The New Normal isn't the first time we've seen gay dads (in this case, dads-to-be) on TV. But from Will & Grace's Jack McFarland to LeRoy and Hiram Berry on Glee, they're usually non-custodial fathers or secondary characters. The aughts brought sitcoms It's All Relative and Normal, Ohio, both of which centred around gay fathers, but neither found an audience.
It wasn't until 2009's Modern Family that a successful network sitcom showed gay men being full-time fathers — and even there, their portrayal is stereotypical and desexualized. That's something Glee and The New Normal creator (and out gay man) Ryan Murphy publicly criticized in 2010, stating that if he were to make a show with two gay leads, their kissing would be shown as no big deal.
It's not that I don't enjoy Modern Family, exactly. It's a slick sitcom that showcases some great acting and witty writing. But despite including characters who are gay and people of color, at heart it's a deeply conventional show, more interested in peddling stereotypes than subverting them.
Most often, Modern Family's white heterosexual family with a stay-at-home mom is presented as the default, including in the show's promotional images, most of which literally position them at the centre of the show: the "normal" people those wacky minorities orbit around. The first season poster even made this overt, describing the family units we could expect to see as: "straight, gay, multi-cultural, traditional" — that last word providing reassurance to conservatively-minded potential viewers that storylines wouldn't get too progressive.
Babies on TV serve as props for their parent's character development. On reality TV, babies are dreams come true and cute fashion accessories (for celebrity moms) or evidence of bad behavior (teen moms). On Dexter, toddler Harrison exists solely as a plot device to anchor daddy Dexter to the non-sociopathic world, and on Up All Night, baby Amy helps her hard-partying parents embrace adulthood. So, who exactly is doing the parenting here? Will the real parents please stand up?
In this week's episode of Modern Family, "The Kiss," Gloria dreams that her dead grandmother wants her to connect to her roots by preparing traditional foods, despite the fact that, just last episode, we saw Gloria cooking up a shit ton of empanadas. No matter, we need a plot device! And food is a logical choice.