Thursday, April 01, 2010

Modern Family, "Game Changer": The book of Jobs

A review of last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as it's go time...

Product integration has become a necessary evil in the TV business. As more and more people gain the ability to skip over the ads that air in between segments of TV shows, the networks have to counter by inserting the ads into the shows. Some shows handle this well by turning it into a self-aware joke ("30 Rock"), and some clumsily and shamlessly throw in the plugs (there was an episode of "Heroes" where Claire got super-excited that HRG had specifically bought her some ugly car). Emily Nussbaum wrote a story last season where she looked at some of the highs and lows of this particular art form, but everyone agrees we're stuck with it.

And as product integration goes, this episode-long plug for the iPad was kind of icky. Yes, Phil has been established as a lover of gadgets, some more useful than others, and if the "Modern Family" writers had tried to - or been allowed to - let some of the other characters question the necessity of the iPad, even as Phil launched a passionate defense, it might have worked better. But devoting the main plot of an episode to Claire desperately trying to get Phil this awesome and super-popular gift, and then climaxing it with the entire cast standing around Phil's new iPad and oooh'ing and aah'ing? Ick. And I say this as someone whose hand is surgically glued to his iPhone.

Beyond that, though, "Game Changer" felt to me like one of the weaker episodes the show's done in a while. As with Phil's love of the iPad, most of the characterization was on-point (Cam's fierce protection of Lily, Manny and Jay's competitiveness, Alex trying to kill Luke), but it felt like there was something missing that I can't quite put my finger on. Like, I could intellectually appreciate why most of the jokes (Jay's disappointment at hearing the tool belt built a gift-wrapping station, or Phil declaring that the 11th birthday party was "when I knew I was funny") should have worked, but something got lost in translation from the page to the final production. I think the only time I laughed out loud was when Manny held out his wrist for the watch.

The characters are so lovingly-rendered that "Modern Family" has now reached the point where I enjoy an episode even if it doesn't make me chuckle much, but this definitely wasn't the follow-up to last week's great "Starry Night" that I was hoping for.

What did everybody else think?

106 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another laugh out loud moment: Manny asking if he had time for a steam. That kid is awesome.

Robin said...

I thought it was a sign of how far Phil's character has come that I genuinely felt bad for him when he thought he'd have a crappy birthday.

Agreed, not the best episode ever, but I thought it was pretty good. And I really didn't find the product placement icky at all. Maybe it's because I know far too many people who would squeal like a little girl if they got an iPad for a present.

Anonymous said...

I loved Cam listening to the soap opera unfolding on the baby monitor, then him stepping in to save the day, and how that turned sour!

LC

elizs said...

I'm with Robin - I felt the integration worked because Phil is truly believable as an "early adopter" type.

Now, I didn't laugh out loud as much at this episode as I have at others. But still . . . Gloria & Manny kicking a** at chess, Cam saying "it's go time", Marshall saying "Go to sleep" to the guy he barely has a hold on, Phil's response to not-his-party? Great stuff.

Garrett said...

It was one of their weaker episodes, but the iPad obsession didn't seem much more out there than what I've heard in real life.

Asta said...

I didn't care for the episode at all. There were a few mildly amusing moments, but that was it. The various plotlines didn't coalesce in some way, as they usually do. The baby monitor drama had nothing to do with the ipad storyline. I'm used to feeling a little sorry for Phil, but his crappy birthday actually made me sad - first, because he believed no one really cared and then when everything was made OK simply by getting an ipad. I also took issue with Luke's lying being accepted at the end. And when has Luke been such a liar? He's embellished before, but I don't recall him being so untruthful. Unlike the other characters, he seemed to be written for the episode rather than true to what we know about him.

forg/jecoup said...

I like the episode, the iPad product placement didn't bother me that much most especially because of this line
"The iPad comes out on my actual birthday. It's like Steve Jobs and God got together to say: 'We love you, Phil!'
I like this product placement better than how 30 Rock did it with Snapple and the TV thing (I forgot what brand) earlier this season which really unashamed blatant promotion unlike this story where it is believable that Phil would go loco for the iPad and Claire to feel really bad not getting his husband one on the day of the release

The baby monitor soap opera thing with Cam didn't work for me but as usual I love Cam's over the top reactions especially when he was "gossiping" with Lily.

And I also felt bad when Phil resigned to the fact that he had a crappy birthday and he just have to deal with it.

I love how Manny owned Jay in chess, woot!

Anthony Strand said...

I guess because I tend to think of sitcoms in terms of how they'll age, I thought the iPad thing played a lot more as a "capture this moment in pop culture" thing than as an ad.

Anyway, I thought the episode was all right. I really love Mitchell protesting that the monitor soap was "my program" when Cam turned it off.

JayAtIU said...

Jeez. I'm really... shocked. I thought that this was one of my recent favorites for this show. I loved the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu reference as Marshall got put to sleep (but I'm an MMA fan, so...). And is there maybe a bit of souring on the iPad gag since it's an iPad (e.g. would it have been funnier if it was some other gadget)?

I'm still on a bit of a different wavelength, though, as I continue to struggle to enjoy Community at all; yet, it seems to consistently get higher marks on this blog than Modern Family does. I think that Modern Family is far-and-away a better show than Community (and I REALLY want to like and enjoy Community, but it's been consistently weak, for me).

Amy Catherine said...

Yet another laugh out loud moment: Manny telling Gloria his teachers aren't trying to trick him.

Carmichael Harold said...

I guess I'm with Alan on the product placement. It's something that rarely bothers me on TV (as I know it's often necessary to keep shows I like on the air), and I was actually fine with it up until the end. Somehow, watching Phil, Claire & family act like the iPad was the monolith in 2001 really irked.

The ending turned what was a Phil story about an iPad into an iPad story starring Phil. At that point it was just a commercial and left me cold.

Kevin said...

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I thought it was borderline disgusting how blatant the product placement was. I'll give the writers credit for tucking it into some credible character behavior, but the fact is, this episode wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the iPad. At best product placement should be in the background, not the focal point of the story. Other than that, though, this was a sub-par episode. Everything fell flat, and there were only one or two chuckles.

Josh said...

I was fine with the iPad obsession until, as you mentioned, that last scene, when it's not just that everyone goes ga-ga for it, but that the iPad represents the happy ending Phil was looking for.

That said, right before, when Phil poorly attempts to be some kind of emotionless robot, I was laughing.

Still, the product integration did drive me up the wall, though it does help that I'm not clued into the obsessive nature of the device.

Anonymous said...

I loved it, as usual. I lauged at the Manny thing. I loved Gloria walking up the stairs and Jay telling her to stop with ehs. And I adored Manny holding his hand out for the watch. I think they could have skipped the Phil at the batting cages and little Phil part. Having him just be gone and come home dead inside would have worked better IMO and I'd have liked to see Luke dealing with the pizza and finding his dad the gift.

But whatever, I enjoyed it. It was a quick show as usual and I love the characters so much now. Plus, it's tv. They need to make money. I like how well they did the ipad plug while staying true to the show. I liked it far more than 30 rock.

Anonymous said...

I thought the product placement was done really well - no "ick" whatsoever. Even the ooh-ing and aah-ing at the end was consistent with (and possibly a parody of) the real-life media/fanboy hype surrounding the iPad and the constantly growing cult of Apple. The iPad was the *perfect* product for Phil to have desperately wanted on his birthday and to give him the happy resolution he wanted.

I though the product placement was true both to the characters involved and to the tone of the show, in the way that the "self-aware" product placement on 30 Rock has worked well on that show.

CEK said...

Alan, you should have liked this one. The obvious "Modern Family" feel good ending would have been Phil learning to be happy on his birthday with what he has. But instead it went with the colder, getting the loot he wanted made him happy.

Anonymous said...

30 Rock does product placement about as well as it does guest stars... about 1 out of 7 end up funny. Good luck Matt Damon.

Jen said...

I definitely didn't mind the product placement because as cheesy as it may have been, I thought it was incredibly realistic. And Phil whispering 'I love you' to the iPad and petting it at the end was something I could completely identify with as the former girlfriend of a techie early adopter (coincidence that it's former? I think not!).

Overall though I found myself not paying too much attention to this episode. So I'd say it doesn't rank up there with many of the better eps, but still decent. I especially enjoyed Gloria taunting Jay as she kept going up the stairs.

Calogero Orr said...

I felt the iPad integration fit Phil so well that it never bothered me. And I thought this episode was very funny and did not seem off in any way. I watched it with a friend who is not a fan of MF or any comedies on network television and he laughed out loud several times. At the end of the episode he said that the show is getting funnier and funnier. For what it's worth, the biggest laugh elicited at my house was Phil's line leading into commercial after he burned himself on the griddle: "Dont wash this until we see if I can get my skin back" and the entire final sequence where everyone seems to be ruining Phil's already lackluster birthday, culminating in his "I no longer desire food" line.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it as I usually do. I thought the entire Jay/Mitchell scene about Jay teaching him to fight was pretty funny. I didn't even know the iPad was a real device so I wasn't bothered by it. It might as well have been called widget as far as I'm concerned. I also thought it was pretty funny when Jay said we use chess pieces to play the game here and not to smuggle drugs across the border. You just knew Manny would be great at chess. That kid is great on this show. I smile the second I see him in a scene.

katie71483 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
katie71483 said...

I'm not really a fan of last night's episode. I really didn't like the fact that the entire episode was basically a commercial. And the terrible birthday was forever immortalized in John Hughes' 16 Candles. I know that's a different medium, but who can follow that?

That's not to say I didn't have some chuckles - Manny, Jay and the watch, Mitchell and Cam obsessing over the "show" on the baby monitor, etc. It just didn't come close to last week's episode.

dez said...

I think it would be funny if in a future ep, we see the iPad in the background, completely unused (or maybe used as a trivet). Once the next gadget is out, Phil will forget all about it :-)

Jennifer said...

The iPad stuff didn't bother me because everyone will be doing that today in real life, regardless of birthday. It wasn't fakey-annoying to me, it pretty much blended in with the world in general. So eh, okay.

(Naturally, Phil's birthday is April Fool's.)

Anonymous said...

I have to say, as a tech lover myself, I would have wanted to stand in line myself instead of sending my wife to do it. If you're that excited over it, you've either already pre-ordered it and guaranteed yourself of getting your hands on it day one, or you are wanting to go out and be there to get it yourself. Having said that I still enjoyed the episode.

Anonymous said...

Nope...yet another incorrect review.

Dr Smith said...

Look, guys....TV exists b/c products need to be advertised. PERIOD. TV is nothing more than a series of ads with dramatic sequences in between to keep you from walking away and reading a book or spending time with your family & friends. The idea that TV has any kind of integrity is nonsense. So, if we want to be able to blow through the ads using our TIVOs (and who doesn't?), we have to expect that the advertisers are going to integrate their products into the dramatic stuff we love so much. To me a random product shot (such as the CU of the cell phone in the Lady Gaga video) is much more distracting/jarring than what we saw on Modern Family last night. We can only hope that clever writers (like the ones on MF and 30 Rock) can manage to weave the products into the storylines in a non-distracting way.

"But the WHOLE EPISODE was about ipad-worship!" True, but it was an accurate reflection of society's i-product worship. Granted that worship is a direct result of the carefully orchestrated PR and marketing campaigns that Apple creates in order to sell its product, which is nothing more than an iphone the size of a TV tray and NO PHONE, aaaand now I'm getting a headache....

BTW: I loved the shot of Phil strolling into the house with the shovel. Well done.

Brandon Nowalk said...

I don't see what the big problem is with product placement. I sort of buy the distraction argument, but it's not like we go out of our way in real life not to mention name-brands, and for Phil and the iPad, as others have noted, it really makes sense.

Other people have argued that they don't like being sold to, which is certainly understandable if perhaps a misapplied criticism. (It's not like they're sneaking it in...but even if they were, so what?) I'm not an Apple guy, and I have no interest in an iPad. But Phil would, and I was surprisingly invested in whether or not his family would come through.

Anyway, I laughed a lot, I loved the way the families intertwined throughout the day, and we're at a point where I find every character funny, interesting, and capable.

Ryan said...

I gotta say I liked it a lot and the Ipad stuff was completely realistic and very Phil-like.

Anonymous said...

Placement or not it was still funny. And more-or-less spot on. There are at least three people at my office who won't shut up about the iPad. They aren't getting paid. And they sure aren't funny. But I laugh at them more so b/c of this ep.

Anonymous said...

Alan, you should have liked this one.

Really, CEK? Really?

Bryan said...

I have to say I'm really surprised at all the support of this half hour ad for the ipad. Even by current standards this was really really over the top (enough so that it actually makes me NOT want an ipad)

When she brought the ipad in the kitchen and had him blow out the candles and then said something like it really does that or whatever - I groaned - heavily.

A much much better show would've been him wanting something fictitious like the ipad but something they could've made fun of a little.

But then they wouldn't have got all that money.

whores.

Nat said...

It was a good episode, I personally thought it was better than last weeks.

The blatant ipad promotion was a little bit too much for me, but at least it fit into the story. The ending with the cake was icky though

Tommy Salami said...

I loved everything except the iPad stuff. It was pretty transparent, almost as if the writers had it pushed on them and they decided to make it lame, especially with the 80's-era Luke ex machina ending. It would have been funny if it got the screen of death while he sat alone on the couch drooling over it at the end.

Danny said...

I dont get how everyone is saying the ending was bad because Phil found happiness with a gift instead of just being happy to be with his family. He was sent into a depression because of his family. He was going to wait for ipad himself, but claire said she would for his birthday, but she didnt come through. His cake and pizza got ruined, he embarrased himself at the batting cage, though that was his own doing.

For him to be thrilled with actually getting the ipad seemed to fit the storyline to me.

As for the ipad itself it wasnt really a big deal, anything new you dont want people touching it and everyone always wants to look at something new and especially hyped. So the family scene didnt bother me, btu when he did say "I love you" out loud to it, that was a little stupid, but not too grating.

Jonah said...

Maybe it was Ty Burrell's delivery, maybe it was perfect crafting of the line by the writers, but I still can't stop from chuckling at Phil's reassuring, "It's ok, honey, I don't feel things anymore."

belinda said...

I liked that we got a glimpse of how competitive (but how good of a wife) Gloria can be too.

Other than that, it was an ok episode. I didn't mind the product integration, but I didn't find nay one particular scene to be majorly funny either. It was all right.

Dionne said...

As an absolute detester of Apple and all of its works, I actually wasn't bothered by the iPad product placement. Claire did make a couple of snide comments about it when Phil said he wanted it, but her standing in line wasn't about getting him an awesome gift, it was about finally getting him something that he wanted.

Mitchell's "fight" scene was hilarious and I loved every single one of Manny's scenes. It wasn't my favourite episode so far, but I thought it was solid.

Dj said...

Alan, your blog makes me further appreciate TV show episodes through your incisive reflections and wit - you are like a real life Abed for us.

I've been waiting all night for your blog on this episode, so I must admit to being a little bummed out by your disappointment.

Product placement like this doesn't make me feel icky - it's not the responsibility of a sitcom to highlight the pros and cons of a product, that's what journalists are for. Rather, a TV show's job is to exploit the narrative possibilities and character developments that are presented by the product's appearance.

If we accept that product placement is a somewhat necessary evil in order to keep these shows on the air, then what's really important to both the viewers and the producers/advertisers is how it's done.

Putting the product in the background or periphery like a Bond movie is distracting, obvious and pretty cheap and nasty (Nokia in Star Trek? Come on). The 30 Rock approach of taking the mickey is marginally more digestible, but it still seems pretty out of place (non-diegetic if you like) and I thought it was done far better and more cohesively in Arrested Development where the blatant product placement actually fit in with the self-reflexive style of the show.

I thought the way it was done in this episode was far superior - integrating not just a product, but its very launch, seamlessly into the narrative, and matching it to the style and nature of the characters, was pretty much as good as it gets. Whether or not you have any interest in the iPad or Apple, you can't deny that it is entirely appropriate that Phil, lovable geek that he is, would be so keen about a gadget like it that he'd have his launch day strategy all mapped out with his online buds. And having it land on his birthday juxtaposed against his wife's well-known inability to get him a present that he actually wants is just about as perfect and seamless as you can get it. And the 'oohing and ahhing' at the end (undercut by Phil's unnatural substitution of Claire)? Pretty much what happens at the end of every MF episode, which you've previously defended as a sign of the show's warmth.

None of that makes me feel icky - it feels entirely consistent with the reality of the show and, if anything, keeps me more engaged.

I'd also point out that despite the identity of the largest shareholder of ABC's parent, up until now all of the logos on the plentiful Macs in MF have been covered up by stickers and the like. So it's not like they've been doing it all the time, like HP on The Office.

So many other things I liked about this episode (eg "He slams the door, then he says he didn't slam the door"), but I disagree with you strongly about the elephant of product placement in the room.

dickey simpkins said...

The episode was alright, but I really don't get the hoopla over product placement. It's Always Sunny devoted an entire episode to Dave and Busters, 30 Rock has gleefully engaged in blatant advertising, and the Office has been a neverending source of ads for HP, Staples, Chili's, etc. I was too young for critical analysis, but did people ever complain about the laundry list of products that Seinfeld pimped?

To me, Phil's fanboyish excitement accurately represents the typical attitude of someone who froths at the mouth at any mention of the iPad.

Allie said...

It's interesting since I've sure hated the Coke cups on American Idol, moticed the Snapple usage on 30 Rock, the infamous Subway pushes on Chuck..and some of those made me uncomnfortable.

This did not for some reason. I kept laughing out loud about Phil's love of the story of how his "Gift" for humor was born, the "early adopter" line, Claire's desperation to please Phil. (Her physical comedy when running, losing her shoe wasn't as brilliant as Phil in the garage last week, but was very funny. I thought.."these people belong together")

The usual sentimental closing of the show was gently mocked with Phil cooing "I love you" to the IPad and Claire thinking it was toward her. That struck as very true to Phil's character.

I love when Cam outvamps anyone and cries funnier than anyone on television - save for maybe Troy on "Community" - but I may love it more when he goes macho. I loved the Gloria/Manny scenes. But mostly I loved Phil in full adult-sized- child blowout. From giddy joy over his bizarre breakfast * to disappointment, trash-talking the batting machine, another 180 degree turn of emotion when he thought he had a party at the FunZone, loved that he stayed at Little Phil"'s party who brought him cake, resignation to his own squashed birthday cake and an opened chess set to sweet euphoria ..I could go on and on. I loved it. I was laughing too much to think about product placement - maybe that's me.

*BTW..imagine Ron "F'ing" Swanson racing toward a breakfast that was waffle between two slices of French toast wrapped in a pancake. On his brthday.

ET said...

I really liked the episode, and didn't even think twice about the product placement, since I'm also in the group that thinks it was completely true to Phil's character. I think it's ten times more jarring when shows use fake substitute names for things -- for example, what if they called the tablet a "UPad," or just used a made-up product? That reminds me of when Law & Order uses substitutes that are obviously based on real people from real crimes -- which I hate. The way Modern Family used the product, it's much more easy to relate to as a viewer, which is how this show (The Office, too, for one) scores a lot of its biggest laughs. Don't get me wrong, I also am concerned about the issue in general -- I don't usually like the smug way that 30 Rock handles it -- but I think Modern Family did it as well as can be reasonably expected.

Rinaldo said...

I thought the whole iPad phenomenon was so right-on-the-button for Phil and what we've come to know about him, the idea of product placement never occurred to me (and I'm usually pretty sharp at seeing it and being annoyed by it). This is so totally what Phil's ideal birthday would be about, whether or not it's a real-life product. (Would it really have been better if they lived in a fictitious universe where the new big thing was the "oPod"?) I loved this episode.

And the plots did combine: Mitchell's feistiness while joining Claire in line was directly related to how inadequate he felt he'd been in the baby-monitor scare.

Kensington said...

I didn't even think of it as product placement.

I just thought it was an episode that was timely enough to tie into the iPad's release, which is, like it or not, kind of a big deal in the culture.

I thought it was a fine episode, and my favorite gag was when Cam busted Phil on bringing a rolled up newspaper to protect Lily.

olucy said...

Hmm....this coming from the guy who listed the potential for product integration at the top of his list in a letter to NBC about why Chuck should be renewed.

I'm looking at today's date...and calling shenanigans.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Olucy... ZING!

forg/jecoup said...

After seeing the iPad on this week's episode I knew there will be a backlash but I'm glad to read some commenters are not bothered about it. I just think some whining about the product placement is an overreaction already.

If the iPad was included in the stories of Cam/Mitchell and Jay/Gloria/Manny then that would be more annoying. Placing the iPad story on Phil is more applicable and makes sense.
Although I just realized that there is some character inconsistency commited because of the product placement because how can technologically challenged Claire operate the iPad to work that Birthday application? But that's a minor issue to me.

Anyway, I love Gloria's delivery of the "alarm clock" line, her accent made it even better :)

P.S
Will there be a Cougar Town review? I kinda felt sad that there was none last week because this one of the few sites that appreciates that show

Will said...

I felt like it was one giant, obnoxious fan-wank.I liked the other two sub-plots quite a bit, but they were completely overshadowed by the slobbering Apple love. I don't think comparisons to the 30 Rock Snapple episode are all that valid, because it was done with a huge wink and a nod to the viewer; something that was completely absent here. This was 22 minutes of free (?) hype. I wonder if everyone got free merchandise or the showrunners and network just got cash.

india said...

The iPad integration wasn't that bad. They had Claire argue for the view that it's just an overpriced toy. And the fact that Phil was acting like an adolescent (as usual) over the iPad was like a reserved statement on the product. Everyone getting in at the end was admittedly a last plug: it may be a toy BUT IT'S REALLY SHINY. SEE. SHINY.

Anyway they can't break the fourth wall like 30 Rock, particularly because they've quashed the documentary framing.

Anonymous said...

Can't read all of the comments right now, so apologies if this has been addressed, but are we 100% sure this was an Apple-initiated product placement? I've seen enough crappy sitcom episodes where they make up a bad fake product name to stand in for the real one everyone knows about (e.g. the eNotebook instead of the iPad) that it was almost refreshing to just see them use the real "hot" product of the day.

The reason I ask in particular is that the iPad is hot enough on its own that I'm not sure Apple would need to do something like this. Could the producers have wanted the storyline since it fits Phil's character and then approached Apple?

olucy said...

Olucy... ZING!

Because I'm O-effing-lucy, susser outer of shenanigans.

The genius of this, of course, is how well it was written and how you managed to weave the prank into your style and sound sincere.

Nicely played.

And it'll be amusing to see how many people won't read the comments before theirs and will gloss over this completely. Starting with this guy: Can't read all of the comments right now, so apologies if this has been addressed...

LA said...

Either I'm becoming immune to product placement or it simply fit for me that Phil would go all cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs over the iPad. My biggest complaint about this episode is that the laugh quotient was way down. There were some good lines, most of them surrounding Manny/Gloria/Jay, but this was a less-than-usual funny episode of Modern Family.

I still can't hear "iPad" without my brain switching straight to feminine product jokes.

LA said...

@Anonymous at 1:05 (PDT) - Seeing as they actually HAD an iPad before its release in their possession to shoot this episode, I'd have to surmise that it was definitely deliberate product integration.

Elena said...

I agree with you Alan, a lot of good bits, but they somehow left me feeling "meh" all put together. What's really bothering me though, are the "documentary" moments. I never liked them much, and am starting to detest them lately.

olucy said...

I agree that it wasn't the strongest of the episodes, but not every ep is going to be an 11.

Who among us hasn't had an off birthday and can relate to Phil? I loved how his birthday, going from bad to worse, sent him to the batting cages for solace, and made Phil a completely sympathetic character. The writers have done a great job of dialing back on Phil's initial buffoonery and making him more three-dimensional, and this only added to that. I love Early Adopter Phil!

I'd agree that this ep didn't have the usual amount of punchy lines/jokes that the best eps do, but 22 minutes with this family is always time well spent. This week wasn't any different in that regard.

Bryan said...

I'm curious to see what Community does about this? (at the very least I'm sure McHale will skewer it on the Soup)

As I noted earlier I definitely very much in the hated it crowd but I know it's been going on forever. I was watching Brubaker the other night and the product placement for Budweiser was hilarious. (I think I noticed it so much because of the old cans) every lable on every can was always facing the camera.

srpad said...

I liked this one more than Alan did. Product placement is fact of TV life so at least they tried to keep it in character. Had it been, say, Mitchell obsessing it would have seemed crass.The way it was handled just seemed vaguely icky.

Besides, if this had been a sitcom before the modern era of product placement, we would have gotten the same storyline but the product would have been a fictionalized version of the iPad called something like the nTablet that would have been an iPad in everything but name.

My favorite part was Gloria speaking in an English(?) accent mimicking the alarm clock.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Olucy, to be clear, I was saying that you had effectively zing'ed me. I was totally serious about the product integration.

Was it actually more blatant than some of the Subway stuff on "Chuck"? Maybe, maybe not, but subjectively, it seems to me to fit better into the more cartoony "Chuck" universe than it does here. Your mileage may vary, as it has for a lot of people here.

Anonymous said...

Alan,
I love Modern Family, but I was really annoyed that the product placement tainted what otherwise would have been a pretty good episode. I actually groaned when I realized what was up -- and this was after sitting through Lost with a big ol' red V stuck on my screen!

I find the Dunphy's are the weakest link on the show, save for Phil who's actually improved over time. I really want to like Claire but I rarely find her funny. I don't know if it's because she's always supposed to play it straight or it's how she's written...anyone else feel this way?

Love Cam when he gets all primal!

Teev said...

My favorite product integration so far has been in the premier of Justified when Ava talked about how great Lysol was for getting her husband's brains off the dining room wall.

olucy said...

Olucy, to be clear, I was saying that you had effectively zing'ed me. I was totally serious about the product integration.

Ah, then the ultimate joke is on me.

I agree with others who had no problem with it. If it was any other product it would be invasive. But it mirrors real-life insanity over this product, so I found it completely believable. And I'm so glad that they didn't try to disguise it as some other "parallel universe product" and just named it head-on.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ah, then the ultimate joke is on me.

Yeah, I don't do April Fool's jokes (at least not in my professional life).

Henry said...

I personally liked it, even though I sorta cringed at the product placement by the end. Loved how Manny was hustling Jay at chess, how Phil mistaked Little Phil's birthday party for his own (though they did telegraph that joke) and when he got cake from Little Phil too. I didn't really get why Phil was a zombie when he came home from the party, but I liked the visual gag of him taking a shovel casually into the house for the cake. The whole Mitchell-learning-self-defense subplot didn't work but I did like when Mitchell asked why he was on the floor after Jay put the sleeper hold on him.

Anonymous said...

Oh and it was so sweet to realize Phil would have been just as happy to have that surprise party at the batting cage.

Alan Sepinwall said...

So it turns out that all the iPad stuff was not product integration. So bizarre.

dickey simpkins said...

@Alan, well now I want those 5 minutes of my life back.

PY said...

This was me:

> are we 100% sure this was an Apple-initiated product placement? ... The reason I ask in particular is that the iPad is hot enough on its own that I'm not sure Apple would need to do something like this. Could the producers have wanted the storyline since it fits Phil's character and then approached Apple?<

Part of the reason the idea of a placement felt funny was that it just felt too blatant to be a placement ... but the major use of the iPad also felt completely natural to the character and, more importantly, is relevant to "modern" culture (the "modern" is part of the show title, you know).

Just look at the backlash here when everyone thought it was a placement. I don't think Apple is that PR unsavvy ... they're probably the most PR savvy company there is.

Anna said...

I didn't take it as product placement. I viewed this as the showing wanting to show how current they are.

That said, i think it would have been nice to be a little more balanced - e.g. having someone (like Mitchell) comment that he should wait 6 months when there will be a new generation iPad that will have fewer bugs, be quicker, more memory, more features for $100 less.

Joseph said...

another confirmation that this wasn't product integration is that all the other Apple products in the show (Luke's iMac, the daughter's Macbook) have the Apple logo obscured.

Word verification: dultibo -- a dumb Heisman trophy winner.

Alan Sepinwall said...

That said, i think it would have been nice to be a little more balanced - e.g. having someone (like Mitchell) comment that he should wait 6 months when there will be a new generation iPad that will have fewer bugs, be quicker, more memory, more features for $100 less.

Exactly. If they weren't being paid for it, I think there was room for more jokes about the silliness of Phil's quest, just like there have been about his love of other brand-less gizmos.

And if Apple refused to give them an iPad as a prop, or to let them use the name because the references weren't 100% positive? Then go with the fake name. This way, it really played like an ad, even though it turned out not to be.

PY said...

And if Apple refused to give them an iPad as a prop, or to let them use the name because the references weren't 100% positive? Then go with the fake name. This way, it really played like an ad, even though it turned out not to be.

Alan, as much as I love you, I don't agree with this take.

I feel that Phil's actions in the episode weren't fawning for fawnings sake. He was meant to stand in for a current archetype we all know in our own lives -- the geek with major "gadget love". And this wasn't unnatural to the character ... they've established this before ( the whole bit about "speakers that look like rocks", etc).

The "geek gadget love" phenomenon is a very current thing. The iPad is the current object of "geek gadget love" lust. Phil was just representing that facet of "modern" society ... as he has all season. If it was out of character, it would have felt wrong, but it was not.

Using the iPad made it feel more real and true to the idea of trying to best represent "modern" soceity ... the "eTablet" would have just felt tonedeaf (at least to me).

LA said...

So it turns out that all the iPad stuff was not product integration. So bizarre.

WHAT? Okay, I stand reluctantly corrected.

Brandon Nowalk said...

"This way, it really played like an ad, even though it turned out not to be."

Again, what exactly is the problem there? Not everyone thought it played like an ad, but even if it did, even if the episode were pimping the iPad, so what? I haven't seen a strictly critical problem with the iPad element of that story.

If it's a semantic trigger (i.e. whenever they mention it, all you can think about is the behind-the-scenes machinations of product integration), then it's clearly not a critical statement, it's a personal one. If it's just a distraction, plenty of people felt it actually lent the show a real-life quality. If it's the "selling out," well I see the moral qualms, but again, the piece of television is artistically intact. It's not especially strong to hate product placement just because it's product placement.

Will said...

Yeah...I call shenanigans on Apple. They may not have paid for it, but there's no way they gave their brand new product over just because they were asked. They had input, script approval, something of the sort. Notice that direct payment is the only thing mentioned in their statement.

PY said...

That said, i think it would have been nice to be a little more balanced - e.g. having someone (like Mitchell) comment that he should wait 6 months when there will be a new generation iPad that will have fewer bugs, be quicker, more memory, more features for $100 less.

Exactly. If they weren't being paid for it, I think there was room for more jokes about the silliness of Phil's quest, just like there have been about his love of other brand-less gizmos.

And ... I think doing this in the context of the show would have actually felt MORE unnatural and tonedeaf. The whole point of the episode was to show the Dunphies rallying around Phil and supporting his iPad geek gadget love ... because it was his birthday. Who was going to be the party pooper who mocked Dad's one birthday wish ... especially after Mom already wet the bed by falling asleep?

And ... who else on the show has the tech savvy to bring up these questions? 90% of US society has no idea about the flaws of the iPad ... they only know the hype. There is no other character in the show who's shown the "geekness" of Phil. Would Haley point out the lack of Flash support? Mitchell has shown no technical competency so far. Manny?

Again, it was natural to bring up the placement questions, but I thought it all flowed within the context of the episode and the attempt of the show to be a representation of "real" modern life.

Bryan said...

So it turns out that all the iPad stuff was not product integration. So bizarre.

Weird - so then it was just a really lame episode written by a staff of Jobs-worshippers.-

I think that's worse.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was because we already had the episode about the remote control, but this product integration didn't bother me because it fit with Phil's character. And all the people (including Alan) clamoring for more balanced coverage of the iPad... it was Phil's birthday. It's not like this episode just came out of him wanting to get an iPad in general. His family was trying to make him happy. I don't know how your families operate, but I think if I asked for a Kindle or something for Christmas or my birthday my family would either buy me one or not, but I doubt they'd question me wanting one.

And, yeah, this seemed no worse than Subway integration on Chuck, which most people on this board are supporters of. In fact, this makes more sense for a plot in Modern Family then constantly referencing Subway does in Chuck episodes (and I don't mind Subway being on Chuck).

And Alan, the only thing I noticed missing from this episode was a cheesy voiceover at the end. Maybe this was what you were referring to? Maybe, deep down in a place you won't admit, you actually like the warm, closing remarks? Ha.

Anonymous said...

Stupid people complaining about product placement only to find out that there was no product placement never ceases to be funny.

Anonymous said...

i honestly didn't think it was product placement until you told us it was (i'm glad it wasn't but it wouldn't affect my reaction to the episode TOO much anyway). i thought the episode was extremely funny and i found phil's "early adopter" mode hilarious and it rang really true for him to be that into the ipad and his birthday.

i also loved that after being taken aback about seeing the black family at the batting cages, he was still ready to be happy when they all cheered and said happy birthday, only to see the other phil behind him.

i honestly think you should re-watch it knowing that it's not product placement and judge it as a normal episode because in my opinion it was wonderful.

also i found that mocking the iPad was inherent in making phil so ridiculously obsessed with it, anything else would've been a little cruel to something that hasn't even been released yet.

Jen said...

As PY pointed out above, we've had several episodes where Phil is raving about geeky stuff he wants (night vision goggles, speakers that look like rocks, a five function fully articulating robot... that has feelings!) and Claire is shown having no clue about this stuff. Everything about this episode was in keeping with already established characterizations. And the idea that any of the other family members would even bother to know about the iPad's drawbacks when some of the commenters here had never even heard of it (really now?), just seems silly.

arrabbiata said...

At the beginning of the episode I felt it was natural that Phil would want the latest hot gadget. And generally I think it's more natural when tv shows use common name brands here and there, since that is the way the real world is. I actually notice it more when they go out of their way to come up with a fake or generic name- makes me think even more about the real life product they are not promoting. (not that I blame those shows for not giving placement to a product not paying for such treatment)

As the episode went on I started thinking more and more that it was feeling like an Apple commercial. And then I'm back to thinking more about the product than the show. I understand the economics that drive product placement, and so I accept it as a necessary evil if it keeps shows I really enjoy (like Modern Family and Chuck) on the air.

And I'll say this- I was far less bothered by this 30 minute commercial (whether or not Apple paid for it) for the iPad, a product I have no interest in owning, than I was by that damn red V and countdown clock forced on all the Lost viewers this week.

Allie said...

Cool. I'm not shocked in the least that there was no product placement. It always felt authentically Phil-like. He's a giant kid, he loves toys, shiny things, gadgets, and he's got the focus of a child, as the hilarious episode of last week showed.

I am happier to know I was right. Nice.

Anonymous said...

The product placement was way more cringeworthy on last night's episode of Bones, where two characters awkwardly managed to work in the Toyota Sienna's (mentioned by name) ample roominess and revolutionary backup camera technology. I was almost surprised when they didn't continue on to discuss how hard the company was working to gain back America's trust.

SoCal said...

I thought this episode was hilarious! Maybe its cuz i work in media, but i didn't find the placement annoying at all. Phil's spiraling depression was hilarious and certainly played right into the character.

mj said...

Have Apple even been advertising the iPad recently in regular tv ads? There's an order backlog already so if you haven't pre-ordered you won't get it for at least 10 days. And Apple would have known this for some time. Which is why it seems they aren't currently advertising the iPads on tv. Which is also why, I thought, they wouldn't pay for product placement.

And there was no mention of Apple the company in the show, not even a real Apple Store was used in the Claire/Mitchell scene, nor did Claire mention going all over town to Apple Stores to find an iPad. I thought there were too many clues dropped that it WASN'T product placement (almost to the point of distraction!).

Even if Apple were going to do a product placement, surely The Big Bang Theory would have been a better outlet, not only because of the likely demographics but because TBBT reaches a significantly greater audience.

So, assuming it was not product placement, I agree with commenters who saw the episode as an inspired way of connecting the show with the real world. It made me emotionally connect with the outcome much more than if the product had been called the iSlate or something as meaningless. Very cleverly done, MF writers.

Anonymous said...

What, no comment on Phil's, "Ellie Mae" line to Claire? Brilliant. Pop culture at its finest.

Dj said...

And there was no mention of Apple the company in the show, not even a real Apple Store was used in the Claire/Mitchell scene, nor did Claire mention going all over town to Apple Stores to find an iPad. I thought there were too many clues dropped that it WASN'T product placement (almost to the point of distraction!).

I heard the A-bomb once or twice, and I'm fairly certain that that actually was the Apple Store at The Grove.

As for the fact that Apple didn't pay for the product placement - again, doesn't make much difference since it's CEO has a large stake in ABC/Disney. That's why you wouldn't see something like this on Big Bang Theory. Payment or not, it is what it is - it's just done very well.

Another thought on the ending, especially Phil's 'care so much' and 'first day of the rest of your life' comments - this is from the guy who has very specific desires for a robot dog, night vision goggles, GPS watch etc. How are his reactions in any way unexpected or jarring?

I'd feel icky if someone referred to the iPad as a 'magical and revolutionary product', just like I did when Liz monologues about Verizon's network - and then she turns to the camera and asks 'Can we have our money now?' That's shoving something down your throat and detracting from the actual meat of the show, while MF's iPad references made it a part of a believable story within the show, which is far more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Personally I loved the iPad storyline. It totally hit home for me--my birthday is next week and I've been dropping hints for two months once I realized it would be coming out right on time. Claire's reactions were totally in character, and as someone who's been dragged by my daughter to early Black Friday sales I totally related to her falling asleep. Admittedly the final scene was a little over the top (I would have totally preferred a scene where he ended up feeling let down by the actual thing after all the hype and buildup) but I guess there's no way that would fly--maybe in a director's cut or something!

Cameron said...

I liked this episode too.

But I'm pretty sure that wanting a highly visible and popular product doesn't make you an early adopter!

KC said...

Is it really product placement if the product being shown wasn't paid for, to be on the show?

mj said...

@Dj - yes, just rewatched and caught Phil mentioning Apple store in response to a question from Luke about where his mother was. That's all the A-bombs I saw on the re-watch, despite ample opportunities throughout. And it definitely did seem like they were outside an Apple store - the Apple symbol is difficult to detect but it is there, high up the front wall. The cutboard cutouts of Apple Store personnel are also visible through the window. Interestingly, there are extras holding balloons to block out unpaid-for advertising from neighboring stores!

My question is this: if the returns to Apple of product placement would be higher on TBBT than MF, then why would Steve Jobs' interests in Disney have any relevance? First, IF there was a product placement decision made here (and I agree that there wasn't), I can't imagine that Jobs is the guy who would actually make such a decision (isn't that why Apple pays the big bucks to the marketing experts?). But even if he would give ultimate approval and assuming the product-placement returns to Apple were higher on TBBT than on MF, then I think it's a big leap to suggest that Steve Jobs would sacrifice the financial interests of Apple because of much smaller personal interests in Disney. Surely Jobs would have more personal wealth and human capital risk tied up in Apple than in Disney.

JOHN PATRONE said...

Anonymous said...
What, no comment on Phil's, "Ellie Mae" line to Claire? Brilliant. Pop culture at its finest.


"Doohickey, Ellie Mae?"

I just raced through nearly 90 comments hoping no one had yet pointed out this three word gem. Alas, it was not to be, but while you're all debating product placement, this is what I remember.

Wade Kwon said...

If only ABC had just done the honorable thing and stuck and iPad in the corner of the screen with a countdown to Saturday's launch ...

TS said...

There is a nice review of Apple's product placement in this episode on Brands And Films as well - http://skrci.me/ipad

Alf said...

One thing that took me out of the moment was Phil catching the camera on him at the end as he was caressing the iPad. I didn't notice any other documentary-style things, so that stuck out.

quangtran said...

@Alf

Phil ALWAYS looks at the camera. It's now become part of his character to look at the camera whenever he feels selfconsious about doing something embarrassing or whenever he thinks he's being clever. Just off the top of my head, these moments includes:

-right after shooting his son in the pilot ("I am your friend").
-just before stealing random kid's bike.
-right after tripping on the steps on his way to give Claire her anniversary gifs.
-when he saw he's smashed remote.
-when Denise gave his her hotal room card
-that after he tip-toed over that infamous step in last weeks episode.

and several more.

Robert S. Porter said...

I am a rabid Apple hater. I honestly wish the company would go out of business.

That said, I thought the episode was hilarious and don't mind product placement, as long as it's done well.

Larry Horse said...

Really hated this episode. The Apple Cult of Cool is beginning to become pretty disturbing to me.

Allie said...

JOHN PATRONE said...
Anonymous said...
What, no comment on Phil's, "Ellie Mae" line to Claire? Brilliant. Pop culture at its finest.

"Doohickey, Ellie Mae?"


WONDERFUL reminder, people...

I LOLed all over again.

Erik said...

I was really surprised that iPad's role wasn't a "classic" product placement, because from marketing point of view this placement was well done - product was integrated in the story (actually iPad was the story), it was visible, they talked about it, Phil even said 'I love you' to it.

The latest info about product non-placement is in my opinon a bit unbelievable. Even though a lot of people is really really excited about iPad, too many coincidences occured at once - Jobs, Disney, ABC, release date, ...

Anyway I think that this case of product placement will be one of the most important placements in 2010.

Erik

Matthew Chester said...

Count me in on the "Didn't bother me" end of things. The iPad is a cool gadget that has developed something of a small cult, independent of this episode's existence. Writing an episode about that fact, to me, is intelligently integrating the product with the show. As you say, Alan, product placement is a reality we must come to live with, and when writers treat something that's actually very cool as though it were very cool...I'm okay with it. So I guess what I'm saying is, if it's selling me a product that I actually enjoy, I'll buy a little product placement.

I remember seeing the straight-to-DVD movie "Another Cinderella Story" with Selena Gomez (a friend wrote the screenplay, don't laugh), and the "glass slipper" had become a Zune with a really kick-ass playlist. Suddenly all the characters wanted this really cool Zune. Now, when characters call something like a Zune "cool," I start to get skeptical.

Anonymous said...

Felt like an Apple ad

themightypuck said...

Pretty much nothing worked in the episode. iPad included. That's the nature of comedy though. You can't kill it all the time.

rhys said...

I find this whole situation fascinating. It really highlights the issue of the presence of commercialization in our day-to-day lives. What is a show supposed to do when they want to do an episode about a character obsessing over a gadget? Make up some fake gadget? Similarly, are shows supposed to make up fake restaurants and other fake products if they ever want to have a storyline relating to something like that?

I think people are letting their personal opinions about the iPad affect their view of the episode, and that is fascinating in it's own right. I think having some contrived debate about the iPad would have been very unrealistic and would've seemed pandering. Most people would not care what gadget a grown man wants.

Lorrie said...

I've never cared about product placement in an entertainment program. Whatever keeps my shows on the air is fine by me.

As product placements go, this one was practically seamless, especially as people in real life really are going to extremes to get their hands on an iPad. I believed that Phil would want an one more than anything in the world because that's his character. And iPads do look cool. After the episode was over, my mother (who could hardly be considered an early adopter of technology) said that if she had the money, she would go out and buy an iPad. I told her that she didn't even know what the iPad did, but that didn't matter. So, the product placement did kind of work.

Thong said...

This episode was pretty bad. I didn't mind the iPad business so much as I did watching Phil become an emo kid. I think it's funny that a lot of the audience probably has no idea what an iPad does except come up with a digital cake. Maybe I missed the part where Phil gobs about the iPad when he's about to go wait in line at the Apple store. I despise Manny and the ADD kid. Hate the fkn baby too. I don't hate the gay couple, but they have some really annoying moments too. There are just too many different characters and storylines for a first season, which would be great if they were executed well like Arrested Development, but they haven't after the mid-season and everyone in the show is getting stale and predictable.