There is a certain suspension about the moment we're all living in. I don't mean to bore you with the details yet again, especially since I know this has become such a universal, but the historical weight of what we're all going through bears the burden of recognition because it is after all, once and for all, truly unprecedented.
Which is in a sense fitting for the equally unprecedented conclusion of an era of American television that ended a few Wednesdays ago when Modern Family aired its finale and said goodbye for good. Here too I'm unsure that I need to bore you with the details given the notoriety and critical acclaim of the show, but for the uninitiated Modern Family follows the stories of three different families, one "traditional" and two "non-traditional" as the show's original logline states. Connected to one another by blood and by marriage, these three families embark on all manner of wacky hijinks and crazy capers, weaving a thick and intimate web of personal connection and abounding love with one another along the way.
I don't mean to get sappy, but the folks at Modern Family have already leaned into it with full embrace, so I'm going to pass the blame on to them.
The show is notable in a number of ways. Most immediately, there's its longevity. 11 years on air is no small feat for any scripted production, especially one with as large an ensemble cast as Modern Family boasted. A lot can change in 11 years, and in frankly explicit terms, a lot has in the United States. In 2009, when the show first beamed into the homes of real life modern families, Barack Obama was still president (and newly minted to boot), same-sex marriage was still outlawed in all but six states, and the likes of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" had not yet hit airwaves.
I note that second point distinctly, as Modern Family became one of the first broadly popular television shows to depict a same-sex couple and show them in a "normal" environment, living, working, and raising their children alongside their different-sex counterparts. As a 10-year-old growing up in a small town surrounded on all sides by rural Wisconsin, where (openly) gay people were a dime a dozen, Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker were a revelation for me. They were one of my first exposures to a world beyond my own, and though I didn't immediately take to their characters, I couldn't help but laugh along when they in equal parts screwed up or triumphed proudly. They show served as a powerful normalizing force. They acted as could any parent, or really as any person.
I've always wondered about that aspect of the show. Did laughter really work to break down my worries and doubts? Did jokes really bridge a divide? I believe the powerful answer can only be, yes.
Of course, Modern Family doesn't come to a full stop with Cam and Mitchell. Jay Pritchett (played by the renowned Ed O'Neill) and Gloria Delgado also represented a distinctly "non-traditional" American family, not only with their ethnic differences, but also with the distinct age gap between the two that was highlighted over the course of the show's run. This relationship offered an incredibly salient look at a changing America. And beyond their clan, even the most "normative" of the group, the Dunphys, provided their own heartfelt lessons about the meaning of family.
I don't have any particularly hot takes about Modern Family. The fact that it leaves our TV screens now, amidst the crisis of the coronavirus is a bit disquieting, but perhaps fitting. This period will be a time of transition for most all people. It will happen on a decidedly personal level, as well as an incredibly national and international one. I'm not sure there would've been space in the post-pandemic world for Modern Family. It wouldn't have felt quite right.
With that said, I truly believe the world is a better place for Modern Family. It brought us closer together in an era that has seemed ever increasingly fractious. I'll miss those moments of soft unity. Even so, I know the show did its job in communicating a message of love. Now it's our turn to do our part.