Which episodes of ‘Modern Family’ are the most problematic?
For decades, audiences have fallen in love with sitcoms that put family dynamics on display. From Family Matters and Growing Pains to Malcolm in the Middle and The Simpsons, these shows feature relatable episodes endearing them to audiences, growing their ratings, and cementing them as timeless TV classics.
For the last decade, Modern Family has continued to be one of the most popular. It endeavored to challenge many of the stereotypical and straightforward dynamics by adding in alternative lifestyles and storylines. Unfortunately, the following episodes and character arcs perpetuated the very stereotypes they hoped to subvert.
Pilot episode – “Lily’s Name”
There is no shortage of sitcom fathers who suffer from the “dumb dad” stereotype. From the bumbling idiocy of Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin to the goofy & immature behavior of Tim Taylor that always induced a disappointed wifely scowl, dads are routinely portrayed as being big, dumb animals. Phil Dunphy embodied this fatherly archetype.
The pilot episode shows just how inept and out of touch he could be when he meets his new adopted Vietnamese niece and learns Lily’s name. His response? “Lily, isn’t that going to be hard for her to say?” He pokes fun at Asian accents, assuming that she would say it as “Riry”. An auspicious start to a beloved sitcom.
Season 1, Episode 6 – “Run for Your Wife”
Cam & Mitchel (who seem to make up the only “modern” family in Modern Family) are a gay couple who are seen in the pilot episode adopting a Vietnamese baby (Lily), fulfilling their quest to be parents.
In another example of tone-deaf Asian racism, in this episode, the couple takes Lily to a doctor after a bump on her head. Then, they proceed to tell their Asian doctor all the ways they’re going to raise Lily in her heritage. They go so far as to tell her about a Vietnamese restaurant and ask the doctor if they are saying it correctly . . . to which she responds with the information that she is from Denver. Yikes!
Season 2, Episode 5 – “Unplugged”
Another entry with Cam & Mitchel. Throughout the entire series, Cam & Mitchel perpetuate an old LBGTQ+ stereotype by playing into the rivalry between gay men and lesbians. Over & over, the two talk about their competition and run-ins with various lesbian couples in their community.
In “Unplugged’”, this is played up even more as they try to get Lily into a preschool. When a woman walks in with a black baby, they show concern, but Cam calms Mitchel by telling him they’re a gay couple with an Asian baby, assuring Mitchel this makes them “better”. That’s when the woman’s partner comes in, an Indian woman in a wheelchair. Even Mitchel pretending to be Native American was not enough for them to win the oppression Olympics.
Season 3, Episode 17 – “Leap Day”
Racial & sexuality stereotypes aren’t the only ones that Modern Family perpetuates as they go through the series. Gender stereotypes are also not safe as they find ways to bring women & men down.
In “Leap Day”, Phil notices his wife and two daughters are acting overly emotional during a commercial on TV. He then remembers a myth that women living together will sync their cycles and concludes that all three are menstruating. He and their son then avoid them like the plague and treat them like a lepers – great lesson for the son.
Season 8, Episode 2 – “A Stereotypical Day”
Later in the series, Modern Family seemed to lean into some of their more problematic character flaws and use them for growth opportunities more than humorous tropes. Jay spends entire episodes as an old-school, close-minded elderly white man at times. But in this episode, he puts his ignorance on display.
When a black family moves in next door, Jay goes out of his way to seem as un-racist as possible, all the while exposing his small thinking. When the neighbor introduces himself as “Shawn, by the way,” Jay introduces him to Gloria . . . “ . . . a beautiful African name, Shawn M’badawae.” Wow, Jay . . . .
Are there more problematic episodes of Modern Family that you think we missed? Call them out in the comments below!