Is Modern Family Really Good For Gays?

Last week I watched the latest episode of Modern Family (the episode where Phil and Jay coach Manny’s basketball team) and a sudden thought struck me. Am I laughing with gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell, or laughing at them? In a nutshell, is the freshest comedy show on TV starting to play into a few age-old gay stereotypes? Maybe…

Now before I kick off I’ll say that overall I really like Modern Family. While most TV comedies barely make me smile, Family has at least 3 big laughs per episode. From a production point of view it’s very well written, skillfully juggles its multiple storylines – it amazes me how each character is so well defined and gets equal screen time, and the cast are pure pros (it’s hard to pick a favorite but if pushed I’d have to opt for Sofia Vergara’s Gloria who’s pretty much non-stop hilarious. Manny’s a close second though!)

But over the last couple of episodes I’ve found myself growing a little uncomfortable while watching Cameron and Mitchell in action. This week uptight Mitchell found himself up for an amazing job after recently quitting his position at a local law firm. Emotional Cameron accompanied him to the interview, at the bosses’ luxury beach house, and was so overcome by nerves that he proceeded to knock over household objects and generally embarrass his partner. Here we saw the shrill, emotional gay stereotype of many decades past. It wasn’t even funny. For a show that normally relies on killer one-liners, Cameron’s clumsiness was just tiresome slapstick. Hmmm.

Later in the episode Cameron and Mitchell found themselves trapped in the new bosses’ garage and ended up causing damage to one of his luxury cars by jabbing helplessly at the garage’s remote control panels. Again I found myself rolling my eyes. The gag was the beginning of something funny but didn’t go beyond its basic premise. And again it reflected another stereotype – cause you know the gays just can’t work that technology!

Now maybe I’m being a little sensitive here, but just a couple of weeks earlier we had Mitchell accompanying his father Jay on a trip to the woods. During the trip Mitchell was sprayed by a skunk, so needed a change of clothes – and wouldn’t you know it the only outfit in Jay’s car was a tight dress recently bought by his sexy wife Gloria. Cue Mitchell awkwardly slipping into the dress – and again we had the stereotype of a gay guy in drag, one of the most tired comedy ideas out there. Meanwhile Cameron was out for the night with Gloria, trying to bond with her, cause of course that’s what gay guys do best – befriend the straight girls and become their shopping partners.

Now I might be being a little over-sensitive here. This isn’t According To Jim or a Fox sitcom – as I’ve said this is a smart, smart show. And having gay parents on a primetime and popular comedy series definitely deserves kudos. But sometimes it’s hard to shake the feeling that Cameron and Mitchell are slipping into gay minstrelsy. Would Clare or Gloria act like screaming ninnies if their respective hubbies were up for a big job promotion? I doubt it.

Which brings me to another point – the way Cam and Mitchell are so desexualized by the show. Let’s be honest Claire and Gloria are both pretty hot ladies – Claire is the definition of a MILF and the scripts often make a point of Gloria’s Latino spiciness. Both have active sex lives with their husbands – even though Jay is easily in his early 60’s and Phil is kind of geeky. One recent episode even had both couples heading out for Valentine’s Day to score some hotel sex. Cameron and Mitchell meanwhile were left to look after Manny.

In true American TV style we see a whole lot of hugging and cuddling from Cam and Mitchell – but not much kissing – and in contrast to their co-stars the gay couple are easily the least sexual pairing on the show. Mitchell is kind of bookish while Cameron is overweight and cuddly – he’s a big teddy bear of a character – not a sexual lothario. They don’t feel like a couple who ever has sex. Now Modern Family doesn’t have to go the other way and feature a pair of muscle studs – but I can’t help feeling that the idea of a gay couple parenting and having sex might be too much for America to handle.

Now it’s not all negative gay stereotyping on Family. The growing relationship between Cameron and father in law Jay is sweet and it was refreshing to see Cameron getting excited by a recent football match (cause of course gays hate the sports don’t you know) and defending his partner in a petrol station showdown (even if the scene was played for comedy). Both guys are likeable, nice people – completely non-threatening to a middle America that’s not used to seeing gay parents on TV – and I’m never going to argue against having more gay characters on TV. Lord knows there aren’t enough of them out there (CBS especially is shockingly devoid of gay characters).

And like all comedies Family has to trade in stereotypes to an extent. I’m sure there are many Columbians out there who aren’t crazy on Gloria’s bombshell character. It’s also not fair that one gay couple has to carry the weight of representing an entire community. But in an era where Brothers and Sisters, True Blood and Desperate Housewives are all presenting multi-dimensional and sexual gay characters there’s something a little anachronistic about Cam and Mitchell. Modern Family is created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan – both straight producers – and I’d be interested to know how many gay writers are on board the writing team. It might be an idea to add one or two…

But what do you think? Am I being over-sensitive? What do you think of Cameron and Mitchell? Do you like Modern Family? Please weigh in… this should be interesting!