Fall TV Season: A Little Good, A Lot of Bad and Ugly

Each year, fall presents Hollywood with a new opportunity to showcase its values in the way of a new television season. So, judging by its 2009 offerings, what does Hollywood currently value? Sex, sex, the liberal social agenda, and more sex.

The Culture & Media Institute examined the most anticipated new series that dealt with families. Using USA Today's list of Top 10 New Fall Shows, researchers identified those that were most likely to look at familial relationships to see what Hollywood had to say.

Researchers also reviewed “Glee,” not necessarily for it's depiction of family life, but because it was touted as “family friendly entertainment.” And it is, if mocking sexual abstinence and normalizing homosexuality are your idea of family friendly.

In fact, whether it was jokes about oral sex, gay adoption plot lines and cartoon depictions of lesbians making out, much of prime time 2009 is unwatchable with children.

Critics praised “edgy” comedies such as “Cougar Town,” and “Modern Family.” But surprisingly, they also praised the traditional sit-com “The Middle” and the traditional drama, “The Good Wife.”

Here is the CMI take on the new shows for 2009. 

The Ugly


This season the ugly includes gay rights, sex ed propaganda and vulgarity in general in the form of “Glee,” “The Cleveland Show” and “Cougar Town.”


Fox's “Glee” and “The Cleveland Show” appeared to have little in common on the surface beyond airing on the same network. But creators of both shows are known for their boundary-pushing scripts on other programs and their liberal viewpoints shine through in their new projects.


With its catchy musical numbers and its effective portrayal of the high school hierarchy (jocks rule, everyone falls into place after that) “Glee” appeared to be relatively harmless. Some of the character twists, such as the football player with his secret singing ability and the gay performer who ends up as the kicker for the football team, add to the appeal of the show.

But viewers should have expected a few liberal plot points when it comes to sexuality, considering that “Glee” was created by Ryan Murphy, who also created the FX program “Nip/Tuck,” a series about plastic surgeons that featured bizarre sexual story lines, nudity, obscenities and graphic depictions of plastic surgery. After all, this is the man who stated in 2004, “It's tough to get that sexual point of view across on television. Hopefully I have made it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years. Maybe that will be my legacy.”

Proponents of abstinence were portrayed as hypocrites when Quinn, president of the Celibacy Club, became pregnant. Quinn constantly wears a cross necklace, and told her her boyfriend Finn, the football player/singer, they should pray when things became hot and heavy during a make-out session.

Despite Quinn's claim that she became pregnant by fooling around in a hot tub with Finn, viewers later found out his best friend had sex with her while she was drunk.

A meeting of the Celibacy Club, at which the girls repeated the mantra, “It's all about the teasing, not the pleasing,” set the stage for an anti-abstinence rant by another character, Rachel, who is the young diva of the glee club.

“Most studies have shown celibacy does not work in high school. Our hormones are driving us too crazy to abstain. The second we start telling ourselves there's no compromise we act out. The only way to beat teen sexuality is to be prepared. That's what contraception is for,” Rachel explained to the shocked students around her.”

Aside from portraying abstinence-proponents as hypocrites, Murphy has set up the show to push the idea that homosexuality is normal. 

Kurt, the gay singer who also joins the football team, was depicted coming out to his friends and then to his father. Rachel, the diva, has two fathers, and so far that topic has been treated as a non-issue, as though perfectly normal.

Most telling of the show's attempt to push an agenda is the measure to which the gay community is rallying around “Glee.” The cast appeared at the gay rights rally in Washington, D.C. October 11.

Critics loved “Glee.” It's “one of the season's best and most anticipated new series, delivers on both counts - and more. It's a quirky, sweet, humorous, nonpartisan funfest,” according to Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Time magazine's James Poniewozik noted that “at its best” the show “is the freshest and most joyful new show of the year.” Robert Bianco noted in USA Today, “It's not perfect, but in a sea of procedural conformity, Glee is its own weird, often enchanting little island escape.”

Hank Stuever of the Washington Post claimed he “never stopped smiling while watching the first few episodes of this pitch-perfect comedy.”

While the song-and-dance numbers are enjoyable, the frothy tone of “Glee” masks the liberal propaganda. Discerning parents need to take note of the messages that lurk behind the glitz.


“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane gave “Family Guy” character Cleveland Brown top billing in his animated spin off, “The Cleveland Show.”

Not surprisingly, “Cleveland's” humor is on the same low level as the consistently vulgar “Family Guy.”

The pilot episode showed Cleveland, post-divorce, making the decision to start a new life with his son in California. Within two minutes, viewers saw the wives of Cleveland's friends making out with each other as a way to lift his spirits.

During a stop in Virginia, Cleveland meets up with his old crush Donna. They marry by the end of the first episode, after Cleveland shows he can be a father to her son by offering to talk to him about looking up girls' skirts. Cleveland's advice is to be less obvious about it and fails to tell him to stop.

Another scene, a flashback, shows Donna getting into a man's van. The van starts rocking, implying that the two are having sex, and viewers were treated to a close-up shot of a license plate that read, “IFKDNA.”

Cleveland,” like “Family Guy,” is an animated series, which means that things are aired that wouldn't pass muster for a live-action show. And as The Washington Post's Tom Shales noted in his review, “The hypocritical myth about these [MacFarlane's] shows is that they're cartoons for adults, sophisticated animation to attract discriminating grown-ups. Ha-ha. Cartoons, if aired at an hour when they are easily accessible (and these shows air before 9 p.m.), always attract children. MacFarlane's leaden efforts are no exception.”

Shales compared MacFarlane to “the dirty old man hanging around playgrounds with naughty pictures or risqué jokes as lures.” He concluded, “You don't really have to be a reactionary to find MacFarlane's comedy revolting, or to see his 'art' as the mass-media equivalent of peddling smut to kids.”

Other critics were kinder. Ginia Bellafante of The New York Times labeled the show a “fairly tame racial comedy that furthers Mr. MacFarlane's continuing indictment of the middle-aged American suburban male.”

The Miami Herald's Glenn Garvin touched on MacFarlane's popularity when he proclaimed that “Cleveland” will “stick around, if for no other reason than it's a cartoon produced by Seth MacFarlane, who comes about as close to being cancel-proof as you can get without sleeping with a network president.”

It remains to be seen if “Cleveland” will out-crude MacFarlane's “Family Guy,” but MacFarlane would have to dig pretty deep to out-do his own low of a baby eating horse semen.


ABC's comedy “Cougar Town” ramped up the raunch in its premiere. The pop culture term “cougar” refers to sexually active middle-aged single women. Thus the show is centered around a 40-something divorced mom's attempt to deal with the aging process.

Jules, played by Courtney Cox, is desperate to prove that she's not old and unattractive. This desire led to an incident in which she flashed her son's schoolmate, and another in which he walked in as she attempted to perform oral sex on a much-younger man. Jules' attempts at humor involved joking about making out with another mom, and joking about the relationship status of high school boys.

Asked why he never laughed at Jules' jokes, her son Travis replied, “Because they make me sad.”

The crudeness tapered off by the second episode, although there was a scene in which Jules threw out her back while attempting a sexual maneuver with the much-younger man. Other sex jokes abounded, including a gag about teen boys stealing Jules' provocative business ads for their personal use.

Jules' efforts to prove that she's still young, hot and with it provide much of the comedy in the show. Rarely did the efforts work, and she came off as rather pathetic. In fact, the redeeming message of the show, buried beneath the vulgarity, is that it's better for people to gracefully act their age than foolishly pretend to be younger and less wise than what they are.

Critics, of course, hailed “Cougar” mostly for its sex jokes. Hank Stuever of The Washington Post wrote, “Easily the bawdiest thing on the networks' fall lineup (has an oral-sex scene ever made it this far on broadcast?), 'Cougar Town' deserves to become thinking person's trash.” Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker called it a “sex crazed sitcom” and noted that it “is so brashly vulgar, it's endearing.”

USA Today's Robert Bianco argued, “But for all the sex jokes, (most of which are amusing), this is at heart a family comedy, with Cox completely winning as a mom trying to make herself happy without making her son miserable. Odds are that other moms can relate.”

“Glee” has already been approved for a second season. Time will tell if “Cleveland” and “Cougar” will follow suit. But for decency's sake, one can only hope that they won't.



ABC's “Modern Family” began with overt gay propaganda, but that appeared to have tapered off as the season progressed.

“Modern Family,” filmed in a mock-documentary style, examines the lives of three couples from one family. Patriarch Jay (Ed O'Neill) is married to a feisty, much-younger Colombian woman who has a pre-teen son named Manny. Jay's daughter Claire is married to Phil who treats parenting like playtime. Jay's son Mitchell, is gay, and when the show began, had just adopted a baby with his partner Cameron.

Viewers heard a pro-gay adoption speech within the first two minutes of the premiere.

Mitchell misunderstood a fellow plane passenger's reference to his baby and creampuffs, causing him to address a full plane of passengers about gay adoption. “Excuse me, but this baby would have grown up in a crowded orphanage if it wasn't for us creampuffs,” he stated. “And you know what? No, to all of you who judge … hear this. Love knows no race, creed or gender. And shame on you, you small-minded, ignorant few …”

Cameron interrupted Mitchell to point out at the creampuff in the comment referred to the pastries in the baby's hands. Played for laughs, the scene was meant to be a joke about hypersensitive reactions, but it appeared to be more a political statement directed toward Middle America.

Writers also depicted Jay as a bigot. Jokes abounded about him “announcing himself” before he walked into a room where Mitchell and Cameron were, just in case they happened to be kissing. Jay wasn't thrilled about the concept of Mitchell and Cameron's adoption, but had come around by the end of the 30 minute program. Later episodes showed Jay gradually becoming more accepting of Mitchell and Cameron's relationship.

The heavy-handed indoctrination attempts became more infrequent, but the depiction of Cameron and Mitchell as just another average, ordinary couple continued. The Gay Alliance Against Defamation praised the show for its inclusion of a gay couple. “As more and more Americans see fair and accurate images of our community and the issues impacting our lives reflected on the small screen, they come to accept and better understand their LGBT family members and neighbors,” stated GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios.

Two bright spots in the show, however, almost make up for the advocacy. The first is that the show skewers parents who try to befriend their children rather than act as authority figures. Phil's attempts to be cool by using phrases like LOL, OMG and WTF rightly came off as pathetic. The second is the affection Jay shows toward his step-son Manny after the boy is emotionally crushed when his father flakes on plans with him.

Critics loved “Family.” The Washington Post's Tom Shales wrote the show “is cause not just for cheer but also for outright jubilation. The writers and producers of the domestic sitcom … have found sharp new angles for tales of the great American family, and they juxtapose them in smart, savory ways.”

Bellafante from the Times labeled “Family,” “the best new half-hour of funny television in a season rife with half-hours of funny television.”  USA Today's Robert Bianco bestowed the honor of “best new series in the fall” on “Family” in his review. Mary McNamara at the Los Angeles Times noted that the show's creators “have given us a comedy that is sharp but not cruel, amused but not judgmental.”

But in its overt advocacy for the gay agenda, the “Modern Family” has indeed showed itself to be judgemental.



The current TV season does boast two new programs that provide good, quality entertainment without preaching or vulgarity: ABC's “The Middle and CBS's “The Good Wife.”

Both center on family life, but in different ways.


“Middle” examines the life of a middle-class family in Indiana and how they're handling the current economic situation. Patricia Heaton, from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” plays Frankie, a mom to three kids and a brutally honest husband. The show is sweet, with just enough reality to keep it from being syrupy.

Frankie is frantic as she juggles her job as a car sales person and her responsibilities to her family. Her kids – a teen son who speaks mostly in grunts and sarcasm, a daughter who has dreams of greatness but lacks ability, and a younger son with a penchant for whispering to himself but who thinks she's his hero – are not perfect, but they're not slick Hollywood archetypes either.

Frankie and her husband show affection toward their children, discipline them when needed and the overarching message is that family means more than material goods.

Surprisingly, critics bought this message. USA Today's Robert Bianco wrote, “ 'The Middle” is precisely the show ABC should be doing: a smart, amusing sitcom that understands the damage cutbacks have done to folks in the middle.” Nancy DeWolf Smith of noted in the Wall Street Journal that the show contains “an abundance of eccentric humor and bright writing.”  Even Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, who so highly praised “Cougar Town” for its sex jokes, concluded “People from coast to coast are going to be laughing at this swift sitcom.”

More important than what critics say, though, is the fact that there is finally a television show that the whole family can watch together.


While “Middle” focuses on a mostly happy family, “The Good Wife” looks at what happens when a family implodes. Julianna Margulies stars as Alicia Florrick, a wife to a Chicago politician (Chris Noth) who was forced to resign following a sex scandal and was sent to jail for related crimes. Alicia must hold her head up and move on in a new role as a lawyer in a law firm while dealing with the fallout from her husband's bad behavior.

Despite being based on the sordid story of political sex scandals, the show is mostly free of vulgarity and even from political posturing. Brief flashes of YouTube clips and photos of her husband's trysts pop up here and there, but are mostly obscured. The show is largely a legal drama, but interwoven throughout the procedures of trying and solving cases are scenes of Alicia and her children picking up the pieces of her husband's betrayal.

Audiences see the kids' anger, hurt and bewilderment at the loss of trust in their father. Alicia's attempts to move on are painful to watch, as her own feelings surface.  Most of all, it shows that actions have consequences and sometimes, those consequences are painful to all involved.

This show is not for children, but people looking for compelling story lines with an air of mystery lent by the cases Alicia tries, would not be disappointed by this program.

Critics also praised the show. Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “The Good Wife' promises to be that Holy Grail of television: a good criminal procedural that barely disguises the insightful, multilayered human drama that lies beneath.” The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rainmowitz concluded, “There's plenty of life and overall quality to sustain this series for a long time to come.”

“Middle” and “Wife have shown that television programming does not have to depend on overt sex or liberal views to earn top praise from critics. Intelligence, clean humor, good acting and stellar writing can take a show further than any one-time splash can.