“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life,” wrote Oscar Wilde, but we think some of the greatest art — or at least TV — shines in executing the latter. Shows dating back farther than The Honeymooners were built on the idea that our everyday lives — our marriages, our kids, our jobs — hearten us and make us laugh, and the continued success of quintessential shows like Modern Family have proven that belief still rings true.
With hundreds of channels and dozens of platforms for watching TV, there’s only more opportunity to laugh at the everyday comedy of life, and to cry at its challenging realities. Things aren’t perfect, but there’s plenty of love, respect, and fun to go around. They rarely disappoint and they almost always comfort. So pop the popcorn, kick back, and enjoy these four shows that truly capture the modern family.
Black-ish (ABC) premiered this fall but has lately been recognized for its promise and nuance. The premise is simple — an affluent black family navigating jobs, relationships, and the difficult task of growing up — yet it hasn’t been found much on TV in the last twenty years. Andre “Dre” Johnson lives with his wife, Rainbow, their four kids, and his father. Dre worries that his children, living in an upper-middle-class neighborhood and attending a prep school that lacks diversity, have little sense of their cultural heritage. In a few episodes, it’s clear that what he also fears is them growing up at all. This tension, synonymous with family, is at the heart of the half-hour comedy.
With three generations under one roof, viewers get to experience, and laugh at, a truth we all recognize: growth means changing perspectives. Watching Dre try to engage his children in their knowledge of African-American history (the MLK Day episode is a delight), or even to get them to empathize with his experience of growing up in Compton, remind us all of the ways families change through the generations.
Parenthood (NBC) may be an unfair choice, because the show actually concluded this year. But a TV show called Parenthood is hard to leave off this list. (Here’s hoping the final season will be on Netflix soon!) Through six seasons audiences followed the earnest, tear-inducing stories of the Braverman clan: Zeek and Camille , and their four adult children, Adam, Sarah, Julia, and Crosby, all of whom had partners and children of their own.
While a little tear-inducing at times, there was something so wonderfully heartwarming about this show. The Bravermans were family at its greatest — which did not mean that everything was rosy all the time. The show’s most important arcs were built around the idea that those who love us mean well, but don’t always get it right. That, and the fact that some sibling dynamics remain the same, no matter how old you get.
You’ve probably not paid much attention to the network ABC Family since finishing puberty, but its show The Fosters is unique as much as it is good. Centered around the titular household, this hourlong program explores the dynamics of a blended family. Stef Foster and Lena Adams are a lesbian couple raising three teenagers in San Diego. Brandon, the oldest at 16, is Stef’s biological child from her previous marriage. Jesus and Mariana, 15-year-old twins, were first fostered and then adopted by Stef and Lena, and have been living with the family for almost a decade.
In the pilot, The Fosters take in two more children: 16-year-old Callie and her younger brother Jude. This show dives deep into the question of what makes a family. The obvious answer is love and respect, and the way The Fosters demonstrates this is simple and heartfelt. In the first several episodes, topics as heavy as the foster care system, teenage sex (consensual and not), LGBTQ issues, and illegal immigration are all explored, and each done so with care. What could easily feel like an afterschool special, on a network at one time designed for such programming, comes across as much more nuanced and genuine, all the while offering perspectives that have often been overlooked in mainstream television.
Yes, Bob’s Burgers (FOX) is a little ridiculous, and, yes, it is a cartoon. Those facts being what they are, the show feels reminiscent of classic working-class family comedies like Roseanne, except slightly stranger and more cartoonish (forgive the pun). The show centers around the Belchers, the slightly hapless Bob and Linda and their odd children, Tina, Gene, and Louise. The Belchers, who run a burger joint, are made up of quirky people, but they all accept one another and this allows the show to run loose, with no antic too crazy (like “Sacred Cow,” where Tina believes Moo-lissa, a cow placed outside the restaurant to protest the selling of meat, is trying to speak to her through different shaped poops). There’s a genuineness to this show that has led audiences to respond in kind. Tina Belcher has even been heralded as a feminist icon.
Families may be more complicated than they were in the 1950s — or at least the many variations of family are getting more recognition on the small screen — but what’s clear is that we still find satisfaction in television that holds a mirror to our lives. Whether you’re diving into one of the above, or binge-watching an old favorite like The Gilmore Girls on Netflix, watching a heartwarming family show at the end of a long day is the perfect way to de-stress and get in a good laugh about the things we confront everyday.
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