'Modern Family' Tackles Sex and Divorce

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ABC


This week on Modern Family, the Dunphy children had that horrific realization that their parents have sex. Clad in their morning wear, Haley, Alex, and Luke bring their mom and dad an anniversary breakfast-in-bed tray, only to intrude on mom and dad doing the deed. Mortified, they drop the eggs and run out of the room, screaming, as Claire and Phil scramble to cover their nether regions with a blanket.

The incident led to an episode-long discussion between parents and children about what happens when "consenting adults" love each other... Claire and Phil stay holed up in their room while they craft a plan of action; the kids head for a gas station. (Haley got her license?) As Luke flicks a lighter, the Dunphy children realize: Hey, it's a good thing our parents still sleep together, because the other, more common, options—fighting, divorce, etc.—kind of suck. After an almost too sappy discussion of the divorces that have plagued their peers, the children head back home to grin their way through a not so uncomfortable sex talk with mom and dad. Everything is dandy again.

Albeit a bit corny, it was nice to see Modern Family recognize divorce. The show does a good job reflecting the contemporary American landscape, presenting traditional family values alongside unconventional households. But the Dunphys generally get along well—almost too well—so for a show that claims to portray the "Modern Family," the program often leaves out one key aspect of the contemporary American unit: divorce.

Given that divorce affects so many families, we only rarely glimpse that omnipresent aspect of American culture. Both Gloria and Jay had previous marriages, but we don't often see their former spouses in action. In season 1 we got to meet both exes, and hilarious conflict ensued—divorce doesn't have to be a downer—but life in the Modern Family generally proceeds without any divorced scenarios.

Modern Family is a comedy, it doesn't have to question every unsavory or controversial aspect of the contemporary American lifestyle. And maybe that would be too judgmental for a comedy that aims to amuse with its sharp, rather than cruel, humor. But, once in a while, that glimpse of normalcy makes those of us with real modern families feel at ease.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

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