The "Modern Family" Documentary Problem

There are a handful of sitcoms that use the mock documentary format these days, and for the most part when I'm watching them, I try to put aside the absurdity of that narrative style and just enjoy the content. Ever since watching the "Community" episode that mocked them (and listening to the commentary, which makes a lot of valid points about how much easier it makes the storytelling), it's become harder, but I still just try to accept the episodes for what they are.

However, last night's "Modern Family" really bothered me in regards to this, because of the Luke/Phil subplot. First, check out this scene that gets the ball rolling.

Now, within the construct of the show, there's supposed to be this documentary crew filming these people, which is how we get the "talking head" scenes, but it's also implied that the documentary people are filming these families to provide the other footage we see. So, in the "Modern Family" world, Phil's reaction should be to go to the documentarians and ask if he can get that clip to upload to YouTube. Is that less funny? Sure. Does it mean we cut an entire subplot out of the episode? Absolutely. But it's also 100 times less insulting to the viewer.

Hell, I honestly would have even accepted all the other stuff that happened if the final scene had been a talking head tag with Phil saying something like "Well, we didn't get our hit YouTube clip, but the one Luke put together is almost as good." Then cut briefly to Luke's clip, then back to Phil on the couch, saying directly to the documentary guy "wait, couldn't I have just asked YOU for the original clip." End episode. A simple tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the format would have brought it all full circle, you get to keep all the Phil physical humor and it even reinforces Phil's simple idiocy. Instead I was bothered by the documentary thing the entire time, and now it's going to bother me for at least the next few episodes. I blame "Community."


  1. (From Wikipedia) As Lloyd and Levitan retold stories about their families, it occurred to them that that could be the basis for a show. They started working on the idea of a family being observed in a mockumentary style show. They later decided it could be a show about three families and their experiences. The show was originally called My American Family. Originally, the camera crew would be run by a fictitious Dutch filmmaker named Geert Floortje who had lived with Jay's family as a teenage exchange student and developed a crush on Claire (while Mitchell had a crush on him), but decided against it.


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