Thursday, October 29, 2009

Modern Family, "Run For Your Wife": I'm out of order? You're out of order! This whole episode is out of order!

Some quick thoughts on last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I eat my way there...

It turns out that NBC isn't the only network that likes the play with the airing order of its shows, as "Run For Your Wife" (about the first day of school) was clearly supposed to air before last week's "Coal Digger" (which already had the kids in school), if not before some other episodes that have already run.

While this stuff is always annoying for continuity wonks like me, I at least understand why the network might have wanted to hold this one back, as it was easily the weakest outing for what's otherwise been a consistently strong, funny new show. In particular, Phil felt more derivative of Michael Scott (socially tin-eared, immature, convinced that the lame activities he's into are cool, etc.) than ever before. Ty Burrell pretty much stole the pilot out from under the rest of the cast, and it seemed like Phil was going to be the break-out character of the season, but I'm already tired of seeing him written this way. (That said, he was given a bit more humanity in "Coal Digger," so I'm not that worried. I just don't want him to be a juvenile idiot every week.)

This was also the first episode since the pilot to largely keep the three families separate. I suppose that's necessary now and again, but I'm already finding that I prefer the unexpected combinations (say, Claire with Manny, or Jay with Cameron) more than the regular family units.

And the comedy here also felt a little too broad. Someone asked a week or two ago how the same writers responsible for "Back to You" could have made this show. My response was that the rhythms of the writing really don't feel incredibly different from that show, or from any other sitcom Steve Levitan or Christopher Lloyd have worked on (separately or together), but that the format (specifically, the absence of a studio audience and/or canned laughter) allows the jokes to be delivered in a more understated way and not feel like they're being forced upon us. In a couple of spots last night, though - particularly the Phil stuff and Haley's driving lessons - it was too much. Even Cameron screaming as he prepared to smash open a car window was over the top, but saved by Mitchell being deadpan as he told the woman from OnStar that she was hearing a man's voice.

Not every week can be brilliance, but I'm not worried. "Community" had a few recent duds, but tonight's episode is a really strong one. Every show, particularly new ones, will have creative ups and downs.

What did everybody else think?

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Continuity within the episode was also weird. When the kids were dropped off after school the van drove off, but was back when they cut to the daughter. Also Jay did not have a suit and tie on when he got into the car (they were going for lunch and massages, not really a dress up situation), then he did when he got to school. Weird.

gravyboat said...

I think that even on the best weeks so far, Phil has felt a little too much like Michael Scott. Last week was an improvement, but even that didn't do very much to convince me that he's really his own character. I think the seeds are there, and I think Ty Burrell is doing a brilliant job, but I think the writing has a ways to go before he stops coming off as a rehash.

That's a minor quibble, though, with a show that has been as consistently good as this has been so far. A few years ago, we were mostly stuck with reality shows, carbon-copy procedurals and lowest-common-denominator sitcoms all over the network landscape. This season, there are at least five half-hour comedies that are reliably interesting and worthwhile, even if a couple of them aren't always firing on very many cylinders right now. I feel spoiled.

George said...

Gloria saying Manny would die a virgin if he played his pan pipes at school was completely unexpected and hilarious. A great payoff to a fairly average storyline.

Mitchell was pretty good in this episode; on the phone with the car company, telling the camera crew how he kept his flamboyant side under wraps in high school.

What do they do for a living? I know Phil's in real estate and I think both Claire and Gloria are stay at home mothers. Mitchell, Cameron and Jay I have no idea.

Weakest so far but I'd prefer they kept it in order, that threw me straight away.

evie said...

Definitely a bummer episode when all the others have been so brilliant. This is the only one I haven't saved.

And speaking of continuity within an episode, how bizarre was seeing Manny playing the flute about 10 seconds after Jay smashed it to pieces?

The heartfelt ending was also too treacly and obvious this week. I wanted to gag instead of tear up.

Love the show, though. And really, if you look at the first season of Seinfeld, there were a few duds there as well. All the good series need time to work out the characters and the chemistry consistently every week.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Evie, in the later scene, the flute was heavily-taped together.

Anonymous said...

And speaking of continuity within an episode, how bizarre was seeing Manny playing the flute about 10 seconds after Jay smashed it to pieces? - evie


Evie, i'm not sure that was continuity problem....as the flute may have had some tape on it for repair.

But even if it was.....the tag (or whatever the 30 second - one minute part of the show during the end credits) occasionally features something out of the timeline. It's just another funny segment related to the episode.

Michael said...

I really had trouble with the scrubs style voiceover at the end. I know we normally get some sappy talking head voiceover at the end of every episode but this one went on way too long and the way it was narrated felt much more like a voiceover than an interview on a reality show. Hopefully that will be the last we see of that.

Ted said...

Alan,

we can agree to disagree and i know you dont like the community vs modern family arguement but since you brought it up they are not in the same ballpark. Community had more duds than good ones. Even though this was the weakest MF to date, it still had plenty of moments of hilarity. It's your blog and you are entitled to your opinion but you clearly seem willing to give much more benefit of the doubt to Community and parks and rec which you rarely disparaged last year but by your comments this year seem to suggest that you thought it was less than stellar last year. In all honesty, The Middle is a far superior and authentic and funny look at Indiana life than Parks and Rec.

I hope this comment doesn't seem argumentative,cause it's not meant to be, but if i didn't value and respect your opinion and taste, I wouldnt bother even writing one.

cadfile said...

Okay so it wasn't 100% there, it still had some great bits.

Favorite scene for me was when Mitchell and Cameron lose it after locking the keys in the car with the baby.

Mitchell telling OnStar "We lost our baby and people are judging us..." and Cam freaking out with the trash can had me on the floor laughing.

The last bit with the Hailey driving and the cop pulling her over and then it looking like they would get into a chase gave me a chuckle....

Anonymous said...

No matter what the plot or episode, the Cameron character just kills. He, not Phil, has been consistently the funniest and most enjoyable character. Small things like falling down with the garbage can as he was rushing to "save" Lily are priceless.

Mark S. said...

There were some great lines in this episode.

"When your kids were little did you ever smack their head into the wall"

"No. We usually just did timeouts."

Anonymous said...

Favorite part for me was when the car was finally unlocked and Cameron asked How'd that happen? Does it come from space? or something along those lines.

Matt said...

I had the same question about employment--before this week, I'd been under the impression that Claire was the primary breadwinner and Phil a part-time real estate agent but mostly a stay-at-home dad. Mitchell, I think, it was established that he's a lawyer of some sort.

Asta said...

It turns out that NBC isn't the only network that likes the play with the airing order of its shows, as "Run For Your Wife" (about the first day of school) was clearly supposed to air before last week's "Coal Digger" (which already had the kids in school), if not before some other episodes that have already run.

Thank You! I commented on Twitter last night about this because it's a huge pet peeve of mine as well. The airing out of order for a show such as this doesn't ruin anything, but it is a distraction.

I suspect this may have been the second episode filmed. The characters are drawn so broadly. Mitchell lifting Lily up under the door jam. Cameron panicking, running towards the car and preparing to smash the window. Manny and the poncho. Haley running Phil over and then wanting to speed away from the cops.

Though Phil's characterization seems disappointingly consistent. I'm beginning to wonder why Clair married him.

I still laughed at quite a bit of the episode. Mostly the scenes involving Mitchell and Cameron as worried new parents. And Mitchell going overboard with the Lily's doctor and the doctor pointing out she's from Denver.

srpad said...

I agree this episode was the weakest and thought it was by far the most broad of the episodes so far but it did teach me one thing: a baby in a wig is very very funny!

belinda said...

I agree - Cameron and Mitchell stole the show this week. Especially Cameron, with his "pho?" and his major freakout at the car, then "how did they do that?" Pure win.

Other than that, I thought the interaction between Jay and Sophia in dealing with Manny's poncho and flute at the end was hilarious.

Then, it was all right. Weakest episode so far, but still pretty enjoyable. Perhaps it's the problem of keeping the 3 families apart the whole episode again?

Maureen said...

I agree this episode wasn't as consistently funny as the others. That being said, when Cameron came running up with the trash can, fell down, popped back up-I laughed so hard that I actually saw stars. I found that whole sequence to be incredibly funny, so I don't mind a few slow spots in the rest of the story.

LA said...

"ghetto fabulous wig"

This may have been the "weakest" episode of MF to date, but there were still enogh LOL moments and great lines to keep it firmly locked in as my favorite new fall show. I loved that Gloria turned to Jay and told him to smash the Pan pipes. And Jay's expression later when Manny played them and did the little dance was golden.

I am a little confused by the Phil love, though. He's easily my least favorite character on this.

Henry said...

I actually liked the driving segments, especially Phil freaking out and yelling for Haley to "aim for the lake!" I had to rewind the parts afterwards because I was laughing so hard. It paid off very well (if a little over-the-top) at the end, when Haley crashes into Phil.

That whole running subplot had its moments. I especially loved Claire's deadpan interview footage ("I just want to read.") I honestly like Phil being drawn broadly. Yes, it'd be nice if he was given some humanity to tone down his antics, but Ty Burrell plays him as so goofy that you can't help but root for the sad sack.

I'm liking Alex's character even more now. She's written to be well ahead of her age and I liked her little sarcastic laugh at Haley's remark about university orchestras. Give her more to do!

I was actually impressed that Cameron tried so hard to say "pho" correctly. And did actually sort of say it correctly (I'm Vietnamese so I would know) without having to resort to the usual American saying of it ("fo"). But the storyline with Lily's bumping of the head didn't really do it for me. I did like the OneStar gag, but the rest felt like filler.

Not much to say about the Manny poncho subplot either. I did like it when Jay drops the pan pipe and smashes it after Gloria tells him to do so. Or the talking head where Jay says he's gonna pay for the third marriage offhand comment.

I absolutely didn't like the treacly ending heartfelt talking head from Claire. It felt like wrapping up the episode in a rather saccharine manner. Felt false somehow. Like someone mentioned before, it was like Scrubs had taken over the show temporarily. The show's writers should be careful not to include many of those from this otherwise still brilliant show.

Tyroc said...

Alan, I think you're dead on.

Not the best. (Although Phil getting hit by the car made me laugh. I'm a little embarrassed to say.)

And sometimes I do wonder in scenes like the one with the Asian-American doctor, if its not just a chance to make offensive jokes. Yes, we're laughing at the racism/ignorance of the characters but the jokes are still based on old stereotypes (the bowing at the end really felt like much.) Not sure why it bothered me this time as I love when Sarah Silverman does it on ehr show. Maybe it just wasn't that funny so felt more offensive.

Especially as it was followed immediately by a scene where once again Colombia is portrayed as ultra-violent, and drug filled. And while certainly Colombia has its problems, it all felt a bit much. A matter of too much in one episode maybe (and these jokes feel too easy beyond bordering on offensive.)

erin said...

I agree about the broadness of the characters, which is why in general the show is so much better than this...it makes them real people.

I think Phil is somewhat amusing, but i was a little uncomfortable with the scene of them on the couch...it didn't seem like Claire particularly likes him. I kind of assumed she saw something in him the rest of us didn't, but if she doesn't, that's an inherent weakness to the family.

I enjoyed Jay really trying to save Manny from himself, as he knows what it's like (have mitchell as a son) with a son being a little different.

I loved how affronted Cam was when Mitchell thought he ate a dozen eggs, and not broke a dozen in his baby project. Poor, chubby Cam. Ha! And Mitchell's photo show, and him being super manly, was pretty damn amusing.

Even when it's not rolling-on-the-floor funny, it's still pretty good!

Chrissie said...

"Broad" is definitely the appropriate word for this one. Past episodes felt more like they were written for the multi-camera format, whereas this one was more like a standard sitcom that had simply removed the laugh track.

As soon as I saw the doctor was Asian, I knew they were going to comment on Lily's background. And speaking of Lily, was there ever an explanation in last week's episode about why they didn't bring her to the family barbecue?

Eires32 said...

Please tell me those were actual pictures of Jesse Tyler Ferguson as a kid.

Heahter said...

Oh good. So it wasn't just me who was really confused and thinking this was one of the weaker episodes. I still thought Gloria telling Jay to break the panpipes and then Manny playing the panpipes (new?) later. Whatever the issues was this episodes was not that bad considering how strong the cast still was. The kid who plays Manny is SOOO GOOD.

Dan said...

Yeah, if you check epguides.com, you will see that this episode was actually supposed to follow the pilot episode--its production number is 1ARG01.

It looks like "Coal Digger" was out of order too.

The order airing so far has been # 2, 4, 5, 3, 1

Marty said...

If this was more of a drama, I'd agree it felt it was a little disjointed. The attempt to tie the three story lines along a parenting thematic arc wasn't strong enough.

But as a comedy, I enjoyed it much better than others who commented here. Great subtle/clever one-liners (The time-out comment). And an always enjoyable sophomoric/physical moment (Phil getting run over by the driver's ed car)

I like Community, but this is my favorite new comedy.

Sebastian said...

Ty Burrell? Really?

I give you that he completely stole every scene he was in on "Back to You" but I really don't think he stole the pilot. Ed O'Neill was just too good in the pilot for that.

I think Ty stole episode three with his performance on the couch on the other hand :-)

So Cal said...

Alan-

I was reading Bianco in USA Today, and he HATED tonight's Community. But, he also doesn't think Parks + Rec is all that good, so i guess i don't really value his opinion.

He opined that the smugness of McHale is dragging down the show...DISAGREE SIR

DeeTV said...

I guess I'm in the minority. I thought the episode was pretty funny. I also think this show blows away Community.

I'm also a sucker for slap stick. I thought the scene with Phil getting hit by the car was hysterical. I watched it at least 3 times. And had to get a tissue to dry my tears. I'm laughing right now just thinking about it.

On another note...Anybody else getting annoyed by how many shows are having the actors directly address the camera? I can't think of what it's called, "breaking the wall" or something like that. If it's supposed to be some sort of interview/documentary, how long can that premise go on?

domino87 said...

"In Mexico, Manny went to Pablo Escobar Elementary School. If you were pulled out of class it was definitely to identify a body."

Still laughing.

JAM said...

As this was the first time I've actually seen the show, and I thought it was pretty hysterical and miles above so much of its genre right now -- the thought that this was a disappointingly weak showing is very exciting.

I think, "Does it come from space?" may become a household catchphrase.

Anonymous said...

Ty Burrell is the funniest thing on this show by far and they're giving him most of the best material. It amazes me that there are fans of MF who don't like Phil or think he's too over the top. I completely disagree. The guy who plays Cameron is getting funnier each week too. His scenes with the Asian doctor were hilarious.

I don't get the Community v. MF debate either but they are definitely my 2 favorite new shows. Its hard to make a fair comparison because MF has an advantage in being the only show I watch on Wednesdays. Community on the other hand is part of the overcrowded Thursday night lineup. I DVR 5 hours of TV in 3 hours of real time on Thursday night. Its ridiculous. So Community is more likely to get overshadowed if there is a particularly strong episode of something else on the same night (such as The Office episode last week, or Always Sunny the week before that).

Michael said...

Pablo Escobar elementary? Comedy!

LA said...

Please tell me those were actual pictures of Jesse Tyler Ferguson as a kid.

He tweeted that, indeed, those were real childhood photos.

Pablo Escobar Elementary was in *Colombia,* not Mexico!

Q Ball said...

I still don't see why a hottie like Claire would marry a sad sack like Phil.

Besides that, weak episode, but still a good show.

paul in kirkland said...

I thought this was definitely the weakest episode of the year.

I can't stand Phil. I understand all of the characters are somewhat caricatures, but Phil is just stupid. I much prefer it when they inject a little humanity into Phil so we can see he has a normal side, like at the end of Coal Digger. There's a parallel with The Office here too; if they didn't occasionally have Michael Scott surprise us with humanity/tenderness/intelligence we'd have written him off long ago.

On the other hand, every time Cameron shows up on the screen I start smiling, waiting for something hilarious to happen. I wonder if he fell while running with the garbage can on purpose, or by accident and just stayed in character.

"How do they DO that? Is there a satellite or something?" Awesome.

JERRY said...

Not as hilarious, but I'll say it again, another SOLID EPISODE.

I don't get the hate Phil is getting. NOTHING like michael scott.

As for continuity, I like that the stairway step still isn't fixed!! Hope they keep the joke going!

gina said...

I don't get why people are so upset that Phil is drawn broadly. I would point out to naysayers some of the best television characters of all time have been widely drawn bumbling bufoons. Lets not forget Kramer from Seinfeld who was an out-and-out clown. Lets not forget Joey Tribiani who was a dense airhead for the entire run of the show but was a great character. Not all characters have to have depth like Archie Bunker and Roseanne. Some characters can just be buffoons and still work. Joey, Kramer and Ted Baxter are the best examples. If Phil is destined to remain a clown for the duration of the show, I say that's not the worst thing for the show.

gravyboat said...

Gina, while I can't speak for everybody, Phil being drawn so broadly doesn't quite sit well with me because, whatever the quirks of the other characters and whatever the liberties with verisimilitude the show may take, Phil being so broad feels incongruous with the rest of the show. So much of the rest of the show is grounded, and striving for something that at least resembles realism. But Phil, as fantastic as Ty Burrell has been, feels out of place.

Paul Outlaw said...

Knowing several guys like Phil, I would have to say that the portrayal is pretty realistic. And Ty Burrell nails it every week. There's much more subtlety than broadness in what he's doing, in my opinion.

alex s. said...

For me, MF is a weird mix of real characters and characters which could only exist in Hollywood writers' rooms. Phil and Manny seem like all quirk, and it's jarring. Cameron and Mitchell are usually drawn well, but then one week Cameron has never been in a Costco, and this week Mitchel has never seen an Asian person before.

(The last part is the sort of thing that kills The Middle, and almost any other sitcom set in "exotic" locations (any place other than big US coastal cities). Apparently it's acceptable to assume people there have never even seen a TV before, much less read a book.)

paul in kirkland said...

Question for Alan if he's still watching this thread :)

Do you think they re-order the episodes like this so they can get early momentum and get signed for the rest of the season?

If not, I have no idea why this would be in this place in the order.

rosengje said...

I liked the bit with the Asian doctor just because it showed that as a gay man Cameron is still able to be somewhat culturally insensitive. I think tv shows occasionally go so far out of their way to show they are politically correct that they lionize their minority characters.

garrett said...

i don't get if MF tries to be a real mockumentary. a real "Reality" show. the camera randomly gravitates to punchlines, like phil getting hit by a car. it feels too "over the top" scripted, and from the way its edited, one can obviously see multiple takes where camera men should be standing. as a film student, its irritating to watch MF.

in the parking lot, would two gay men capriciously panic in front of a camera crew that much? do they really have that little self awareness?

i think the funniest thing that could happen on this show would be phil's wife calling out phil for being a michael scott rip off. i mean, they are a "modern family", are they pretending the office doesn't exist?

Angela said...

Thank god I still liked it! Someone said there are 5 good comedies? So far this is the only one I'm into. The canned laughter as Alan said ruins it for me Like I can't figure out if something is funny without it.
Alex-S: I've never been to Costco! I avoid other big box stores like the plague and yet I thought that part was funny (in a previous episode.)
I think Cameran and Mitchel are the funniest also.
I loved the car locked scene.
I like this show because the characters are real. And I could totally relate to them panicking over locking Lilly in the car, especially with the line "and people are judging us".
I didn't care for the Asian doctor/Cam scene. It's been done way too much. And Phil's lines are a bit too much,/weird for me, but all in all I'll take it!
Angela