If you tune in tonight to check out the premiere of ABC’s new sitcom Modern Family, here is a word of advice: Ignore the ‘creampuff’ scene on the airplane at the very start of the episode. Trust me, just fast forward through it.
That’s when Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) mistakenly believes a fellow passenger has referred to himself and his boyfriend as ‘creampuffs’. In fact, the woman was referring to the actual creampuffs their adopted baby is trying to chew on. The joke is forced and unfunny and makes Mitchell look hysterical.
Fortunately, it’s Modern Family’s only real big misstep (although a joke about mean lesbians also traffics in unnecessary stereotypes) and from that point on the show only gets funnier and fresher. Highlights of the first episode include the dramatic introduction of Mitchell and Cameron’s new daughter to the rest of the family (think The Lion King) and a very funny shooting incident involving a BB gun.
The show itself is yet another ‘mockumentary’ in the same vein as The Office and Parks & Recreation, only adapted to the more traditional sitcom format. Thankfully, the documentary aspect is kept to a minimum as each of the show’s three families are only occasionally interviewed in the mockumentary ‘confessional’ style.
Mitchell and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) are the gay couple who make up one of the three households the show follows (the three families are related to each other, although that isn’t made clear until the end of the episode). In the first episode, Cameron and Mitchell have just returned from Vietnam where they have adopted a girl named Lily, something they have not yet shared with the rest of their family.
Cameron and Mitchell aren’t exactly groundbreaking gay characters in and of themselves. Cameron is a very outgoing fellow prone to making dramatic gestures (wait until you see the portrait of the two men in Lily’s nursery) and over-sharing while Mitchell is a prissy, uptight man worried what others think of him.
It’s fair to say that Cameron and Mitchell might even be a little stereotypical in how they are portrayed. That’s actually all right since everyone on Modern Family – from fiery Latina Gloria to her much older sixty something husband Jay to the painfully unfunny dad Phil who actually believes he is hip – is a cliché character. But that’s what sitcoms are usually built on and what matters is what the show does with those characters.
And when it comes to Cameron and Mitchell, Modern Family shows them as much of a family as any of the other more ‘traditional’ households. In fact, other than Kevin and Scotty on Brothers & Sisters, Modern Family is the only other network show featuring a gay couple as series regulars.
Furthermore, Cameron and Mitchell are genuinely groundbreaking in that this is the first time a network program has included gay men as parents of a baby. Is their relationship entirely positive? No. Mitchell is frequently rather critical of Cameron and the two bicker a fair bit. But more importantly, they seem like a believable couple, warts and all – just like the other couples on the show.
Credit for their appeal goes to mostly solid writing as well as Ferguson and Stonestreet who have a nice yin and yang chemistry and comic rapport. Ferguson, who was easily the best thing on The Class, shines here as a rather uptight man who just wants to be a dad while Stonestreet’s Cameron is very funny as his much more outgoing and flamboyant other half.
In one important way, Cameron and Mitchell are not stereotypes and that’s in how they look. Cameron is a hefty fellow while Mitchell isn’t exactly buff himself. Nor are they fabulous dressers and while both men are attractive in their way, they also look more like the rest of us than do most television stars.
While it would be nice to see a series built entirely around a gay man, something not seen on network TV since Will & Grace, the odds are a much wider audience will see Modern Family thanks to the presence of the other two families. And it’s through those families that more traditional viewers might be able to get know – and accept –this gay couple and their newborn daughter.
That’s especially true for the character of Jay (Ed O’Neill, right) who plays Mitchell’s less than accepting father. Jay represents pretty much every middle aged straight guy who isn’t intolerant exactly, but really doesn’t know what to make of the modern world. At one point Mitchell interviews that his father still isn’t entire comfortable with Mitchell’s being gay (something that seems true of Mitchell himself) and more than once, Jay says something less than politically correct to prove the truth of that.
But by the end of the episode, Jay is playing adoring grandfather to his brand new granddaughter who is the child of two gay men. Things don’t get much more modern than that.