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Parenthood in the Modern Family

Jess Shaffer | Thursday, March 25, 2010

And the award for this season’s newest television craze goes to … ? Nope, Office politics are out. And Lost’s psychedelic time warp has almost met its end. Reality television is so 2000s. And young, hot, rich high schoolers are starting to lose their charm. So this year, television is going back to basics with the rebirth of family dramas and sitcoms capturing the attention of viewers. To keep things fresh and interesting, the families of this television season are a far cry from the 1950s nuclear family. Television’s newest series embrace the complications, lunacy, complexities and comedy of modern relationships to redefine how television approaches family dynamics.

Two series are leading the way in redefining family values this season. The first is “Parenthood,” a new NBC drama that follows the Braverman family, an extended family living in the Berkley, Calif., area. With three generations of Bravermans to delve into, “Parenthood” doles out drama in mass quantity.

The patriarch of the family, Zeek Braverman, is hiding secret, but chronic, marital problems. The eldest son, Adam, seems to have the perfect life with a beautiful, loving wife and two wonderful children until he learns that everything may not be so perfect in paradise. His perfect daughter Haddie is hiding a secret boyfriend and pot smoking habit, while his young son Max is diagnosed with Aspergers.

Sarah (Lauren Graham) is the stereotypical screw-up middle daughter. Sarah, along with her two delinquent teenagers, has just moved in with her parents to restart her deadbeat life in Berkley. Younger sister Julia (Erika Christensen) is the classic overachieving workaholic, who may be lacking in parenting skills and is rarely present in her daughter’s life. Finally, Crosby (Dax Shepard) is the youngest, an irresponsible ladies’ man, petrified of commitment. But ready or not, Crosby has just met his five-year old son that he never knew about.

While this drama may be based in stereotypical parenting roles, its rigorous sense of angst and constant supply of curveballs keeps viewers excited and sympathetic to the Braverman family. The show marks Graham’s (of “Gilmore Girls” fame) return to television. The role was a hard earned one for Graham, who beat out Helen Hunt and Maura Tierney (“ER”) to play Sarah. The rest of the class has traces of familiarity, with marginally successful movie actors, like Monica Potter (“Head Over Heels”), Christensen (“Swimfan”), and Shepard (“When In Rome”) filling their new television role comfortably.

“Modern Family” lends a comedic approach to redefining how television shows families. If you love “Scrubs,” “Arrested Development” or “The Office,” then “Modern Family” is right up your alley. The hilarious Pritchett family similarly follows three generations of the same family. But the make-up of these three interrelated families could not be more different.

The head of the family is Jay (Ed O’Neill from “Love and Marriage”) who has recently remarried a hot, young Columbian woman and has become a reluctant father to her eccentric ten-year old. Jay’s daughter, Claire and her husband Phil are the heads of what can only be described as the nuclear family on crack; clueless, overly eager parenting mitigates constant feuds from their three kids. Jay’s son, Mitchell, lives with his gay partner Cameron, and the couple has recently adopted a daughter from Asia.

With a diverse cast of characters to play with, the series is plain hilarious. Each character brings something special and funny to the series. Perhaps the most unique facet of “Modern Family” is that the Pritchett kids pack a quick comedic punch just as forceful as their adult counterparts. With sassy 30 minute shows, “Modern Family” is definitely worth following.

Whether your preference is the drama of “Parenthood” or the hilarity of “Modern Family,” these new series offer compelling takes on new families that will steal television viewers’ hearts.

Contact Jess Shaffer at jshaffe1@nd.edu