How ‘Modern Family’ Enables Change by First Serving Comedy

Modern Family Season Finale Gay Marriage
Courtesy of ABC

Christopher Lloyd is a veteran of “Wings” and “Frasier” and, with Steven Levitan, is co-creator of “Modern Family.”

Outside of callow undergraduates and cowering S&M practitioners, nobody likes a lecture.

Which is why, from the outset, we were devoutly apolitical with Mitch and Cam on “Modern Family.” Of course, it was tempting to create some jowly, closed-minded antagonist, a Mr. Fox, say, and have Cam let loose with a pearly diatribe, his colored cuffs flailing. In truth, it was almost equally tempting to go at our pious pro-gay detractors who harangued us weekly for not making Mitch and Cam flawless men who paused only briefly from leading exemplary lives to bend each other over backward in a show of we’re-not-afraid-of-anyone’s-judgment love. Note to that camp: We didn’t do that not because we found it unseemly, but because it would have been unseemly in how unfunny it would have been.

Mitch and Cam were a couple, that was all. They struggled with careers, and family dynamics, and in raising a child, and in becoming less neurotic, and in being better partners to each other. That’s where the comedy lay and, if we served in any small way to move the needle in the right direction on gay rights, that’s where it was slyly done — in having Mitch and Cam be utterly, non-aggressively recognizable.

We had a moment in season one where we braced for a backlash from the network and the public alike. It was inevitable: The scene called for Mitch and Cam to be in bed together. It wasn’t so long ago that Rob and Laura Petrie slept in twin beds, so to see a homosexual couple in a California king was bracing, to say the least. Except for this: The scene was simply about Cam and Mitch trying to get their daughter to sleep through the night by letting her cry herself out, and Cam was finding it near impossible to hear the wails of baby Lily through the speaker in his room, and with Mitch rubbing his back, encouraging him, and Cam clutching the speaker and now crying desperately himself, we had a hilarious scene, but perhaps more importantly, a universal scene.

And no one said a word against it. Because they saw what we had always seen: two good-hearted, imperfect people fighting their way through one of life’s challenges, and finding, as we always do, that it’s just a little easier when you get to do it with someone else.

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  1. So funny, now that I look back on that scene I don’t remember being at all aware that they were even in bed together. My focus obviously just on the heartbreak of listening to the baby crying. Great show!! Great writing and loved Wings! Recently watched the whole season. Miss that little family, wonder how they’re doing now?!

  2. xx123 says:

    Actually, I think you also do a great service in the “sly moving of the needle” with how you write Jay (and how Ed O’Neill plays him). Jay is the character that tells the audience that, it’s ok to be unsure and not always comfortable with all this “new normal”, because ultimately you don’t have to always be 100% sure about how you feel in the situation to do right by to people you love. Jay loves his son and his son-in-law first and foremost, and he always applies the golden rule in the end, even when he’s in situations that make him a little uncomfortable. It’s a great reminder and lesson; excellent role model to many I think.

    • mary king says:

      So true. And if Jay shows disdain for his gay son in law he also shows it equally for his non gay son in law while you know underneath it all he loves them both.

      • Rachel Booker says:

        I like, too, how he is that way in all areas of his life. He is at times awkward and unsure as a parent and step parent. He is at times gleefully aware that he snagged himself at hot, young trophy wife, but that never detracts from his deep love for her. He called his newest granddaughter a “potsticker” on their first meeting, yet the audience was sure this was not evidence of a racist man but of one who didn’t know quite how to deal with this new reality and fell back on much older patterns of behavior. He is actually one of my favorite characters on this show and I am consistently impressed by his performance.

  3. Deepak says:

    This is one of my favorite American TV shows. So hilarious and Mitch and Cam are so funny!

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