On the one hand, you have a show like Showtime’s American remake of “Shameless”, which is by all accounts an excellent show, but it takes up precisely 0% of the cultural conversation, because most people, including myself, just can’t imagine spending that much time with people that miserable. We get pissed at them. We know better, but we can’t help asking “Why can’t you people get it together, dammit??”
On the other end of the spectrum, you have “Modern Family”.
In its early days, the radio show “This American Life” would get in trouble for being too hipster-focused, and the biggest reason for that was the name: Okay, fine, David Sedaris and Mike Birbiglia are funny, but aren’t you ignoring large swaths of “American Life”?
Likewise, this show’s failures are magnified by its name. Yes, it portrays a variety of family configurations, but do any of them face the real problems plaguing most modern families? All three, after all, are wealthy by modern standards: Each has a large L.A. house and a stay-at-home parent, and they all jet off on vacations together at the drop of a hat.
Even worse: that wealth is totally invisible on the show. Nobody seems to be aware of how lucky or atypical they are. It’s all just shown as perfectly normal. Yes, Gloria and Manny used to be poor, but you wouldn’t know it if they didn’t tell you: they’ve totally absorbed the habits and expectations of the wealthy without any consciousness of the transition.
There are many additional rules that get broken here:
- Nobody does much physical work: This means that important objects are rarely in their hands and there are rarely problems that require reblocking.
- Problems are too easy to solve. The teaser ends on a gag in which Mitchell falsely accuses a planeload of people of homophobia, and Cam’s solution is to offer to pay for everybody’s headsets. It’s funny, but it’s also a little too convenient, and foreshadows many quick solutions to come.
- It’s not the way the world works and it ignores national pain: The show begins in 2009 and Phil is a less-than-dedicated real estate agent in L.A. Wouldn’t he be struggling just a little bit? This could have been a great source of stories and challenges. This brings us back to a past complaint I had about this show: it too often gets shallow laughs out of imaginary problems instead of real laughs out of real problems.