Modern Family won a bunch of Emmy awards on Sunday, and last night was its highly anticipated Season 4 premiere. Maybe it’s because of all this hub-bub that I found myself thinking about the show as I lay in bed yesterday morning, snuggling with my 8 month old baby instead of getting ready for work.
Specifically, it dawned on me that of the three households featured on the show, none have two working parents. All have one parent who stays home –Claire, Cam and Gloria. This is all well and good for any ol’ TV show, but for a show celebrating the modern family… well… I’m just sayin’…
[And before I go inadvertently ruffling any feathers, let me be clear I am not interested in drudging up the working mom vs. stay at home mom debate. That argument is old and tired and anyone with any real sense can see both paths have their pros and cons and it’s nobody else’s concern what any woman chooses for herself and her family.]
So we’ve got this show with gay dads, an adopted Vietnamese daughter, an old man with a weird step-kid and a trophy wife young enough to be his daughter. Why, in the midst of all this heavy-handed modernism, didn’t the show’s creators throw in a working mom just for good measure?
It wouldn’t even be that hard. Claire Dunphy doesn’t appear to have anything to do but bounce around her house all day like a startled parakeet, worrying about her three kids who are old enough to pretty much handle their own day-to-day affairs. And in a previous episode, thanks to a cameo from Minnie Driver, we learned Claire once held down something of an impressive career. The writers have practically handed themselves Claire’s next character arc on a silver platter: Time for this mama to bring home the bacon.
I think this situation bothers me because as a lifelong couch potato, I grew up on TV and I can’t think of many shows airing now or in the past that really dealt with life as a working mom. And if any of you dare mention Up All Night, I will scream. That show makes me want to just throw up. Oh sure, that’s precisely what my life would be like if my baby only existed 5% of the time. I’d be all hanging out with pseudo Oprah and stomping around in knee-high boots.
The TV universe is full of heroines who get pregnant, have a baby on a season finale, and then by the following season, they’re back to their fabulous lives as if nothing had ever happened. (Rachel Green, I’m looking at you.) I’m the pesky viewer, watching at home wondering whose minding the baby. Did everyone put a Charles in charge and then check out?
We always see stay at home moms at home and working moms at work, but what happens when the working mom is at home? The Middle, which also returned last night, attempts to answer that question. Frankie Heck goes to work at the car dealership by day, and by night her and Mike struggle to get it together -- forgetting to buy groceries, missing appointments, going to sleep in an unmade bed of mismatched linens. These are my people. I can relate to Frankie Heck, which is unfortunate because she’s a complete mess. It’s like my TV is shaking its finger at me. “See what happens when you don’t put someone in charge of the household?” Chaos.
To conclude, I’ll reference the sentiment of Liz Lemon (an aspiring working mom) played by Tina Fey (an actual working mom), when she lamented, “Murphy Brown lied to us!” Murphy Brown promised we could have it all. Then she failed to show us how to accomplish it. (Didn’t she leave her baby with her painter or something?) She became another one of those characters with conveniently vanishing and reappearing baby syndrome. I don’t think it’s so much that she lied to us; she just left us wanting more.
But at least she was a role model. Her single mom story line made pop culture waves. Hers was a time when a young mom could say, “It’s all good. I got this. I’ll be just like Murphy Brown.” Now it’s, “I’ll be just like…” I challenge you to finish that sentence with a comparable character on TV today.
So as a TV addict fully immersed in the fall season, I appreciate the strides that TV is taking to feature the ever-evolving modern family of stay at home moms, stay at home dads, gay couples, gay dads, surrogate moms, single moms, divorced parents, remarried parents, families with money, families without money… All I’m asking is can we just send Claire freaking Dunphy to work? Someone get this woman a pant suit and lets see what she’s made of. Please, let me turn on my TV and see her put in a full day at the office and then return to her immaculate home, put on her navy button-down and help Luke with his homework, break up a fight between Haley and Alex, and have a romantic dinner with Phil. Let me see someone do it all and do it well so I can say, “It’s all good. I got this. I’ll be just like Claire Dunphy.” Otherwise I might turn into the B in Apt 23.