Is 'Modern Family' Truly Modern?

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There's something special about ABC's Modern Family, Bruce Feiler argues at The New York Times. Sitcoms rarely garner both high ratings and critical acclaim, but "Modern Family" has managed to do both. What's its secret? Feiler says the show lives up to its title by probing the dynamics that are reshaping today's families.

Modern Family, Feiler explains, emphasizes the ways technology has upended the human interactions that are the very essence of family life. The characters "are so immersed in technology that nearly every scene is refracted through a digital funhouse: an iPad screen, a cellphone camera, a baby monitor, a YouTube video. Characters spend half their time glancing past one another rather than communicating directly."

As the first family show to be filmed as a “mockumentary"--with characters peeking at the camera and delivering confessional interviews in the spirit of reality TV--Modern Family highlights the instant self-analysis that social networking has instilled in us, Feiler adds: "we all engage in this sort of running narrative of our lives, rushing off after dinner (or coitus) to share our confessions on Twitter or Facebook."

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But Feiler also surfaces a paradox of the show. Curiously, it is at once relentlessly modern and fundamentally traditional:

The creators of "Modern Family" are ... less focused on how families interact with the outside world; more centered on how they function internally ...

In that way, "Modern Family" may be most akin to modern life. The roiling topics of politics and religion are kept off the Thanksgiving table. The simmering topics of sexuality, technology and dysfunction are kept on. The goal is not to heal the world; it's to heal thyself. That is, to preserve the ideal of the family--conflicted, but functioning ...

Therein lies the crux of the show. The particulars of the Pritchett-Tucker family may be different from those of the Huxtables, Bunkers or Cleavers. There are second marriages to immigrants, adolescent husbands who never grew up, gay dads. But the core values are the same. Perhaps that's why a study last year listed "Modern Family" as the third-most popular show among Republicans. In its fundamentally conservative vision, "Modern Family" turns out to be not so modern after all.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.