A Modern Family First

The ABC sitcom Modern Family takes non-traditional families and creates a traditional sitcom. The show is naturally progressive as it is indeed about modern families. However, Modern Family did a reported television first in the latest episode of the eighth season by casting a transgender actor to play a transgender character.

Jackson Millarker plays Tom, a friend that Lily (Cam and Mitchell’s daughter) invites over for a play date. Cam and Mitchell overhear Lily making fun of Tom and they (wrongly) fear it is because Tom is transgender. Cam and Mitchell then go into panic mode about Lily’s attitudes and try to figure out where they “went wrong”. However, it eventually comes out that Lily called Tom a weirdo because he had made fun of the mural in Lily’s room. Once Cam and Mitchell realize this, their fears are then put to rest.


(Still from the opening of Modern Family)

I think the plot of the episode was very stereotypical for a sitcom with a transgender actor. I also think the creators of Modern Family acknowledge this as the episode is titled “A stereotypical Day”. I don’t think that it is too surprising that Modern Family would have a transgender role in the show because of the progressive nature of the show. However, that does not take away from the fact that it is a progressive mark for sitcoms. I think this will open up the opportunity for other shows to realize that they too can have a transgender character in a show and the world won’t end.

Modern Family is a sitcom that truly is not afraid of being progressive. I think the show serves as a great example for other sitcoms that there is no longer a need to follow a traditional mold for a sitcom.

Personally, I love the show. I know that whichever episode I’m watching, I’ll end up laughing. The show has grown throughout the eight seasons and I’ve never found it boring. I hope they continue on with the progressive nature of the show as they are a great example to follow. Hopefully more and more sitcoms will start taking notes on how progressiveness is popular in a traditional sitcom.

– Katie Thevenow

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11 Responses to A Modern Family First

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Along with what you said about how the show is not afraid of being progressive, I think that is the main reason why I love this show so much. Modern Family is not afraid of showing flaws and diversifying families. Modern Family truly makes viewers realize that there is no set-and-stone image or idea of what a family should look like. -Jenna Romano

  2. mediaphiles says:

    That’s really interesting how the show put LGBTQ characters of different identities (gay and transgender) in an uncomfortable situation. It shows that there is a lot of anxiety surrounding transgender reception, and that our well-meaning, politically correct tendencies might cause us to read into markers of difference too much, when in fact, Lily and Tom are just being kids. This seems to be pushing for a reception of difference that acknowledges transgender identity without that being the most paramount characteristic of the individual.

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I agree that Modern Family is very progressive and I like the show a lot, although it does depict several stereotypes in its characters. However, I do think it’s a breath of fresh air that the show is upfront about how it is stereotypical but not malicious. Additionally, I think it’s great and about time that a show has a transgender actor playing a transgender character. Not only does this open more doors for other transgender actors but it also starts much needed conversations within society about the LBGTQ community. -Courtney Green

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I have not watched Modern Family consistently, but my sister really likes the show, so I have seen several episodes here and there. I think a lot of stereotypes are perpetuated by this show, but it is also progressive due to the characters and storylines. I have only seen an episode or two of the show Transparent, but it will be interesting to see how the portrayal of a transgender character in that show compares to Modern Family! – Sarah King

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I completely agree. I love this show because while it is a sitcom, it continually is innovative. I think you find this with the older sitcoms we have been studying more. Today, I think there are too many sitcoms that get comfortable in their world and do not breach the bubble. Here, MF does it and the show is known for bringing the life back into the sitcom and I think that is why the show is so successful. -Ally Harper

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I see your point that it was progressive to include a transgender character played by a transgender person, the plot was way too typical for my liking. They highlighted the fact that the character was transgender, which I think goes against the whole point. I think the point is that all people should be included regardless of gender and we should not focus on the difference. By focusing on the difference I feel is counter productive.

    Laya Mohan

  7. mediaphiles says:

    When Jeffery Tambor won the Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series a couple weeks back, he said in his acceptance speech “I would not be upset if I was the last cisgender man to play a transgender woman on television” (I’m paraphrasing a tad). That sentiment clearly resonated with a lot of people, and was even echoed a couple other times throughout the night: give trans actors a chance. So even if Modern Family used a stereotypical plot line for this episode (I’m not sure, I haven’t seen it), and even if it sometimes reverts to stereotypes for a lot of its humor in general, I think it’s great that the show is one of the few leading the way in regard to giving trans actors that chance. When Jared Leto won the oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a trans-woman in Dallas Buyers Club, it sparked a lot of controversy, as a cisgender man playing a transgender woman can help feed the notion that trans women are just men in drag. The need for trans actors playing trans roles is significant, and Modern Family is at least making progress there.

    –Kevin Pabst

  8. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with you about how Modern Family is never afraid of being too progressive. They are constantly introducing new social issues, and breaking down conventions in every episode. I do also support Laya’s point that addressing the difference between this transgender child and a “normal” child, is a bit counterproductive. But Modern Family is clearly trying and making steps in the right direction.

  9. mediaphiles says:

    I love this show! My favorite person has to be Eva Longoria, and yes I am biased because I am hispanic. I feel like this show presents our societies new diversity so well. It truly helps children grow up seeing these differences and seeing them as a norm, which I like most. Growing up, I don’t think we ever had shows that presented gay marriage, intercultural marriage, marriage with a big gap between the couple, etc. I think these are all things that we needed to talk about more and are being easily shown in a comedic way.

    Alexandra Peralta

  10. marymdalton says:

    I love this post and the flow of the comments. This exchange represents quite well the idea of competing messages within a text — it is both progressive and stereotypical. Good work!

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