“Dash, Flash, Crash”
November 17th, 2010
Last week I posted about concerns regarding Modern Family’s relationship with questions of race and ethnicity (albeit focused on the former), and over at TV Overmind the commenters were…well, they were angry. My point was not to say that the show is racist, but rather that there are moments when questions relating to sensitive issues are located within the production of the series rather than character actions.
Let’s take, for example, Phil’s “If you ain’t white, you ain’t right” t-shirt which angers an African American taxi cab. It’s highly offensive, sure, but it plays into his cluelessness in ways we recognize. It is the intersection of his inability to realize what his words mean with questions of race in today’s society, and its continued presence (“And this year I predict total White domination!”) makes it seem less like that single flashback is necessary in order to construct the joke. It seems like something Phil would do, makes me laugh, and happens to transition into the best episode since “Fizbo.”
In other words, next time you hear me ragging on Modern Family? Manny’s birthday.
May 19th, 2010
Throughout Modern Family’s first season, episodes have been airing out of production order, which isn’t overly surprising: a lot of new comedies air this way based on the strength of certain episodes and to ensure new viewers stick around for a while. However, it means that we’re not really able to read too much into the show’s long term character development, as episodes become interchangeable; I’m not suggesting every sitcom needs to have such character development, but this feels like the kind of show where characters are going to get older over time (especially the kids), and where I’d hope that they would evolve into new stories as this successful show continues into future seasons.
However, I would have been perfectly fine had “Family Portrait” been aired earlier in the season, as I don’t entirely understand why it was chosen as the season finale. Rife with cliches and some fairly broad storylines which show the characters at their most archetypal, and fairly low on great material for the show’s breakout characters, it seems strange that this would be the note the show wanted to leave on when compared with last week’s vacation episode that ended on an earned emotional conclusion. For a show so willing to control the order of things to provide the best possible impact regardless of production order, to place this “okay” episode in this position as opposed to last week’s really strong outing either indicates they don’t really care what not they leave on or that they have a very different conception of what works about this from my own.
Considering that I’ve been sort of at arm’s length with the show all season, it’s probably the latter.
May 5th, 2010
There’s a point in this episode where I became very afraid. I really like episodes where the characters are all part of the same situation, but there’s a point where it seemed like the show was intending to play out every airport/flying cliche imaginable. Mitchell left his wallet at home, Claire was afraid of flying, and Manny was pulled aside for being on a “No Fly” list – combine with a lot of unpleasantness surrounding those events and Jay’s outward disappointment about the entire family joining them on their Hawaii vacation, and it just wasn’t coming together all that well.
However, “Airport 2010” ended up coming together rather remarkably well: there were some nice use of some non-linear narratives to keep things interesting, the cuts between different stories provided a real sense of dynamism, and when the show eventually gets to its heartwarming conclusion it feels more earned that most similar stories. This is largely because at a certain point the show lets characters talk to one another about their feelings rather than just getting into wacky comic situations that reveal them, very clearly laying out a reason for them to come together to fly to Maui at episode’s end and very clearly identifying what makes this show better than its sitcom situations.
March 24th, 2010
I think we’re past the point where I need to go into my usual rant about Modern Family, a show which is well-crafted and funny but not necessarily funny because it is well-crafted. In other words, the show has some very funny performers who are often given funny things to do, but the structures of the show, for me personally, tend to impede rather than improve those stories. The show is unquestionably well-crafted, but there are times when I see the fingerprints of writers and directors all over the show, and it sort of takes me out of the moment and makes me appreciate the show more than I love it.
So while I’m tired of trying to lay out the whole “like, not love” situation with the show, I do want us to keep it in mind, since some very engaging stories were ever-so-slightly damaged by a bit of over-writing in “Starry Night.” While the sort of non-linear storytelling the show seems to love so much makes sense in certain instances, including one of the stories in this episode, it overcomplicated the others in a way which continues to frustrate me – I laughed in between my furrowed brows, don’t get me wrong, but I want to avoid the furrowing altogether.
March 4th, 2010
I understand sitcom formulas: I know why they exist, I know why they can sometimes be very funny, and I understand why there are quite a few viewers who are in love with them. And while I’m on the record as amongst those who are not quite on the Modern Family bandwagon, I respect a lot of what the show is doing, and do not begrudge it for being formulaic to varying degrees each week.
If I’m being honest, “Fears” was one of the best episodes the show has done in its most limiting formula, the separation of the three families into distinct stories. The theme was consistent, the comedy was varied, and the show perhaps came the closest yet to earning its saccharine conclusion. None of the stories fell too far into comic farce to feel like they were shoehorned into the corny conclusion, and while every story was on the edge of tipping into that land of love and caring that makes me want to throw up, they mostly stayed within something funny and sweet without going too far.
And yes, that’s the most convoluted way of saying “this was a pretty good episode of Modern Family” you’re likely to find.
“My Funky Valentine”
“When a Kid Goes Bad”
February 10th, 2010
When a sitcom does a special “holiday” episode, especially in its first season, it’s the ultimate test of the show’s understanding of its character dynamics. For some shows, the show adapts to fit the holiday, while in others the holiday adapts to fit the show: it’s a subtle difference, and both can create entertaining episodes, but I tend to prefer the latter for two key reasons.
The first is that I kind of resent that holidays actually change people. There’s always that sense that holidays are supposed to change people, that in some way the days are “different” than others, but at the core of any real relationship is a bond which should exist whether corporations have decided that people should exchange gifts or eat chocolates on a particular day. So I want a holiday to feel as if it is being filtered through a particular show, rather than that the characters are in some way conforming to the traditions therein.
The second reason is that I find episodes where the show adapts to fit the holiday reinforce the most annoying elements of sitcom structures. Whatever adaptation happens isn’t going to last, and when it’s related to a particular holiday that structure becomes that much more transparent. Yes, every sitcom has episodes where new conflicts arise based on a particular impulse, but when it’s a holiday it feels particularly inorganic.
I make these points as a way to contextualize my (relative) annoyance with tonight’s Modern Family and my enjoyment of tonight’s Cougar Town, despite the fact that it was neither the worst nor best night, respectively, for the two series.
“Our True Lies”
“Lust in Translation”
January 19th, 2010
There really isn’t a whole lot substantial to say about Scrubs and Better Off Ted right now. The two shows are effectively dead in the water, and while this is an unfortunate circumstance it isn’t going to change any time soon. However, the best possible compliment I can pay the shows right now is that when I watch them, I’m not sitting there stewing with rage over their impending doom, and instead I just sit back and enjoy shows that make me laugh.
And so, after the break, don’t expect much in terms of critical commentary: it may not quite be a list of lines I found funny, but that probably wouldn’t be a terrible way to approach the shows (especially Better Off Ted) at this point.
“Not in My House”
January 13th, 2010
Sometimes, when I write something particularly critical show about a particular show, I wonder if people think I’m difficult to please. Because, while I may be deluding myself, I think I’m actually quite easy to please. I might be very particular about what I want from a show like Modern Family, which I feel isn’t living up to its potential, but that doesn’t mean that when it actually happens I’m just going to find something new to complain about. When a show listens to me like Microsoft listened to all of those annoying people in Windows 7 commercials and does exactly what I tell them to, it’s pretty much enough for me to ignore any other problems and sing from the rafters.
So while I do, yes, have some issues with “Not in My House,” which isn’t as riotous as the show has been in the past, the fact that two of the families interacted in an entirely natural, non-dysfunctional fashion without the show imploding into contrivance demonstrates how this should happen more often. It’s my Windows 7 moment, and it was enough to elevate this far above last week’s episode for me.
Oh, plus it has a Dog Butler. I would NEVER complain about a Dog Butler.
“The Importance of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road”
January 12th, 2010
It might just be that we’re reaching the home stretch of Better Off Ted’s rushed second season, or that news this morning that ABC isn’t officially cancelling the show just yet has provided a false sense of hope, but tonight was the first set of episodes where I rarely felt myself comparing the show to its finest moments, or feeling like the show was missing opportunities. I don’t think it’s because “The Impertence of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road” were perfect episodes, but they had a nice rhythm to them that didn’t create dead zones which could make them feel complacent, and they dealt with concepts (word play and one-upmanship) that the show has always gotten some great mileage out of.
In fact, if you were going to levy a single criticism of the double-header, you could perhaps argue that the episodes were almost too similar to one another, placing Ted as the moral centre amidst an environment more willing to engage with the low road. However, the show never places too much of each story on Ted and Ted alone, which allows the comedy around him to remain the star, and on that front the episodes offer enough diversity and hilarity to come out a winning pair.
“Up All Night”
January 6th, 2010
For a show that likes to wrap up each episode with a lesson that defines the show’s themes, I’m somewhat disappointed that Modern Family seems to be unable to learn lessons based on the first part of its season. Now, don’t get me wrong: the show is still early in its run, so I’m not expecting the show to have ironed out all of its problems. However, for a show that is often considered such a “well-crafted” comedy (a quality that I would not challenge in terms of the show’s best episodes/scenes), there’s a point where some fairly serious structural issues are coming to the surface for me as an audience member, and I’m concerned that the level of critical praise for the series will keep them from investigating these problems further so long as the ratings stay strong.
So when episodes like “Up All Night” seem particularly flat, I want the writers to notice that it’s because they separated the families, and that as a result one story felt like an extended comedy sketch, another felt like a series of comedy sketches, and the other rested on its laurels due to the presence of the week’s guest star. There were some token efforts to tie the three stories together, but in the end the show told three stories that felt like they were only firing on one cylinder.
And while, as always, the show is capable of being quite funny on occasion, there are episodes like this one which indicate that the writers aren’t willing to go the extra mile to push the boundaries of their characters or their situations each week. And the Modern Family we see in “Up All Night” is not the show at its finest, and I have to wonder if the creators will bother to recognize that so long as the show remains an “unqualified” success.