ABC Sitcoms and Identity Politics

Has anybody noticed a certain formulaic tendency in recently launched sitcoms on ABC?

Black family: Black-ish
Jewish family: The Goldbergs
Chinese immigrant family: Fresh Off the Boat
Irish-Catholic family + gay kid (two-fer!): The Real O’Neals
Lower-middle-class upper-midwest family: The Middle

And coming in the fall:

Family with handicapped kid: Speechless

Not that I have a problem…I watch all of these, and they’re all more-or-less funny. But is this just ABC riding a trend, or did they have a meeting where they decided to check off all the demographic boxes?

So it’s “identify politics” when a network features shows with a non-WASP cast?

I hurt too much right now to properly mock this sentiment, so just pretend I cursed a lot at you, okay? There would have been at least one LOTR references and two or three accusations of Smurfiness,

Oh, c’mon. There have been sitcoms with non-WASP casts since Amos 'n Andy. This isn’t new and I’m not alarmed.

It’s the fact that they are so interchangeable, from the same network and rolled out in the same 5 year block that is noteworthy. They look like cars coming off the assembly line with slight differences in options. My sentiment (perhaps not clearly elucidated) is to cynically accuse the network of cynicism.

I think it’s more about how the titles make it sound like “Ok, this is the Black show and this is the Jewish show and this is the Irish show…” as opposed to a more general sounding name for a show that happens to be about a [group] family.

I don’t watch much television though so I’m going off the list in the OP.

I feel like ABC is the only broadcast channel still doing Family-based sitcoms, as opposed to workplace or “Group of friends” sitcoms anymore. Which probably accentuates the assembly line feel to them.

The title of BLACKISH is almost essential to the conceit; it’s about the tension between ecultural expectations of how black persons should be an an changing reality. And its best episodes - I’m thinking specifically ofthe one in which the younger son gets expelled from school for usig the word “nigger” after having been exposed to it by his father – would quite literally make no sense (much less have any comic verve) if the family were any other color.

To suggest that GOLDBERGS and O’NEALS titles are suspect seems silly. Those are typical Jewish and Irish surnames. Why should’t they be used as titles? Are the only stories worth telling those about people named Smith?

Jophiel is mistaken; as far as I’m concerned, the titles are irrelevant. It’s the assembly-line feel that I think is noteworthy.

(I regret using the phrase “identity politics” as that may have been more incendiary than was warranted. ABC’s motives may be purely commercial, rather than political.)

So let me restate my premise:

Just as the 50s were the era of the Cowboy show, and the 70s had a slew of Musical Variety shows, ABC has decided that we’re now in the era of the Demographically Focused Family Sit-com.

How’s that?

Please don’t leave out “Last Man Standing”, which is so PAINFULLY right-wing and preachy that I fully expect an episode where they are playing ping-pong with Michelle Bachmann’s crazy eyes…

Nancy Travis? Swing That Axe, babe…


Probably because Modern Family was a huge hit.

I think Skald’s point stands. Why is Last Man Standing a sitcom about a family while Black-ish is a sitcom about a black family? Why are white characters considered to be normal while non-white characters are considered to be special?

The Goldbergs may be a Jewish family, but the show barely ever touches on religion or cultural heritage in any way, so I wouldn’t count it as rooted in identity politics at all. It’s essentially That 80s Show.

Note that these three are more-or-less based on real life. (The Real O’Neals is sort of based on the childhood of Dan Savage, Fresh Off The Boat is based on the life of Eddie Huang and The Goldbergs is based on the life of Adam Goldberg.)

Amos and Andy had a white cast.

The family’s Jewishness is very much in the background. It took until season 3 for them to celebrate Hanukkah onscreen, and IIRC that was the first overt reference to Judaism. Compare that to Blackish or Fresh Off the Boat where it comes up in practically every other episode.

On the radio, yes. But not the TV version.

And I agree that Goldbergs is nowhere near as ethnically identified as Blackish and FotB; I just needed them to extend my list. :slight_smile:

Another way of making my point…there’s nothing new about the all-black sitcom (Good Times, Sanford & Son, Cosby…). But nobody at NBC said “Wow, Cosby is doing great! Let’s make another one, but with a Chinese family!”

Wait, so that show is supposed to be called The Real Savages?

If these dudes were white, I’ve been vastly underestimating the effectiveness of blackface makeup.

The families on MODERN FAMILY are pretty well identified ethnicially too – by white privilege. There was an episode this season in which Claire noted that her teenage son Luke had been arrested twice in the past year (for underage drinking, I think). The fact that this was a joke, that she could talk about this in an annoyed and whimsical manner rather than a fearful or enraged one, just screamed of whiteness.