Fall In The Family: 5 Lessons From the Fall 2013 TV Family Sitcoms
Family sitcoms are back in full force in the fall of 2013, with unflinching subject matter and unconventional domestic dynamics that would’ve melted Ward Cleaver’s face off back in the ’50s. So cue up the “Awww” on the laugh track for A Very Special Episode of valuable life lessons from this season’s family sitcoms.
Lesson 1: Families Yell.
Family members tend to wipe civility, courtesy and restraint on the welcome mat before stepping in the door, and say words normally exchanged between mortal enemies. “That’s how we communicated, just screaming at each other,” Adam F. Goldberg says of his own family, which inspired ABC’s The Goldbergs (Tuesdays beginning Sept. 24). “And then a minute later, my mom would be like, ‘Who wants waffles?’” “Most families yell at one another, and then they’re fine,” says star Jeff Garlin. “They play Monopoly. They don’t care. Then they yell more playing Monopoly. Families yell.” Greg Garcia took his own parents’ constant, cutthroat bickering as a muse for The Millers on CBS (Thursdays beginning Oct. 3). “I think one thing that happens to you when you get older is, you know, you worry about things a little less — about what you have to say to people, your loved ones and so forth,” says costar Beau Bridges. “You just basically get it off your chest.”
Lesson 2: This Is My Third Stepmom.
You don’t get to choose your family. You’re thrust into one and have to deal with all the elements of family life that are more complex and unpredictable in the 21st century. “I feel like it’s rare in general to meet people whose parents are still together in this day and age,” says Trophy Wife (ABC, Tuesdays beginning Sept. 24) star Malin Akerman. “It was, like, ‘Oh, my parents have been together for 40 years.’ But, now, it’s like, ‘This is my third stepmom.’” Two families that would likely never interact otherwise have to unite when there’s an unexpected teen pregnancy in NBC’s Welcome to the Family (Thursdays beginning Oct. 3). “[The kids are] really in love and want to have this baby, and they’re going to force their parents to deal with whatever conflict they have amongst themselves,” says star Mike O’Malley.
Lesson 3: You Can’t Get Rid Of Your Parents.
They’re not going anywhere. In fact, they’re probably going to move in, if that’s OK with you. In FOX’s Dads (Tuesdays beginning Sept. 17), Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green play buddies and business partners whose lives are thrown into upheaval when their fathers move in with them after falling on hard times. After his parents’ split, recently divorced Nathan (Will Arnett) has his meddlesome mom (Margo Martindale) crash at his place in The Millers. The Goldbergs’ grandpa Pops (George Segal) is like a teenager that his son (Garlin) now has to rein in. In NBC’s Sean Saves the World (Thursdays beginning Oct. 3), single dad Sean (Sean Hayes) just has to grin and bear the fact that he can’t do without his pushy mom (Linda Lavin). “[Sean’s mom] wants his happiness, on her terms, perhaps, sometimes, which sets up a challenge,” Lavin says. “He needs his mother, but he doesn’t want his mother there.”
Lesson 4: We’re Not 1950s Dads Anymore.
TV dads have stepped down from their patriarchal perches of decades past and are finding fulfillment in doing real dirt-under-the-nails parenting. In Sean Saves the World, “Sean has gone from a weekend dad to now a full-time dad, which is a lot more responsibility,” says executive producer Victor Fresco. “So he has to learn ‘How do I discipline the daughter? And I’m not necessarily the fun weekend guy anymore. I have this whole responsibility.’” But a dad’s desire to be more than an observer in his children’s lives requires sacrifice. “I think even an evolved 2013 dad feels, because we’re not 1950 dads anymore, is wherever we are, we feel like we should be someplace else,” Fresco says. “And often when I’m working, I feel like I want to be home with my family. And when I’m with my family, I feel like I’m not getting the work done.” NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show (Thursdays beginning Sept. 26) draws heavily from Fox’s own experience stepping back from work and soaking in the joys of fatherhood. “Being with my family, hanging out with my family and driving them nuts in a similar way to Mike Henry on the show, just being there,” Fox says. “So I really got a good piece of their lives, good piece of their formative years where they were the focus of my attention, and it was beautiful. It was so great. … For them it may have been a different experience. But for me, it was wonderful.”
Lesson 5: It’s Harder Than It Looks.
So you think parenting is easy? Here, you try it. The single moms in ABC’s Back in the Game (Wednesdays beginning Sept. 25) and CBS’ Mom (Mondays beginning Sept. 23) had rough childhoods and vow that their own kids won’t suffer the same. Back in the Game’s “The Cannon” (James Caan) and Mom’s Bonnie (Allison Janney) were far from perfect parents, but they had their moments in the sun that their daughters are now just starting to see. Turns out all that motherly criticism was just love and all that fatherly neglect was just wisdom. Who knew?