All In The Family

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I often feel like I don’t write about Modern Family enough. It’s not a television tour de force the way say, Game of Thrones is, or Friends was, or even Sex And The City. It is however, a quietly successful television show that has been running for close to 8 years now, with seven seasons and now renewed for an eighth. Modern Family is primarily a comedy, presented in documentary style where the characters talk about situations as they play out on screen. It revolves around the Pritchett-Dunphy clan, which consists of three core couples and their children. There’s Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), the patriarch of the family and his beautiful, outrageous second wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara). Jay’s daughter, Claire (Julie Bowen), who is married to Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), and Jay’s gay son, Mitchell (Jesse Ferguson), who is also married, to Cam Tucker (Eric Stonestreet). There are children, step children, and adopted children in the mix as well.

When I started watching Modern Family back in 2010, I didn’t expect to relate to the show as much as I did, because I was raised in a rather conservative South Indian family. What would I have in common with a show which (also) involved step children? The more I watched though, the more I realised that the terms we gave these ‘modern’ families, whether it’s nuclear, same-sex or step were all redundant because they were just people who were in love and nurtured relationships the same way any family would. It normalises relationships which we may have unconsciously categorised as different, or freaky even, and that is an important reason why I endorse this show as much as I do.

One of my other favourite features about Modern Family, show wise, is that it doesn’t follow a strict timeline. Yes, the kids grow, but there’s no pressure to keep track of what’s going on next, and strangely, that makes the show all the more addictive for you lose count of the number of episodes you’re watching. The acting is all-round brilliant with each character and actor having impeccable comic timing. Given the strange situations they manage to get themselves in, there’s plenty of scope for bad acting, but it just isn’t there. The ensemble cast of this show is so strong, and there’s really no explanation needed behind why the show has racked up 21 Emmy Awards thus far.

What I love most about Modern Family though is that it doesn’t allow you to judge the person on screen. You’re thrown into their world, shoved into their shoes, and before you can wonder what two men are doing together raising a little girl, you’re already connecting what’s going on on the screen with your own experiences. To be honest, it was Modern Family, and Glee, which helped me understand, and more importantly, empathise with homosexuality, and given the times we live in, we could all use a little bit of empathy.

{Modern Family is currently being telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

Singing A Different Tune

The sixth and final season of Glee is presently running on television. If you were a one-time fan of the show, now is the time to get back, because this season is short, fast-paced, and full of the irreverent humour that the show was famous for. I have watched the show right from its inception in 2009, stuck to watching it despite the inevitable collapse that happened when the show’s lead actor, Cory Monteith, passed away due to a drug overdose, and cried secret tears during the finale. Glee covers the trials and tribulations of a bunch of misfits in high school, who discover themselves through song and dance. Given the premise, there is plenty of music on the show and the cast breaks into song every five minutes to express their feelings.

Although Glee rarely does original music, their covers of pop songs were, on most days, better than the original. In fact, I endured the travesties that were the fourth and fifth seasons of Glee, only for the music. Despite Glee’s shortcomings, I was convinced for a very long time that it was the most successful example of a series that mixed drama (high school drama, but drama nonetheless), with music, into one cogent, entertaining show. My opinion changed when I started watching Empire.

Glee Season 6

Empire delves deep into the hip-hop industry, its workings, and the culture, which forms its roots. I’ve never been a fan of hip-hop or rap, but Empire changed that for me because it gives context to the genre, and that makes the music much more enjoyable.

The show follows the life of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who is a drug dealer-turned-music mogul. Lucious is the head of Empire records, a company that started out from nothing, and is now poised to go public. It is at this time when he is diagnosed with ALS, a disease with no cure that will eventually lead to his death, and he realises that he must name one of his three sons as a successor before it’s too late. Lucious’ sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) are vastly different from one another, and are united only by their ambition to take over Empire. Andre is a hardworking financial wizard with zero mass appeal, Hakeem is a talented but lazy rapper whose constant partying and entitled attitude comes in the way of his career, and Jamal is an immensely gifted musician, but much to his father’s distaste, is also gay. Also fighting for Empire is Cookie Lyon (Taraji Henson), Lucious’ ex-wife, who has just been released from prison after 17 years.

Empire moves at a blistering pace, with enough plot twists to make your head spin. Scorned lovers, illegitimate children, conspirators, spies and vengeful henchmen walk in and out of episodes before you have the time to register what is happening. Cookie is, undeniably, the life of the show. Played by Taraji Henson, Cookie is the ex-wife who is ready for life and hungry for success with a rare kind of panache. Cookie isn’t afraid of doing what’s right for herself and her sons, even if that means beating one of them up with a broomstick until they learn to give her respect. Some of her lines on paper, sound terribly contrived (“You want Cookie’s nookie?”), but on screen, they are magic. The other breakout star is Jussie Smollett who plays the sensitive, genius Jamal. He is completely believable in his struggle as a gay musician who is trying to gain acceptance not only from the world, but also from his father.

His voice is beautiful, and his songs in the show are poignant, beautiful and catchy. If you’re looking for a show that will entertain you, look no further than Empire. It has drama, attitude, and at times, it even has heart.

(The sixth season of Glee is being telecast on Star World)