Hot Topics Make Good Comedy ... even the iPad on 'Modern Family'

by Allison Waldman, posted Apr 1st 2010 10:35PM
phil_ipad_modern_family_abcWhile watching the two family sitcoms on ABC last night, 'The Middle' and 'Modern Family,' it seemed to me that they were funnier than usual because the writers took the effort to incorporate topical, timely elements into the scripts. On 'The Middle,' it was all about basketball and the NCAA Final Four. On 'Modern Family,' it was the highly anticipated release of the Apple iPad.

Now, while Joel thought the latter was an overdone commercial that may have been penned by Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself, my reaction was completely the opposite. And some critics agreed with me, too.

The idea that Phil would be obsessing about the latest technology was in keeping with the character. Phil's been established as a techie guy, a geekster of the first order. Why wouldn't he be an early adopter of the iPad considering that it is being touted as the next big thing?

And even Joel pointed out, it would have been silly to create a faux product to make the point about his obsessiveness. There was an authenticity to the entire situation because it was a real product, and as someone who has been on the bandwagon myself, I can tell you that it was a relatable story line.

It was even more so because nobody else in the family feels like Phil. Claire didn't think it was such a big deal... until she found out that it was a big deal to people like Phil. The ones who will be in those lines at the Apple Store on Saturday, April 3. The final shot of Phil fondling his iPad and saying, "I love you," well -- I've been there, too. Nothing like the smell of a new laptop or camera or George Foreman grill, right out of the packaging.

Now, was it a blatant case of product placement, even though Apple didn't pay a cent? You betcha. Apple couldn't buy a better chunk of prime time to promote the product than that episode of 'Modern Family.' In fact, tonight on the 'CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,' the story about the iPad included scenes from 'Modern Family.' That's right, CBS News used ABC sitcom clips.

When product placement is done in a realistic way, it doesn't bother me. If the Cisco system is used on '24,' that's fine. If Ford sponsors the 'American Idol' video, it's all right. Motorola headsets for the NFL make sense to me. Heck, even 'Modern Family' extolled the virtues of Costco when Cam and Mitchell were shopping for disposable diapers!

Maybe I've become numb to the overload of products everywhere so that it doesn't matter as much, but the Apple iPad/'Modern Family' connection seemed like a smart pairing, and kudos to the writers for being topical and timely.

the_middle_hecks_map_abcEarlier in the evening, 'The Middle' was also on point with the Final Four episode. The Hecks live in Orson, Indiana. Hoosier country. Basketball is king in that part of the country, so it made sense that Mike would be beside himself with excitement about the prospect of attending the Final Four in Indianapolis. And the tickets literally fell in his lap. The fact that he had to go to Frankie's Uncle Mack's funeral instead was a funny, albeit real dilemma. We've all been there, haven't we?

My favorite aspect of the show, though, was how Mike tried to take the lemons he'd been handed and make lemonade. He sucked it up and prepared to go to the funeral, setting up the VCR -- the Hecks do not have the DVR technology yet -- and planning to keep from finding out the results of the Saturday games so he could enjoy the experience as if they were live.

In a great twist, Mike got an attack of appendicitis and wound up being wheeled into surgery, hearing the doctors above him talking about the game and how Duke had won the game! ARGH!!! Every sports fan could understand that turn of events, and what made it even better was the fact that Duke is playing on Saturday for real.

So, you see, time and topicality can make the funniest of shows, even funnier. Quibble about the details, perhaps, but if 'The Middle' and 'Modern Family' can keep up this level using real products and real events, that's fine by me.

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See, what's great about using the iPad with Phil is that you get two levels on the one joke: Yes, he's a techie/early adopter and would have an unnatural obsession with this device. But he's also kind of an idiot who would want to camp out in line and get an iPad just for the experience, etc. So it's two. two jokes in one. I thought it worked really well. Not the fall-down funniest episode ever of this show, but decent enough.

April 02 2010 at 10:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He would have pre-ordered it, thus making the entire storyline irrelevant.

April 02 2010 at 5:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I also enjoyed the iPad and the Final Four in these episodes. Thanks for the opposing columns on the topic. I'd love to see more columns related to product placement and this sorta-not-so-much product placement! The future of advertising interests me.

April 02 2010 at 2:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Frank M.

Phil is such a techie that the iPad storyline didn't feel forced at all. There was an earlier episode where he was going on about his home theater setup & had a bet that he could teach his oldest daughter how to use the remote. Chuck on the other hand beats you over the head with Subway product placements even though it makes no sense for it to be there in the story.

PS. the line that Claire had calling her son, "her beautiful little liar" was hilarious!

April 02 2010 at 2:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gordon Werner

The fact that Phil loves gadgets ... and that this one was released on his birthday ... made it an excellent fit. Sure it was a bit blatant ... but it fit the characters (and their actions in trying to obtain said product)

April 02 2010 at 2:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I completely agree. I thought the iPad made a lot of sense, Phil would be a total Apple Fanboy. It was also very topical, since the iPad is making news all over the place. It was more of an inclusion of current events rather than product placement (which it wasn't to begin with).

It's a tough thing to do, to incorporate real life products, without it feeling like an advertisement. "30 Rock" often namechecks various items, and there's always a huge uproar, perhaps because it doesn't fit into the plot or the setting. "Modern Family" went for full integration, rather than a namecheck. It was a risk, but I felt it worked really well.

April 02 2010 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes, thank you. Someone gets it right.

April 01 2010 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Geraci

It was overall a middling episode of Modern Family. Still better than the vast majority of broadcast pablum, but it certainly wasn't benefited by the free product placement.

April 01 2010 at 11:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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