Modern Family Breaks News Ground

rodger-streitmatterThe situation the young father finds himself in has the ring of truth to any parent who’s ever taken a toddler to a play class—as this TV father is depicted as doing.

When the scene begins, he’s filled with fatherly pride for his daughter, Lily. But then the mother of one of the other kids expresses surprise that 8-month-old Lily can’t “grab or stack” blocks yet. The father turns defensive because he doesn’t want to admit that Lily’s not ahead of the developmental curve.

Viewers are reminded that this is, after all, a TV sitcom when the father takes his next step. Seeing that a nearby toddler has a tower of four blocks standing tall in front of him, Dad checks to see that no one’s looking and then swiftly moves the tower in front of Lily. Then he boasts, loud enough for the other parents to hear, “Wow, Lily, not so high!”

Then comes the surprise twist. The organizer of the class says to the father, “That’s a big moment for her. Would you like a video? We tape all our classes.”Modern Family

Viewers then watch panic engulf the father’s face as he realizes his errant behavior has been captured on videotape. He grabs his daughter and races from the room, pulling Lily’s second dad along with him as he rushes to escape before the play group organizer shows the tape for everyone to see.

LOL!


The scene is an example of the kind of laugh-’til-you-cry humor that’s a staple of the ABC comedy hit Modern Family.

In fact, the Emmy-winning sitcom focuses on three modern-day families. One of them can be accurately described as nuclear, as it consists of a father, a mother and three kids. Another includes a May-December coupling of a drop-dead-gorgeous Latina and a husband who’s old enough to be her father, plus an adolescent son from the hottie’s first marriage. The third family consists of two gay daddies and the Vietnamese-born Lily they’ve adopted.

(The families are connected. The wife in the nuclear family is the daughter of the December husband, as well as the sister of the gay dad who moved the blocks.)

That third family is more than one among a trio of equals: It’s groundbreaking.

For this marks the first time in TV history that a major network has brought a gay male couple into American living rooms on a weekly basis. What’s more, the program is so well written and acted that it’s drawing a hefty weekly audience of more than 10 million viewers, making it one of the small screen’s most-watched comedies.

The show’s moving TV into unchartered territory on other counts as well. One of them is that the two daddies’ sexuality is of the “ho hum” variety. That is, there’s no question that the two men are gay, but that aspect of their lives is secondary to other story lines. (READ: American TV is finally acknowledging that LGBT people do more than come out!)

The play group debacle that’s described above is one example. Others have included such routine themes of coupledum as the complications that arise when one of the men bumps into a former lover—in this instance, a woman.

Even though Modern Family doesn’t highlight gay storylines every week, the show is playing its part in helping many viewers become more comfortable with same-sex marriage.

Jesse Tyler FergusonUSA Today has quoted Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the actor who plays the dad who moved the stack of blocks, as saying, “It’s a safe ‘in’ for a lot of people who are on the fence about the issue. They feel OK liking our couple. Maybe that will bleed into their personal life. Maybe those viewers will decide it’s not such a big deal if two men marry or raise a baby.”

Another groundbreaking element of the show and the couple, to my mind, evolves from the fact that Ferguson is an openly gay actor, while the guy who plays his partner, Eric Stonestreet, is straight. The contrasting sexuality of two actors playing gay men isn’t unique. What causes that adjective to apply in this case is that Ferguson, the gay actor, plays the reserved partner, while Stonestreet, the straight actor, plays the flamboyant one.

Stonestreet’s success at carrying off the role won him the Emmy last year for best actor in a supporting role in a TV comedy show.

Yet another factor that distinguishes the two actors from their best known TV predecessors—Eric McCormack and Sean Hayes from Will & Grace—is that neither Ferguson nor Stonestreet (my apologies for this next statement, guys) can be labeled a “pretty boy.” Ferguson has red hair and pale skin, and his body isn’t even close to buff; Stonestreet is even a more dramatic departure from other actors who’ve played gay on TV, as his oversized physique screams “lineman!”

Modern Family hasn’t flown entirely under the controversy radar. Last year as the series was nearing the end of its first season and the two gay characters—Cam is the flamboyantEric Stonestreet one, Mitchell is the reserved one—hadn’t locked lips, a Facebook page titled “Let Cam & Mitchell kiss!” sprang up.

The actors and producers insist that a same-sex smooch had already been in the works for season two. “It’s nice that people care so much,” Stonestreet told Entertainment Weekly, “but it kind of bums me out in that now it looks like we’re doing something because somebody begged us to or pressured us to.”

Regardless of exactly what made it happened, a kiss episode aired in September. Among the funniest scenes was one in which Mitchell, who was depicted as being averse to public displays of affection, dodges a smooch from an incoming Cam, who goes tumbling over the couch and sends a bowl of potato chips flying every which way.

That was just another LOL scene—as well as one that helped the show break new ground.

By Rodger Streitmatter
© LGBT-Today

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