The 90’s was an effort by most major broadcasting networks to take the spotlight away from family-themed television shows that dominated the 80’s and early 90’s. Now that that era is over, some shows are attempting to re-fix the spotlight back on the family – with a few twists.
Two prominent shows are in the spotlight today. NBC’s Parenthood and ABC’s Modern Family. On the surface the only stark differences are that one is a half-hour long comedy and the other is an hour-long drama. Both shows consist of mediocre-sized American families where the siblings are grown and trying to figure out adulthood, sometimes guided by the patriarchs of the clans (Parenthood lead by Craig T. Nelson from Coach and Modern Family lead by Ed O’ Neil of Married with Children fame).
Both shows thrive on the flaws of its endearing characters, but only one of them takes the flaws seriously enough to run with them and expose the consequences of the actions that many (if not all) viewers can relate to.
But after watching a few seasons of each show, a bigger difference seems to set them apart.
One show is lead by a man who never quite graduated socially from the seventh grade and who makes his son take the fall for looking at porn on the family computer. (More on this type of TV man, here.)The other show is led by a man who is trying to connect with his son who has Asperger’s syndrome, tries to protect his daughter from having premature sex, openly confesses his life to his wife, etc. A model family man.
One show features the patriarchs as working through past mistakes and getting counseling for extramarital affairs, and working at keeping their marriage together, while the other sends a clear message that you can divorce your wife to marry a much younger, more shapely woman to fit your insatiable appetite, with little (if any) consequence.
In NBC’s (and Ron Howard’s) take on the family institution, the loose bullet of the family commits fornication on many occasions, and in ABC’s version, it is “progressive” to feature a homosexual couple living together, and starting a family by adopting a child.
What I appreciate about both shows is the attempt to reflect many American family situations happening today. (Or or we reflecting them? hmmm…. more about that here.) But Modern Family’s lackadaisical approach to family life is somewhat off-putting. Phil Dumphy’s eagerness to role play a fantasy scenario with his wife by “picking her up” at the bar overrides his ability to mind the well-being of his children. And it’s disgusting – they might as well just have an affair already. Phil’s jokes and slapstick crashes are funny at first, and it keeps the kids interested, but the not-so-subtle messages of the show will begin to cement into their heads.
While Daddy Dumphy is tripping on the stairs for the twelfth time, the younger viewers are getting the message that Grandpa was justified for divorcing Grandma for a younger woman and the gay guys living together is okay because it’s funny and they’re nice.
Modern Family = Funny show (which dies out). No consequences to serious actions. Stupidity, divorce, and homosexuality are all acceptable and without consequences.
Now, Parenthood has not addressed the issue of homosexuality (at least as far as I’ve seen it). Maybe it will come. But it does address very seriously the consequences of extramarital affairs and how that act can change and affect everybody. And although Crosby, the loose bullet, is a fornicator (though, honestly, they probably all were), he at least makes it right by marrying the mother of his child. There is repentance there, not acceptance.
The characters in Parenthood are constantly trying to change themselves for the better, not accepting the mistakes they make, and refuse to turn a blind eye to those who are living in the wrong.
Here’s the irony. Modern Family is intended for kids, and Parenthood has a handful of scenes that could pass for a PG-13 rating if released in theaters. But when you get down to the world views each show is projecting, I’d feel much safer letting my kids watch Parenthood.
Of the two shows, it’s what my family has chosen to continue to watch.
[Parenthood Image Credit], [Modern Family Image Credit]