10. The Dunphys, Pritchetts & Delgados (“Modern Family”)
As the world (we hope) continues to become more enlightened, the definition of a family has changed. No current show exemplifies this new defintion of a family more than…”Modern Family”, natch. Patriarch Jay is on his second marriage, to much younger Colombian sexpot Gloria, and has become stepdad to her son Manny. Jay’s daughter, Claire, is married to bumbling Phil Dunphy, and is raising three children (in the most traditional relationship setup on the show.) Meanwhile, Jay’s son, Mitchell, is married to Cameron-a man, and they are raising an adopted daughter, Lily. Ozzie & Harriet this most certainly is not. However, the one thing that connects the PritchettDunphyDelgados to those other, more “traditional” families of the past is the one thing that should connect them-love.
9. The Bundys (“Married…with Children”)
Debuting a year before “Roseanne” brought us The Conners, “Married…With Children”‘s Bundys were America’s first dysfunctional TV families. Twenty-five years, tons of copycat shows and the rise of reality TV may have served to dim the impact the Bundys had when they arrived-but Al, Peg and company were truly shocking when they made their entrance on the fledgling Fox network. Parents Al and Peg barely disguised their contempt for one another, daughter Kelly was an airheaded slut, and son Bud was one of the most sketchy (in a white van sense) characters in the history of network TV up to that point. Met with protests during their first years on the air, the Bundys held on for an amazing eleven seasons…and yet, they could never explain what happened to Seven.
8. The Jeffersons
Movin’ on up to the East side of Manhattan from blue-collar Queens, to say that “The Jeffersons” was an important show would be an understatement. George & Louise’s move to the upper class proved to be a watershed moment (or at the very least, a televised microcosm of a watershed moment) in the civil rights movement. The Jeffersons (joined by their son Lionel, a role that was passed between Damon Evans and Mike Evans-no relation-like a hot potato) were the first upper-class Black family on television, and many episodes centered on George’s often abrasive attitude as he faced the racism (among other issues) he encountered as a Black man with means. Norman Lear’s writing was spot-on, particularly during the early years of the show. As “The Jeffersons” wound it’s way through 11 seasons and 253 episodes, it became less topical and more slapstick. However, it remained funny, especially when maid Florence (played with sass by Marla Gibbs) was given the spotlight. For my money, I always wondered how the diminutive George Jefferson was able to deal with a wife that not only had more bass in her voice than he did in his, but was probably able to tackle him like a linebacker.
7. The Simpsons
The Simpsons are just your average, everyday suburban family in America.
Brainiac, overachieving 8 year old daughter.
Mischievous, wiseguy 10 year old boy.
Adorable, infant girl.
Temperate, loving wife and mother.
Dumb, beer swilling dad stuck in a dead end job.
Ok, maybe they’re not exactly the stereotypical American family, but they’re a lot closer than a lot of people would care to admit! We’ve seen it all with this family….the thrill of victory! (“I’m going to the back seat of my car with the woman I love… and I won’t be back for ten minutes!”) The agony of defeat. (“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”). We’ve seen them battle Sideshow Bob, go through 5 Snowballs (their pet cat) and tackle (and target) every news item and pop culture fad from 1989 up to today. Shoot… we’ll be here all day if I keep this up. Over the past 22 years the Simpsons have been the preeminent TV family, uniting families 30 minutes a week, every week, together. If your family is one who resembles the Simpsons a little too close for your comfort, hey….don’t have a cow man! Relax, have a donut, breathe it all in and enjoy the ride. Mmmmm…donuts.-Chuck
6. The Cunninghams (“Happy Days”)
A ’70s sitcom that lovingly sent-up the squeaky-clean archetype of the ’50s sitcom family, “Happy Days” had more than a little heart to go with its gentle ribbing; the Cunningham family, spearheaded by mother Marion (Marion Ross) and father Howard (the hilarious and recently departed Tom Bosley), the staunchly traditional family poked good-natured fun at the perceived wholesomeness of the decade at hand without completely taking the piss out of it. Tied together by love, mutual respect, and good old-fashioned quips, Howard, Marion, Richie (future Big Important Movie maker Ron Howard) and Joanie – and, of course, extended family member Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli – were a feel-good family without coming across as too saccharine. “Happy Days” struck the balance just right. Please feel free to insert your own comment about where mythical older brother Chuck disappeared to here. – Drew
You don’t get much more ‘80s than the Keatons of “Family Ties.” The sitcom, which ran from 1982-89, focused on the Reagan-era culture clash between the hippie parents Elyse and Steven Keaton (played by Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross) and their ultra-conservative son Alex, played by Michael J. Fox. Essentially a nobody when the series began, Keaton (who replaced original choice Matthew Broderick) quickly became the star of the show after audiences took a liking to his blazer-and-tie wearing Republican character. Justine Bateman and Tina Yothers played Alex’s sisters, and there was an assortment of wacky recurring characters and notable cameos, such as Tom Hanks playing drunken Uncle Ned in a few eps and Courtney Cox as Alex’s girlfriend. The show also pulled the cheap moves of the Keatons having a fourth kid to boost ratings in the fifth season and then the following season, suddenly making the boy, Andrew (now played by Brian Bonsall), suddenly age four or five years. Midway through the show’s run, Fox became a megastar after he made “Back to the Future” and “Teen Wolf,” which only boosted the profile of “Family Ties.” Ultimately, the jokes could get hammy and heavy-handed, but the Keatons always exuded a certain warmth that fit well with NBC’s other ‘80s powerhouse family, The Huxtables.-Jay
(ed. note: Sha la la la!)
4. The Bunkers (“All In The Family”)
How can one accurately describe the Bunker family to those in the dark? I mean, on paper, their dynamic seems fairly standard – brutish, working-class husband, doting, subservient wife, free-spirit adult daughter, colorful neighbors, so on, so forth. On paper, it’s the blueprint for the very archetype of the family sitcom. In practice, though, “All in the Family” was a revelation – one of the earliest exemplars of cutting social commentary integrated into broad comedy. Archie Bunker, Carroll O’Connor’s lovable lout, was the product of social ignorance, a relic in changing times who clung to his old-world prejudices. Filtered through the lens of daughter and son-in-law/audience proxies Gloria and Mike (future Big Important Movie maker Rob Reiner), we see the foolishness of casual prejudice – unprecedented examinations of racism and homophobia made “All in the Family” an ahead-of-its-time boilerplate – and, in their ultimate dynamic, how a family is defined not by the flaws of the individual unit, but by the love that binds despite that. – Drew
3. The Banks (“Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air”)
George and Weezy kicked down the door for the well-to-do Black family, leaving it open for the Huxtables to slide in and reassure America that we were just like everyone else. “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”‘s family was certainly much more Huxtable than Jefferson, with a couple of twist. Phil and Vivian were funny but stern parental figures who’d come into money but didn’t forget their blue-collar roots. Meanwhile, Karyn Parsons’ Hilary character may have been the first Black ditzy diva on network TV, Alfonso Ribiero’s Carlton Banks was TV’s first Blerd, and all that served to counteract cousin Will’s presence as the first iconic television character of the hip-hop generation. He took what would’ve been a fairly typical (but still entertaining) television family and gave it a flavor infusion while remaining articulate and intelligent. It’s a testament to Will Smith’s thespian talent that he was able to take a character who so very easily could have been a caricature and play him as multi-dimensionally as he did. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when he turned into the biggest movie star in the land. “The Fresh Prince” was so good, even George & Weezy themselves paid tribute by appearing in a later episode.
2. The Bluths (“Arrested Development”)
In an ideal world, “Arrested Development” would still be on the air. Boasting the sharpest writing of any show in the past decade, the short-lived Fox show has become a cult classic and has been spawning movie rumors for ages (fuck a movie, I say. Just bring the damn show back if you’re gonna do anything.) The Bluth family is simultaneously one of television’s most real and most surreal families, if that makes any sense. Think about it: jailbird father, melodramatic alcoholic mother. One sensible child trying to keep the family together. Three completely loopy children who probably all need minders. Tobias Funke. SO MUCH COMEDY GOLD. And that’s not even getting to the kids, George Michael and Maeby. SO MUCH DYSFUNCTION. STILL COMEDY GOLD.
1. The Huxtables (“The Cosby Show”)
Undoubtedly the most beloved TV family of the 1980s (and for many of us, the most beloved of all time), the Huxtables marked a significant turning point in the genre. I’ve recently been working my way through the series again on Netflix streaming, and it’s shocking how well the program holds up. Bill Cosby wisely excluded excessive pop cultural references that would confine the program to the 1980s. Really, the only aspects of the show that seem dated in 2011 are the fashions. The jokes are still funny, the characters still seemingly genuine, and the plotlines entertaining, interesting and relateable.
The Huxtables were fairly controversial at the time, particularly in academic circles. Some hailed the family as progressive, marking the first upper middle class black American family in prime time. Others criticized the Huxtables for being a whitewashed (literally and figuratively) representation of black America. Rewatching the series in 2011 however, one of the most striking aspects of the show is the sheer amount of black culture integrated into the Huxtable home. The music, the litany of culturally prominent guest stars, the artwork in the Huxtable home, Russell and Anna’s Civil Rights background all very clearly indicate the show’s projection of black American culture. Indeed, one of the memorable moments in the series ends (unrelated to the immediate plotline) with the Huxtables gathering around the television set to witness a rebroadcast of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, just four days before the first observance of MLK Day in 1986 (see 5:20-end here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb8EuXfLkCA). While the show may not have thoroughly addressed issues of racism, violence and other social ills, to claim that the Huxtables were “performing whiteness” does not give the program its due.
Beyond that, the Huxtable family unit so beautifully projects humor, unity, conflict and above all else, love. On a personal note, The Cosby Show stands as a sort of televisual comfort food for me. Returning to program feels not only nostalgic, but in a sense, it feels like home.-Dr. Gonzo
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