Thursday, September 30, 2010

Faux Shows

I want to like Modern Family, I really do. But I can't get past the show's flawed conceit–sometimes we see scenes where the characters clearly do not know they are being filmed, and other times the characters are aware of, and react to, the cameras. So what is Modern Family supposed to be? Is it a single-camera sitcom, like 30 Rock, or a mockumentary, like The Comeback? It can be one or the other…but it can’t be both.

If the creators want us to believe we’re watching a documentary on the ‘modern family’ they have to be consistent with the parameters of that concept. They want to have a faux-reality show, with characters glancing at the cameras and speaking directly to the viewer in testimonials, but they also give us private moments between characters that would never be shot with a camera crew present. Often, the action is shot from multiple angles (which means there are multiple cameramen), yet we never see any crew carrying cameras. If it’s a mockumentary, we should probably get a glimpse of the camera crew in the background here and there.

On the other hand, if we’re supposed to view it as a single-camera comedy, then they can’t repeatedly have the characters acknowledging the camera. (And while we’re on the subject, when they give us those moments in which character A says something dopey and character B raises his eyebrows and gives us a knowing look…isn’t this essentially the same joke repeated over and over?)

The above examples are the same reasons I find fault with The Office. It’s ostensibly a documentary, but for what? A film? A reality show? If it’s a film, what kind of a budget do the filmmakers have that they can shoot footage for years on end? And what’s the supposed concept of this supposed film, beyond shooting office-worker buffoons who don’t realize they’re buffoons? If it’s supposed to be a reality show, then why aren’t the characters famous yet, as they would be if they were really being filmed for a reality show? Wouldn’t it be more interesting (for any of these type of shows–The Office, Parks & Recreation, or Modern Family) if the first season was shot with the characters being unknowns, and the second season depicted them as the famous, tabloid-photographed, gossiped-about personalities they’ve become? Because isn’t that really what happens to the people on reality shows like Real Housewives and Jersey Shore?

The genius, short-lived Comeback, which utilized B-roll footage and got the director and camera crew involved with the action, is the best example of a mockumentary series done right. Conversely, 30 Rock and Arrested Development chose to film in a single-camera style with a documentary 'feel', but the characters do not know they are being filmed. 

Modern Family and the other current faux-doc comedies want to have it both ways, and in the process reveal their creative laziness.