From 'The Moodys' to 'Modern Family' to 'Succession', what makes dysfunctional families on TV so entertaining?

It’s part relatability and part Schadenfreude and part “Thank God my family isn’t like that”. You can always empathize with characters who have quirky relatives. You see Phil in ‘Modern Family’ try to be funny and you think of your father and his “dad jokes”


                            From 'The Moodys' to 'Modern Family' to 'Succession', what makes dysfunctional families on TV so entertaining?

Fox’s upcoming comedy ‘The Moodys’ is the tale of a man trying to deal with his overbearing family. Based on an Australian show by the same name, it follows Dan Moody and all the trouble he gets into thanks to his weird dysfunctional family.

While the Australian show received much acclaim, we are yet to see if the U.S. adaptation will manage to meet the same mark. But it brings us to an interesting point: Dysfunctional families always make for great comedy.

The list of shows that deal with weird families is long. Take for example HBO’s widely popular ‘Succession’. Or consider the much older -- and many call it the original ‘Succession’ -- ‘Arrested Development’. Both shows are not your run-of-the-mill situational comedies.

Yet, you can’t help but burst a vein laughing at the characters and the problems they face. A factor that is common to both shows is that it deals with the problems of the quote-unquote rich people. But that’s not all that makes the show hilarious. It is the awkward dynamics between the relatives. 

There’s ‘Modern Family’, a show that takes dysfunctional to another level. With a young and attractive grandmother, a son-in-law who has a thing for her, a gay son who is always trying to win his father’s approval and a sarcastic adoptive daughter, the show is a cornucopia of messy relationships and how these characters reconcile with them.

Even in shows that don’t generally focus on family dynamics, manage to get a laugh or two out of the trope every once in a while. Leonard in ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has a part hate/part oedipal relationship with his mother and their dynamics always elicit laughter in a show that is otherwise mostly stale in terms of humor.

In ‘Orange is the New Black’, Piper’s relationships with her family outside of prison is always fodder for mirth. So what makes the dysfunctional family trope work?

It’s part relatability and part Schadenfreude and part “Thank God my family isn’t like that”. You can always empathize with characters who have quirky relatives. You see Phil in ‘Modern Family’ try to be funny and you think of your father and his “dad jokes”.

You can see him try hard to be cool and facepalm, while at the same time feel exasperated when your father does the same. You can look at Otis in ‘Sex Education’ and his relationship with his “inappropriate” mother and bless your stars that your family is comparatively normal.

You can look at how Kendall’s siblings treat him in ‘Succession’ and laugh knowing that all siblings are cruel and you’re not the only one who has the misfortune to deal with them. But mostly, you love this trope because above all else, family is the last institution left where you can put your faith in and it is families that come to your rescue when all else fails.

So watching dysfunctional families on TV gives you the impression that they are this bad only in fiction. You want to believe that in real life, this trope does not exist. Alas!

'The Moodys' is scheduled to premiere on Fox on December 4, 2019.

Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by MEAWW.