Now in its seventh season, Modern Family has been a groundbreaking, hilariously crafted series from the start. The award-winning sitcom’s depiction of several generations of an opinionated, close-knit family in Southern California has won plaudits for bringing a fresh, updated approach to what some “modern families” are really like, with its portrayal of same-sex marriage, adoption, and an extended family that embraces different nationalities and races.
Modern Family is also noteworthy for demonstrating work flexibility on TV. A look at how the members of the extended Pritchett-Dunphy clan—especially those in dual-career families—try to integrate career and family life offers a fun case study of how work flexibility fits into the working world on TV.
Jay Pritchett: Scion of the Modern Family clan, Jay is a wealthy entrepreneur with a well-established closet-organization business. From a work flexibility viewpoint, he seems to have discovered the secret to being successfully semi-retired, and is well-positioned to spend most of his time at home with family (his sexy, younger wife Gloria often teases him about his laid-back work habits). He’s clearly in succession mode, preparing to hand off his business, which is out to defeat its commercial closet-business rival, “Closets Closets Closets Closets.”
Claire Dunphy: When the series began in 2009, Claire was somewhat narrowly defined as a stay-at-home mom harboring more than a little frustration about her decision to completely give up her career to raise three kids. Now, after a few false starts, Claire has relaunched her career and is working at her dad’s closet business. Eventually (spoiler alert!) he hands the reins over to her. What’s the upshot as far as work flexibility on TV is concerned? Claire’s a great example of the challenges stay-at-home moms face easing back into the workplace. On the show, there are recurring (and funny) scenarios as she grapples with resume career gaps. In one scene, Claire visits her son’s class for Career Day and struggles to make the case that, of necessity, stay-at-home moms have really great management skills. She’s eventually able to translate mom skills to job skills in her rejuvenated career.
Phil Dunphy: A successful real estate agent whose face is plastered on bus-bench ads around town, Phil is a family man who seems to enjoy a huge amount of work flexibility—so much so that he’s able to attend many of his children’s school events, and to generally be at home to provide lots of support for his entire family. That portrayal of work flexibility on TV rings true, given that real estate jobs can often provide significant work flexibility. And as a gadget-loving geek, Phil makes good use of technology, even resorting to robotics to compensate when he’s forced to miss a kid’s graduation. That particular episode is an entertaining example of how robotics can support remote workers.
Mitchell Pritchett: Mitchell’s a lawyer who’s worked for a variety of legal and justice-focused organizations. He’s a working parent supporting a same-sex partner and a young adopted daughter. There are many flexible jobs in the legal field and, frankly, Mitchell seems to be sampling more than a few of them in his quest to find a fulfilling career and healthy work–life integration. His character is often seen in various office settings, and doesn’t really seem to bring his work home, or to work from home, which in real life would be a rarity for many lawyers.
Cameron Tucker: Though he’s the primary caregiver of the daughter he adopted with husband Mitchell, Cameron is also a consummate job-hopper who tries on a variety of part-time jobs, from professional clown (his passion) to clothing store assistant. But he’s mostly happy at this stage in his career to be a stay-at-home dad—thoroughly into being a homemaker and father, but still dreaming of a career outside of the home that will bring him even greater fulfillment.
Haley Dunphy: The eldest of Claire and Phil’s three children, Haley is a great example of a character that fits the millennial and Gen-Y job seeker mold. Not a “go to a four-year college, then start a career” type of person, the image-conscious Haley is still finding, or should we say making, her own way in life in general, and discovering gifts and skills beyond the traditional model. Her career route includes community college and internships in the fashion industry.
Of course, television is not real life, and situations are exaggerated, in this case for comedic purposes. That said, work flexibility on TV can give us a glimpse of how the workplace is changing, and how that shift is increasingly being reflected in the popular culture.
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