Thursday, April 12, 2012

Obstacles, but not observations and opportunities.

One of the reasons that I didn't like the latest episode of Modern Family (Election Day) was that the episode had too many setbacks. For example, Claire lost her tooth, Cam and Mitchell accidentally left their microphone on, Phil had to do favors to his neighbor and Jay ran into his former girlfriend that he didn't want to meet.

'Election Day' wasn't good because there weren't enough redeeming qualities in the episode. The storylines ran almost purely on obstacles and setbacks that didn't really add up in the end. It was just too obvious and I'm not a fan of writing like this.

If you want to write a script that runs on setbacks and obstacles, you'd better provide something that also counters the negative setbacks with some positive things. That would be something like having solutions, observations or opportunities for the characters. Otherwise your episode is going to be pretty depressing to watch.

Modern Family is supposed to be uplifting but it was pretty depressing to see Claire chipping her tooth and not recognizing the implications of that in the interview. I bet that in real life she would have observed that she had a problem. So that was lazy, one-dimensional writing.

I also didn't like when Cam & Mitchell left the microphone on and started badmouthing a person who was nearby. It just wasn't believable that they didn't observe their voice from the loudspeakers. (I did like when they saw an opportunity to use the mic but the setback just wasn't handled well)

Phil's problem with taking the old-timer to vote wasn't believable either. To me it felt like the obstacles were pretty randomly put together and weren't well thought out. Phil's reaction wasn't that he was going to handle the situation. It was more like him being a passive-aggressive passenger than being someone who saw an opportunity to save the day. It just wasn't good or funny.

The same unfortunately has to be said about Jay's storyline too. His obstacle was his former girlfriend as an official who apparently tried to prevent him from casting a ballot (that's supposed to be illegal by the way). There was no observation and no opportunity here either. Disappointing.

So, how do you handle an obstacle? How do you counter a negative with a positive that the audience doesn't know to expect? Well, I mean, I guess you just have to find a way. If your script has an obstacle, try to make an observation and try to find an opportunity for the characters. It's not easy, but you are supposed to write something that the audience wants to see but nevertheless won't see coming.

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