have been married for twenty years with three kids and still somehow keep it together? A gay cousin? An Italian sister-in-law? Did you find yourself yet?

I am not sure how long Modern Family can fare on the “we describe our relationship and our take on parenting”-interviews and random daily life anecdotes until it has to start taking the story somewhere, i.e. until some real drama has to be inserted into the comedy to make it move along (such as a marital crisis, an illness or some such storyline), but for now I am still content watching these characters deal with each other and discovering more about their history.  

The show hits a nerve, while not hitting it too hard to alienate Middle America. And sometimes that is enough to make entertaining television.





Recommended Collisions with your Television

(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)


Tuesday, November 17th
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   V (ABC)
 9 p.m.  NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
 10 p.m.
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Wednesday, November 18th
 8 p.m.  New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
   So You Think You Can Dance – Results (Fox)
   Mercy (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  Gary Unmarried (CBS)
 9 p.m.
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 10 p.m.
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Thursday, November 19h  
 8 p.m.  Vampire Diaries (CW)
   Bones (Fox)
   FlashForward (ABC)
   Community (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  Parks and Recreation (NBC)
 9 p.m.
 Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
   The Office (NBC)
   CSI (CBS)
   Supernatural (CW)
 9:30 p.m.  30 Rock (NBC)
 10 p.m.  Project Runway (Lifetime)
   The Mentalist (CBS)
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Friday, November 20th
 8 p.m.  Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
   Law & Order (NBC)
   Smallville (CW)
 9 p.m.
 Medium (CBS)
   Ugly Betty (ABC)
   Monk (USA)
 10 p.m.
Saturday, November 21st
Sunday, November 22nd
 8 p.m.  The Simpsons (Fox)
 9 p.m.
 Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
   Dexter (Showtime)
   Desperate Housewives (ABC)
   Family Guy (Fox)
 10 p.m.
 Californication (Showtime)
   Brothers & Sisters (ABC)
   Cold Case (CBS)
Monday, November 23rd
 8 p.m.
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   House (Fox)
   Heroes (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  Accidentally on Purpose (CBS)
 9 p.m.
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   Gossip Girl (CW)
   Trauma (NBC)
 9:30 p.m.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
 10 p.m.  Castle (ABC)
   CSI:Miami (CBS)