As ABC’s Emmy-winning hit Modern Family wins more laughs from Gloria’s foray into expectant motherhood, Kevin Fallon weighs it against Lucy Ricardo, Rachel Green, and more entertaining fictional pregnancies from sitcoms past.
When a sitcom gets long into its run, writers can sometimes struggle to find fresh storylines. There’s a tried and true solution to that problem, however—one’s that been employed, to various levels of success, by countless comedy series over the years: give ’em a baby.
The latest series looking to mine laughs from expanding bellies and parents’ nervous jitters is Modern Family, on which Gloria and her (much) older husband, Jay, are expecting a newborn. While some sitcoms fall victim to pregnancy clichés and tired jokes, the plot device is proving a brilliant tool to add not-yet-seen shades to Gloria’s saucy Colombian mom. For one, she’s not just shouting all the time. Now she’s shouting about a baby. But the pregnancy also is bringing out the Latin bombshell’s insecurities about her changing body, as well as concerns about her age and how times have changed since she last raised a child—or, to be more accurate, since her beyond-his-years son Manny raised himself.
As Modern Family gets more laughs out of Gloria’s pregnancy on Wednesday night’s episode, here’s a look back at how it ranks against some of TV’s greatest pregnancies.
Gloria on Modern Family
Sitting in a baby-care class with a roomful of nervous first-time parents, old pros Gloria and Jay annoy the rest of the class with their cocky jokes and are miffed by a young teacher who acts as if they aren’t experts on child rearing. “I wrapped my son with one hand while driving a stick,” Gloria scoffs. “I think I know how to keep my baby safe.”
Lucy on I Love Lucy
When Lucy was pregnant with Little Ricky during the second season of I Love Lucy, it was one of the first times a pregnancy was shown on TV. In those more chaste times, CBS wouldn’t allow use of the word “pregnant,” which the network thought would be in bad taste, opting for the word “expecting” instead. It did allow, however, Lucille Ball to show off every bit of her comedy chops, resulting in what may be the standard-bearer bit for TV pregnancy: this scene in which she attempts to navigate picking up a dropped flower with her cumbersome belly.
Miranda on Sex and the City
Sex and the City’s signature was the frank discussion of hitherto taboo issues surrounding femininity, feminism, and sex. So when Miranda became the first of the Manolo-and-cosmo enthusiasts to be with child, the perennially brunching quartet’s conversations quickly covered the ugliest aspects of pregnancy: chiefly, and uproariously, Miranda’s uncontrollable flatulence.
Rachel on Friends
While lesser sitcoms may focus on the “glow” of pregnancy and the joys of bringing a child into the world, Friends expertly zeroed in on the resentment and nuisance of the whole ordeal. “You,” Rachel scowls at Ross, when he offers her a comfortable seat. “Like you haven’t done enough.”
Phoebe on Friends
Perhaps, in the Friends world, Phoebe never warned Rachel about those pregnancy mood swings. Years before, when Phoebe was carrying triplets as a surrogate for her brother, she was a swirling hurricane of emotions, cycling through fury—“Oh, that must be really hard to hear. It’s a lot easier having three babies play ‘Bringin’ in Da Noise, Bringin in Da Funk’ on your bladder”—and breaking down in tears after being offered a leftover cookie. Of course, the kooky blonde’s in denial the whole time. Asked how the mood swings are coming, she retorts, “I haven’t really had any yet.”
Lily on How I Met Your Mother
Pregnancy changes the dynamic between expecting parents and their unattached friends, as Barney learns when he inadvertently insinuates that the typically good-humored Lily, who is pregnant, might be gaining weight. Of course, his idea for rectifying the situation isn’t exactly a winner—a “magic trick” in which he balances a beer bottle on her stomach.
Bree on Desperate Housewives
OK, so Bree wasn’t actually pregnant on Desperate Housewives. She faked a growing belly using pillows in order to cover for her pregnant daughter (whom she, naturally, sent away to a convent). But the cavalier attitude toward the experience of expecting that comes when you’re, you know, inventing the whole thing was fodder for some brilliant black comedy. When Bree accidentally stabs her stomach with a grill fork at a barbecue, understandably sending Wisteria Lane into 911 mode, her hilarious improvised excuse—it’s a magic trick!—proves why Desperate Housewives was always stronger when it embraced the lighter, less melodramatic moments.
Sue on Glee
Ridiculous baby plot lines have swirled around song-and-dance soap Glee since day one. Remember when Quinn was pregnant with Puck’s baby, but convinced Finn that it was his while Mr. Schuster’s wife tried to blackmail the teen cheerleader into stealing it? (Did you make it through that sentence without your head spinning?) So when aging, largely asexual cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester announced her pregnancy, Gleeks barely blinked an eye. Thankfully, the outlandish plot brought out some of Sue’s best one-liners, a drawn-out mystery of which celebrity was allegedly the father, and some genuinely sweet, humanizing moments from the tyrannical coach once the baby was born.
Pam on The Office
The comedy surrounding Pam’s two pregnancies on The Office came less from her character’s own hijinks and more from the ludicrous and extremely inappropriate reactions the solar system of lunatics who orbit around her had to them. Some of the best moments came when uptight Angela became pregnant just as Pam was expecting her second child, turning the two women’s gestation period into an endless, unwanted (by Pam, at least) competition.
Samantha on Bewitched
Considering how disastrous it was just for Samantha to break the news to husband Darrin that she was pregnant on Bewitched, a smooth, peaceful nine months did not look likely. Samantha, who is, remember, a witch, knows she has to deliver the surprising piece of information to Darrin. Unfortunately, Samantha’s Aunt Clara had turned Darrin into a chimpanzee, and he spent the day trapped at the zoo. You know how it goes.
Gloria on All in the Family
The news on All in the Family that Gloria and Meathead were going to have their own little meatball was tailor-made to elicit an uproarious response from the classic TV curmudgeon Archie Bunker, Gloria’s father. Hence all the tiptoeing around when it’s time to break the news to him. First the look of blind fear. Then the evil glare at Meathead. Perfection.
Kourtney on Keeping Up With the Kardashians
So it might not have been on a scripted TV show, but the jaw-dropping, did-that-really-just-happen climax of Kourtney Kardashian’s pregnancy may have been the funniest birth scene of them all. Not only did the reality star give birth on national television, she pulled the baby out of her vagina herself. Your move, Gloria.