Thursday, January 07, 2010

Modern Family, "Up All Night": The family stone

A quick review of last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I put the weasel in my pants...

"Up All Night" was yet another "Modern Family" episode to keep the three families separate (save for Phil doing magic for Cam in the tag), and yet another episode that was much less engaging than the ones that either put the whole family together or mix them up into odd combinations.

The pilot showed that the show can, in fact, be very funny even when the three groups aren't interacting (or aren't interacting until the end), so it's not that these characters don't automatically work together. I think the issue is that episodes that take that approach tend to feel a bit more complacent, willing to just do variations on the same handful of jokes for the running time. So while it was funny at first that Phil was afraid of Claire being around the hot firemen, or that Cam refused to go along with Mitchell's plan to Ferber-ize baby Lily - and while some individual jokes within those stories worked, like Cam explaining Lily's love of "Scarface" - overall the episode felt flatter and more repetitive than the show is in stronger episodes like "Fizbo" or "The Incident."

Jay's story was the least overtly comic, but it was also the strongest of the three because it didn't just sit there. It had a beginning (Jay doesn't trust Javier), a middle (Jay lets himself get charmed by Javier), and an end (Jay discovers, as Gloria and Manny did long before, that Javier will always let you down), and was well-played by Ed O'Neill, Benjamin Bratt, Sofia Vergara and Rico Rodriguez.

Also, I'd like them to decide on a consistent plan for the documentary framework (or whatever it is, since the characters don't usually react to the cameras the way people on "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation" do). Phil's talking head about his "golden ticket" clearly took place after he left the hospital - and, therefore, after he had already lost the ticket because Claire got a look at the hot blonde sisters - yet Ty Burrell played the first half of it like he still had metaphorical possession of the thing. If the talking heads are part of a documentary being filmed about the families, then they need to be treated as such, and make sense in the context of the events happening around them. If the idea is that they're more abstract, and an excuse for the characters to share their thoughts directly with the audience, then that needs to be made more clear, in the manner that fourth-wall-breaking sitcoms like "Titus" or "The Bernie Mac Show" (or even the awful "The War at Home") have done in the past. Because the current approach is just distracting.

What did everybody else think?

53 comments:

Otto Man said...

Not the strongest, but still solid.

The call back to "that's how girls end up dead" was a nice touch.

Magnus Anton Lekay said...

I loved the episode and didn't find it detracted at all from the fun of episodes where the family is all together or interacting. I actually rather enjoy not seeing them always together. The only thing that bored me was the running fireman joke.

John C said...

Too many lessons. Not enough laughs. I'm willing to accept that the show always has to end with some sort of deliberately heartwarming mushiness, but I'd like to see it kept within bounds.

Joseph Thomson said...

I picked up on the Phil talking head and felt exactly the same way.

I'm still not worried about Modern Family though. Even in weeks like this or the Christmas episode, it still has me laughing more than anything else at the moment (though I'm sure that'll all have changed by next week).

Lizbeth said...

Egads, I tried the Ferber Method with my own kids a dozen years ago and I think I'm still scarred from it...so of course I laughed at Cam's maternal weakness regarding Ferberizing Lily.

My husband on the other hand, was like "what is Ferberizing?" I have no idea how he could forget our horrific foray into this (Ferber Amnesia perhaps?). We had the damn book! We let our babies cry themselves into such misery they sometimes projectile vomited before I ran in and "rescued" them.

Ferberizing is not for the weak...and Modern Family didn't show the worst of it....but I'm just glad I can laugh about it now.

Will said...

Yes! Thank you for bringing up Phil's talking head. I mentioned to my wife how it made no sense, and she came back with, "Honey, it's a TV show." But the inner logic of the TV show still has to make sense! Otherwise, to quote Christian Bale, "it's f'ing distracting!"

JanieJones said...

It wasn't the best episode but it had it's moments. Cam explaining to Mitchell about Lily's love of Scarface had me laughing. Also, Mitchell monitoring Cam when Lily was in her crib was very funny too.
I would be crazy not to admit that I loved seeing Benjamin Bratt as the semi deadbeat father ( I love seeing BB in pretty much anything;). I enjoyed the Jay/Javier storyline.

I pretty much started to block out Phil's talking head and the whole firemen tag. It was extremely distracting and annoying.

Anonymous said...

How is no one mentioning "Don't talk black to me"? That line was perfect.

Also, the timing of Phil saying "Don't worry, everything is going to be OK...but it may not be" had me laughin because Jake looked devastated every time he said that.

forg/jecoup said...

I love the first part with the kids interviews lol at talk black/talk back and manny's lines haha

Marc said...

with all due respect, I thought this ep was brilliant, I was laughing my ass of particularly at the scenes where Cam kept going in the room to get the baby.

As oppossed to OFFICE or PARC and REC, all these storylines feel realistic (michael scott would have been fired many times by now in a real office) and they still make me laugh so hard, the lines last night including dont talk black to me were fantastic. ben bratt was the best i have ever seen him. honestly i am shocked at your take on it, but thats what makes the world go round

Indeed said...

Not the best episode, but definitely some great moments:
Excuse my messing up the quotes...
Cam: "That's the sound of my daughter crying for help" (in the event of racoons kidnapping her)
Phil: "Kids come around me now like you're huggging but jsut don't touch me."

Josh said...

This show continues to tear me in two: on the one hand, I laugh a lot (the "Don't talk black to me" line was very funny, and Ty Burrell, in general, is the strongest performer in terms of wacky comedy), but on the other hand, the flaws I perceive with this show drive me crazy.

Thank you, Alan, for bringing up the talking head that Phil has, re: the golden ticket. I realize that kind of talking head is used a lot in reality shows (meaning, a contestant on, say, "Survivor" talking about an event as it happens, even if it happened hours ago), but it's annoying and patently false. Honestly, because Phil was obviously doing the talking head post-hospital, I was thrown by the appearance of the blonde women.

That, along with the once-again schmaltzy ending about what it means to be an adult, threw me off again. I want to love this show, but I don't.

However, if Benjamin Bratt comes back, I'm all for it. He was great, if only for playing someone gregarious; that said, Dodger Stadium? Really?

knocsucow00 said...

I thought it was hilarious when Mitchell using the small pink child's chair (like a bear tamer) was pushing Cam away from the baby's room, especially after they had just referenced Cam was a momma bear.

RD said...

Awful "the war at home"? lol I enjoyed that show.

Anyways, It was a decent episode. Had some funny moments. "Don't talk black to me"

forg/jecoup said...

I was also laughing when Cam was crying when he can't take Lily crying, that man is so funny

Jennifer said...

I actually really enjoyed the Jay-seduced-by-Javier storyline, that worked for me.

Wow, Mitchell comes off as an asshole in this one (yes, you are going to be a "the mean dad", you already are). That was painful...though since I was on Cameron's side, I was biased.

"She loves the nightclub massacre scene" reminded me of the scene where Tom Selleck is reading some story about boxing to Mary in Three Men And A Baby. "She doesn't understand the words anyway."

As for the fireman thing, that only really paid off when Cameron and Mitchell also called the firemen. Heh.

Water weasel in the pants never gets old!

Dylan said...

Re: Documentary realism.

Is it possible that we're using the wrong paradigm as the point of reference? It didn't seem to me so much as a documentary style (a la The Office) as much as a reality show style. In THAT context, it would be completely consistent to have a recap after the fact from the main participants because they are willing participants in the storytelling method.

Just a thought.

Robin said...

Dylan,

I like your reality show take, rather than the documentary. That does seem more consistent with the show's style. Although I'm usually laughing too hard to care if the talking heads are consistent.

dez said...

Because Phil is a such a goof, I buy that he would be excited recounting his Golden Ticket, regardless of the fact that he lost it because of the blondes. It basically played, to me, lik "I had this AWESOME thing--[small voice] and then I lost it [/small voice]." Bragging, followed by a sheepish admission of his doofery.

"Don't talk black to me" is an instant classic.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Dylan, that's an interesting point, but even when reality shows do that, the characters are clearly talking about the past from the present. So you'd hear the reality show version of Phil saying:

"So I was all excited, because I finally had a Golden Ticket! And I could cash the Ticket whenever I want..." etc., etc., followed by the second part of the talking head where he admits he didn't have it anymore. But Phil in the first half was excited, present-tense. Which didn't make sense.

Jerry said...

I agree with Dylan and Robin. It's not supposed to be like "The Office" where all we see is what is shot by the documentary cameras. I thought this show was shot as if the "documentary" camera weren't there. Then they mix in the small "interview" clips from said documentary to show how the characters feel about what happened, or how they try to explain it, or just lie about it. It's more "Real World with a better script" (sorry to bring up that show, but it's similar in that the people on it don't look at the camera or do double takes to it like Jim does in every Office ep) than it is "The Office".

As long as its funny, I'm fine with it.

Zapp Brannigan said...

I just imagined the interviewer asking "When you got her to admit she dressed up, how did it feel?" and us seeing the excited childlike answer from Phil. Then the question, "what about now?"

I think that paradigm still works,we just don't here the questions (Like in Real World)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Zapp, I get that, but, again, in these circumstances on Survivor or Real World, if a happy story ended up badly (or vice versa), the talking head account of the first half is always clearly colored by the second half. Like, it's often very clear when you're watching the Amazing Race interviews if a team lost that leg.

drbluman said...

The show had a bit of a second pilot feel to it (like Carded and Discarded) and did a pretty economical job of reestablishing each character's fundamental traits for new viewers tuning in as a result of ABC promoting the everliving crap out of the Wednesday block over the holidays. But for returning viewers, I'm not sure it brought much to the table and the stories didn't really seem to go anywhere, with the possible exception of the Jay-Javier story. All in all, it seems like more of a reboot than anything else, and I suppose it succeeded well enough in doing that.

I agree the show really needs to figure out what the hell is going on with its THs. Phil's two-parter really took me out of the show.

(I have a similar problem with Parks & Rec's improv TH sequences, but I find that they're generally funny enough that I'm not really bothered.)

Anonymous said...

I don't watch much reality TV, but I seem to recall the talking heads on shows like Top Chef talking more about what they are thinking/feeling in a certain scene without hinting how it would turn out. Almost like a director's commentary of the episode except it runs between the story rather than over top of it. That's how I see the talking heads on this show.

Q Ball said...

It seems like Modern family has had more duds than winners so far. I get why people are excited for this show, but I just don't see how something this inconsistent can be declared "the next great sitcom."

Zachary said...

if you had told me after only having seen the pilots that i would grow to enjoy cougar town more than modern family, i'd have laughed in your face, and yet here we are. modern family still makes me laugh, but the characters are so one-note that i can't really care about them, whereas cougar town has built the cast into a likable group. i still see more long term potential for MF, but come on writers, make an effort.

erin said...

I thought it was dang funny, and I laughed my way through it. Like some of the commenters here, if I'm laughing at it, I don't really care about the documentary/reality show structure. It doesn't phase me. And I thought the reveal of poor Phil losing his golden ticket was just hysterical.

I really enjoyed that Jay got sucked into Javier's world, and I thought Bratt played that perfectly. I don't need the families to mix to make it funny. And I still love Sofia Vergara! her flipping out before taking Manny to school was classic.

The warmth of the show comes through, always, and I really love that about MF.

Anonymous said...

Zapp, I get that, but, again, in these circumstances on Survivor or Real World, if a happy story ended up badly (or vice versa), the talking head account of the first half is always clearly colored by the second half.

Alan, let's assume for a moment that Burrell did, in fact, play it that way. His enthusiasm wasn't about "yes, I've got this thing" but instead "I'm going to emotionally re-live how good I felt about it" while telling the story. It's like knowing who the narrator really is in Fallen, which colors statements that seemed odd first time around.

It's a TV conceit, sure, but I think I can accept it as a "that's just how Phil tells stories" fanwank.

Kubrick's Rube said...

I particluarly enjoyed Phil's battle with himself over protecting his kids from vs giving into his hypochondria.

However, wouldn't a fear of clowns (as displayed in the Fizbo ep) make circus camp a strange wish?

Anonymous said...

I'm with Dylan and Zapp about the talking heads. "Willing participants in the storytelling method" is a exactly right. That is especially true for Phil who clearly loves having the camera's full attention to tell the story his own way.

Alan is mostly right that it doesn't work like this on reality shows but there are some exceptions. Clever reality contestants who 'get it' and know that they're telling a story when they speak to the camera do this all the time. They explain how they felt about something at the time without spoiling future developments. Russell from the recent season of Survivor and Dr. Will/Mike Boogie from Big Brother are good examples. They not only understood the games they were playing, they also understood how the shows work and therefore how to get their talking heads on the air and get themselves the most face time on TV. Big Brother forces all their contestants do this in the diary room regularly so they can edit together a show that makes sense chronologically. It often rings false but BB is a show that manipulates its players all the time so whatever. Reality shows that prefer not to manipulate their own players (ala Amazing Race) don't force them to do talking heads that way.

quangtran said...

@Q Ball

It doesn't sound like you watch the show. Besides, the only inconsistancy is that there's been some episodes that people like as opposed to love, but there's been no real clunkers or duds this season. At least that's how I see it and what I gather from the forums.

I notice the talking head issue, but wasn't bothered by it because producers on reality shows ask people to reword their comments in a present tense to make things easier for the editors.

GabbyD said...

"Like, it's often very clear when you're watching the Amazing Race interviews if a team lost that leg."

really? you can tell? i cant do that for AR.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sometimes teams just seem very down while describing how a challenge went, and the editors can't hide that.

Anonymous said...

oddly enough, the only line I didnt like was "talk black to me"...hmmm

The 'mean dad' conversation that ended with "you call the fire department... I'm changing my shirt' was hilarious, however.

Also, pink-chair bear-wrangler for the win!

Jen said...

I'm really enjoying the idea of the writers of Better Off Ted and Modern Family getting together to watch the Karate Kid. All these references to sweeping the leg!

I was a bit distracted by the weird talking heads in this episode but for the most part, I thought the episode was really enjoyable. Though Bratt's accent was really weirding me out.

Q Ball said...

@Q Ball

It doesn't sound like you watch the show. Besides, the only inconsistancy is that there's been some episodes that people like as opposed to love, but there's been no real clunkers or duds this season. At least that's how I see it and what I gather from the forums.

I notice the talking head issue, but wasn't bothered by it because producers on reality shows ask people to reword their comments in a present tense to make things easier for the editors.


I do watch the show, but the problem is that a few characters are carrying all of the comedy. When MF is clicking it's right up there with the NBC 4, but usually I wind up only laughing 3-4 times per episode at whatever Cam or Manny says. I also can't help but see Phil as a Michael Scott clone. Ty Burrell is really funny, but it seems like the writers have been watching a little too much of The Office.

I subscribe to Alan's "Funny Forgives A Lot" Theory, but I think the writers have to flesh out the family a bit more.

belinda said...

I thought the weakest was Claire and Phil's story (which played on the fireman bit for way too long, and the talking head thing was getting distracting while it decides what it actually is - mostly I just think it wasn't very funny), but I actually quite liked the other two story with Jay/Manni/Gloria and the baby - both gave an insight to why their coupling works. I suppose that would always be a problem when you split up the families, because there would always be a weaker story, but I wasn't actually that bothered by it - since it made it a bit more natural ,in that there's not some artificial reason the three families always spend their time together, which makes it a breather episode between the ones when they do interract. Less funny, but I don't mind it once in a while.

Jon88 said...

"Modern Family" is the Barack Obama of sitcoms. It's time to admit that it's turning out to be not as wonderful as we thought it would be at first.

Anonymous said...

If all of the interviews are given with the person reflecting on the past, it would give the joke away. We would be able to tell that he ends up losing the ticket by his dimeanor. Then the hot blondes talking about his magic tricks doesn't come as much of a shock.

quangtran said...

I do watch the show, but the problem is that a few characters are carrying all of the comedy. When MF is clicking it's right up there with the NBC 4, but usually I wind up only laughing 3-4 times per episode at whatever Cam or Manny says. I also can't help but see Phil as a Michael Scott clone. Ty Burrell is really funny, but it seems like the writers have been watching a little too much of The Office.

I subscribe to Alan's "Funny Forgives A Lot" Theory, but I think the writers have to flesh out the family a bit more.


Well, Phil's my favourite (I probably rewound the "death is coming" scene a dozen times), so I think the show does a great job of balancing 10 characters, all of whom I like. As for really fleshing out the characters and relationship, I only expect them to do that once in a while (like the brother-sister stuff in the fencing episode, showing Phil as the good husband for once in the Edward Norton episode, the writers said they'll delve into father/gay son stuff in a future ep), and the rest of the time I just expect the show to be warm and funny. Which I do.

KplayaJA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc said...

this is the only blog where people i see are nitpicking MF and saying it's not that good. yet I come here and saee how great COMMUNITY is or other NBC comedies that to me are far more uneven. to each their own, but I really think you guys are the minority and I think it's because this show is not as snarky as the other shows you seem to prefer. I thought last nights ep was beyong hysterical. I never laugh out loud last night watching COMMUNITY and others but Ill go with COMMUNITY.

KplayaJA said...

"I'm ok now... OHHHHH THAT'S CANCER!" LMAO!!!!

Barcelona said...

Ok, bear with my English, please. It's my first time ever participating at any forum.

I don't understand all this need you guys have to give a logical - realistical explanation to the talking heads. IMHO I see the talking heads as a simple narrative/stylistical choice made by the filmmakers. It's not necessarily driven by logic or truth -- the only truth that counts is the truth they make as the story goes. Just like the documentary style in which the series is shot doesn't mean a crew is there, covering these families at their homes (which, on the other hand, would never EVER give such a sophisticated result: there are obviously several cameras and camera positions that need second takes, at the very least), the talking heads don't mean there is a 'before' or an 'after' the actual scene. Only the moment as we see it happening exists, and the characters are there, with us, providing commentary or driving home the jokes, improving on them. It's just a storytelling device; another way to break the fourth wall that uses some of the codes that we all have become accostumed by now thanks to all the reality shows of the last decade. So that's how I see it. Perhaps I'm wrong, but at least I'm not bothered or distracted by it. On the contrary. It gives me a sense of proximity with these characters as they tell and reenact their stories to me.

Now, on the other hand... calling the firemen to be taken to the hospital---for a kidney stone? For a sprained ankle? That really, REALLY, felt weird to me! I mean, we are not talking about old people with incapacitating circumstances, here... Maybe it's cultural, maybe something I don't know about your country and it works that way (I'm Spaniard; I don't even live in the States), but that felt very strange to me. Almost like a waste of resources. The firemen? For THAT?

Oh, well. Even so. It didn't take the fun away from the show. I still think it's the best of the bunch, and I like it very much.

Anonymous said...

@Barcelona: I found calling the firemen to make complete sense, considering the actual motives for doing so. It is a waste of resources. That's part of what makes it funny.

Tyroc said...

The episode was fine. "Better Off Ted" was amazing this week (both episodes.)

And yet, only one of them will be on the air in May.

Sad.

Dylan said...

Alan,

There's plenty of reality shows where the action on screen is showing something and the contestant in a cutaway says, "I'm excited, I'm nervous, etc."

Anonymous said...

I never got the 'talking black' thing. I was in and out maybe I missed it.

Zach said...

Favorite moment:

[Javier].. I brought LOBSTER!!

[triumphantly flops two enormous, clearly dead, thus inedible, lobsters at Jay and ex wife]

Nevada Smith said...

Don't see this as one of the weaker episodes. It's the kind of show that doesn't make me compare one episode to another (yet) because the quality stays pretty high (and it's a new show after all even though it seems like we know these people for a long time). Still more laughs per 1/2 hour (20 minutes?) than anything else on TV right now (including the Office). One of the few shows that has ever made me laugh out loud-and if a show can do that even once in 1/2 hour that's pretty damn good.
(Phil: Don't scare the kids...oh death is coming!-cracked me up)

Anonymous said...

I thought this episode was actually really good. Modern Family has really talented and experienced writers, who actually understand the importance of developing characters through a balance of 'serious' lessons and just good old humor. The writers know that this show is going to be picked up for the next season. So now they're writing while thinking in long terms (ie. seasons, not episodes). For example... all the Office fans out there, it took 3 seasons for Jim and Pam to finally be a couple.. and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Anyway, I'm not saying what you're saying is not legit. I do agree with some of the weaknesses in this episode. But let's have faith in the team because this show is a solid sitcom. And with the whole 'talking heads' thing. It doesn't really bother me because that's how documentaries film, and that's just the way Phil tells his stories. Quoting, it's more of a "I'm going to emotionally re-live how good I felt about it" interview

Schmoker said...

I think as long as a show is funny, and this one usually is, that I could care less about the logic of the format.

I also noticed the way Phil's talking head didn't sync up, and I thought about how it didn't make sense that Phil would be talking about the Golden Ticket one minute, only to acknowledge losing it in what seemed to be the same talking head.

But I didn't care, because it all made me laugh. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but there is so little that makes me laugh these days that I could care less if they violate the logic of documentary style.

After all, how long does it take to film a documentary about Dunder-Mifflin Scranton???? You'd think six years of footage would be enough, eh?

Just be funny and let me worry about the hand waving I need to do. That's my motto.