"Modern Family," when it eventually leaves the airwaves, will likely be best remembered for the role that it played in the 2012 presidential election, one in which both President Obama and candidate Mitt Romney claimed the ABC sitcom was a favorite. The jokes on "Modern Family" are generally serviceable but not memorable, but as a political entity it marked a real turning point -- the point at which as much cant and sanctimony that had traditionally surrounded straight rites could attach itself to gay ones. And, last night, "Modern Family" finally saw its gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson), tie the knot, in a ceremony remarkable for just how square it was.
If "Will & Grace" cleared the way, as Joe Biden has claimed, for Americans to accept gay people, "Modern Family" may well have done the same for long-term gay relationships; throughout its first five seasons, it's shown that gay folks have much the same problems as straight folks, and just as many. Indeed, Cameron and Mitchell, despite not having been legally married until last night's episode, fit a template that stretched from Ralph and Alice Kramden to Monica and Chandler Bing -- a dolt married to a nag. For much of the early seasons, Cameron and Mitchell seemed bound by love but not by liking one another. Turns out gay folks can be just like the cast of "Everybody Loves Raymond"!
Their ceremony was full of just about everything but much interaction between the two, though they did have a single nice moment of bonding just before entering the venue. Most of the screen time last night was actually devoted to the show's Dunphy family, a straight couple who bickered over magic tricks and whose daughter went off on some random jaunt to meet her crush. Finally, the emotional high point of the "Modern Family" wedding, the moment the show built to, was not the couple exchanging vows but both spouses getting walked down the aisle by their fathers. The protagonists of the wedding, here, were the fathers who embraced their gay sons; the fact that those sons were marrying one another was simply the catalyst for dads to be good dads, or for Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) to deliver a speech largely about the love between a brother and sister. For all "Modern Family" devotes one-third of its plotlines to the gay couple, it's a show by and for straight people -- the wedding occurred in order to give the straight characters a new setting to be themselves.
At the end of the episode, the married couple have left for their honeymoon, and are summoned as if apparitions in the form of two teenage boys spatting like, well, an old married couple. Cameron and Mitchell's daughter remarks that it's as though her parents were still there. Ha ... ha? The pair were, from the first episode, tired of one another; the romance to their wedding, if there was any, was a romantic idea of the accepting extended family. And this, the notion of a couple living like the Honeymooners, is a very legitimate story to tell, but the fact that it's still one of the only stories being told about a long-term gay couple on TV is dispiriting. Their wedding could have been anything, but the episode spent much of its running time vamping or looking at other characters to conceal the fact that the writers had no idea how their gay characters might, possibly, have celebrated their nuptials differently from straight characters.
"Modern Family" has become a commonplace term in the years since "Modern Family" debuted, so much so that Jodie Foster used it in her famous Golden Globes speech to describe her co-parenting two sons with her ex. But what, precisely, is modernity when it comes to family structures? Has the marriage-equality movement come to move so quickly that gay weddings went from novel to truly no-big-deal in 10 years? ABC broadcast (to a nation that isn't entirely in support of gay rights or gay people!) a same-sex wedding on air last night, and the most notable part of it was how boring it was. Acceptance is great, but the show helped me to understand the fears of those who thinks gay marriage is a path to assimilation.