Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book Review: Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman

Man, what a great sitcom. It was so buzzy the first season that I resisted. Plus, it began just at the end of a terrible run of sitcoms. They were all crass, lowbrow, and also just terrible. And it had that fake-documentary style that was so fresh with The Office but now felt very also-ran. And then it won like all the Emmys, and I decided to stop being an idiot and start watching. And it has been appointment viewing for me ever since!

And I love an oral history. It's really great to get the unvarnished direct words of all the important people involved. The most fascinating thing was how the two creators/producers really hated each other after making the pilot, and then each of them took the helm of every other episode. And yet, I never noticed. Did you? No unevenness. No ping-ponging. If anything, it may have kept the show more balanced as they had different focuses, and different approaches. That way you didn't have a bunch of Very Special episodes in a row, or a bunch that were rather slapsticky. It was more balanced.

The perspective of the kids was great. I had no idea that Ariel and Nolan are the same age, and goofy Nolan who plays the rather dense youngest kid is actually a member of MENSA who graduated from high school several years early in order to be able to focus more on work. It was fun to hear about Sofia's changing and variable accent and how they used that for jokes. And the poor twin babies who were so miserable playing Lily the first two years. And how desperate Julie Bowen was to get the role--despite being enormously pregnant with twins when they filmed the pilot.

This show managed to be both groundbreaking and yet homey and safe at the same time. And it's true--this is how modern families look today. As someone with multiple step-families, a half-brother, and ex-step-in laws, this felt very real to me. The only part that didn't resonate was all of them living in the same city as adults, but that might be particular to me.

With so much uncertainty and angst these days, it's a perfect time to revisit the show and be comforted.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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