In a slightly depressing column on sex and television earlier this week, Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales singled out Modern Family for its portrayal of gay characters. The show, he said, "depicts a gay-male marriage in which both partners are refreshingly dimensional, believable human beings...they're not flawed in the silly, stereotypical ways that once dominated such portrayals." This statement highlights both how far Modern Family has come—and how far it still has to go when it comes to gay couples in relationships.
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Eric Stonestreet—the actor who plays Cam, one half of the couple Shales praises in his column—told me he's proud that the show treats his character's family like an equal corner of the three families who make up Modern Family's supporting triangle. He appreciates that the series doesn't need to dwell obsessively on the fact that the show portrays a loving, healthy, stable family headed by two gay parents. But there are limits to that normalization.
While the parents in the other two families regularly touch, kiss, and demonstrate clear, ongoing sexual lives, Modern Family's creators made a big deal over creating a storyline to explain why Mitch and Cam are rarely seen touching, much less flirting, kissing, or displaying other obvious signs of sexual attraction. And in that storyline, the show whiffed. Rather than having Mitch overcome his fear of public displays of affection, the episode shoehorned in a sly kiss so quick that many viewers missed it. It's alright for the audience to know that gay couples kiss. But apparently, the calculation is that, we're just too jumpy to actually watch a very realistic middle-aged and half-overweight gay couple share even a relatively chaste smooch on center-screen.