Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing a Modern Family Episode: Part II - specific problems with a specific episode.

Originally posted by me on:

Well, (continuing on my thoughts) a writer needs to understand that in Modern Family 21 minutes is a really long time and that it allows you to do a lot of stuff.

At the same time it means that what you write has to be well thought out. Otherwise you’re bound to run into serious trouble. The episode 2#11 "Slow Down Your Neighbors" was a rather good example of this.

First (wasn’t first that was introduced) we had Phil and his work-related stuff. I thought it was the worst of the three. It was bad because it was so muddled and the setup was non-existing (without setup there’s no plot).

Claire bullhorning about a speeder leading to Phil’s old work related friend leading to Phil not feeling like telling something to Claire leading to Phil doing something leading to Claire chasing that friend…

That might be okay if we were dealing with a single storyline episode. But to put all that confusion and weak motivation into one of the three plotlines is simply wrong. (even though Avclub gave it an A-)

The second plot was about Jay teaching Manny and Gloria to ride a bike. I don’t have a problem with the structure of this plotline but did any of you think it was a plausible storyline?

Childlike Gloria and a 13 year old Manny not knowing how to ride a bike without additional help? Out of character stuff. This is something that you should definitely avoid.

The third plotline. When it came to the Cam/Mitchell plotline, the doomswitch was the “twist” of the guy actually living in their playhouse.

The premise of the guy “upstairs” itself was hard to swallow but the twist simply wasn’t any good and was a letdown. (nevertheless, funniest of the three because Eric Stonestreet is the funniest guy on tv)

The thing is that if you have to do the twist, it better be something that 1) is unexpected 2) is something that the audience is going to really like and 3) is something that the audience doesn’t recognize as a twist.

Instead it's something different. The moment has to be seen as an awesome and yet as a smooth change in the direction of the plotline. Very hard to do, I guess. But it's not impossible to achieve.

So, what you should be able to do is to have 1) simple, clear setups 2) universal truths about us and about our characters = plausible storylines and 3) twist that won’t be seen as a twist.

My Modern Family script in Part III - coming up soon!

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