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'Modern iPad Family'

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  April 1, 2010 07:18 AM

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You just can't buy this kind of promotion -- wait, actually you can. Last night's episode of "Modern Family" was essentially a half-hour-long plug for the iPad, days before it hits the stores. The episode revolved around Phil's desperate wish for an iPad for his birthday, and Claire's repeatedly failed attempts to get him one. (BTW: Spoiler in the above clip.)

The episode worked beautifully. Phil is a dorky gadget-head, and it made perfect sense that he'd be lusting after the newest Apple phenomenon. This wasn't the kind of TV product placement that has obviously been imposed onto the story for money; it was a natural extension of the character and the show's "modern" themes. When Phil said, "The iPad comes out on my actual birthday! It’s like Steve Jobs and God got together and said, 'We love you, Phil,'" it was true to the humor of "Modern Family." So was his line, "Next week! That’s like the worst thing you can say to an early adopter." I'd actually believe it if someone told me that the writers -- and not the producers or the network or Apple -- initially came up with the iPad plotline.

I did have a creeping sense of dread, though, I must admit. The half-hour was one of those examples of commercialism seeping into scripted TV now that viewers are able to DVR-forward through ads. And that makes me a little wary, just because sometimes viewers don't quite realize they're being promoted to. I do like some sense of a line between ads and TV content. "30 Rock" preserves the line best, I think, because the characters make metajokes about product placement WHILE they enact the product placement.

Still, last night's "Modern Family" was typically excellent, with many great lines and character-based jokes (Manny: "Do I have time for a steam?"). I think this episode will age nicely, too, when the iPad becomes tomorrow's walkman and the show is rerunning endlessly in syndication...

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