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Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Ultimate Pilot Story Checklist: Modern Family

Warning: Unhip alert! For the next two weeks I will be praising (and also criticizing) one of the most uncool shows on TV. If you demand coolness, return in a fortnight!
Three very different families turn out to be one big family: Controlling Claire and immature Phil raise three children: flirty Haley, nerdy-but-snarky Alex, and dim bulb Luke. Meanwhile, aging Jay has married fiery Gloria and got her romantic son Manny in the process. We also meet touchy Mitchell and his boyfriend overly-dramatic Cam, who have just adopted a baby from Vietnam. In the pilot, Haley has an older boy over, Luke shoots Alex with a BB gun forcing his parents to make good on their threat to shoot in return, Jay sees a younger guy hit on Gloria, Manny quixotically asks out an older girl, and Mitchell must admit to Cam that he hasn’t told his disapproving family about the baby. In the end, Mitchell’s family arrives and we realize that Claire is his sister and Jay is their Dad.
CONCEPT: Is this a strong concept for an ongoing series? (14/20)
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
Yes, it’s a funny, likable family with a little edge to it.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
 Well, somewhat unique: “Arrested Development” had already done the family mockumentary set-up, but this is very different. 
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
 Many: gay parents, a positively-portrayed May-December marriage, a dad who wants to be best friends with his kids, etc.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
 Just barely: three very different types of family are actually one big family.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
 Yes, it’s very ABC/Disney: family based, somewhat sentimental / somewhat hip.
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
 Everything is pleasant.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
No. This show splits its focus very democratically amongst all six cast members adult cast members, and it really makes that work.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
No.  Most were TV veterans, but, perhaps because of the six-way identification split, none were big-screen-worthy stars.  Again, this works just fine.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
Yes. All three families are pretty rough on each other, and the documentary interviews allow them to really have at it.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
Not really.  Gloria and Manny used to be poor, but now they too are rich.  This would be a big problem for the show.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
Just barely, in the form of Haley’s dates, and guys hitting on Gloria.  Most the trouble will come from ongoing internal resentments, which is fine.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
Again, not really, which connects to the economic class issue.  They’re all fairly rich.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
No. Again, they’re all rich and have little to worry about other than the usual family concerns.  You would think that this alone might cause problems (Phil is a real estate agent in 2009 L.A.-- Surely that might have cause some worry?) but it doesn’t
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
Very much so.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
Very much so. There’s a big reveal that they save for the end, but that actually helps here because it assures us that each family is worth watching separately, even if they never interacted.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
Just the sight of this very diverse untraditional family.
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
The two non-traditional families are both bold choices, or at least seemed so at the time.
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
Sort of: Claire and Phil shooting their son and their daughter’s date.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
Sort of: it’s revealed at the end that nobody approves of Mitchell and Cam adopting, which will proved future friction, and Phil’s crush on his stepmother-in-law is also a potential (minor) problem.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
Yes: the revelation that this is all one big family, rather than three separate families (which is only a reveal to the audience.)
CHARACTER: Is this a compelling hero? (Okay folks, we have six co-equal heroes here, so we have a lot of work to do, but this pilot does a great job setting up all six, so let’s answer each question for each one) (15/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
Claire: husband closes the fridge door on her, Phil: yells upstairs, Jay: fails to stand up while claiming to be young, Gloria: stands up for son, Mitchell: gives vainglorious speech, Cam: embarrassed by husband.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 Claire: the strict mom, Phil: the cool dad, Jay: the grouch, Gloria: the trophy bimbo, Mitchell: the strident one, Cam: the “woman”
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Claire: the bad girl, Phil: the terrible dad, Jay: not really, he is what he seems to be, Gloria: smart, loving, snarky wife and mom, Mitchell: afraid of being too gay, Cam: actually a jock and the strong one.
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Claire: It’s up to me, I can’t trust my kids, I must overcome my past, Phil: Be my kids’ best friend, be hip, be subtly dominant, Jay: I don’t have time for this, I have to set everybody straight, I’m not too old, Gloria: Nobody hurts my kid, life is for living, share every thought, Mitchell: Stand up for gayness, Don’t trust Cam, Avoid conflict, Cam: it’ll all be okay, be who you are, force the issue.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 There is no lone hero, so see ensemble section for these. 
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 There is no lone hero, so see ensemble section for these.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 There is no lone hero, so see ensemble section for these.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his great strength?
 Claire: too strict, Phil: too lax, Jay: too gruff, Gloria: too fiery, Mitchell: too touchy, Cam: too dramatic
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
 Yes for all: they all feel like their role is essential to who they are and beneficial to their kids, even they recognize that its a personal flaw.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
 Yes for all: these are all different types of problematic parents.  
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his great flaw?
 Claire: strong mother, Phil: no, no great strength showed yet, Jay: loving husband, Gloria: loving wife and mother, Mitchell: greater perspective, Cam: braver
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
 (the “job” for each, for the purposes of this show, is spouse/parent) Claire: Yes, Phil: Not really, Jay: Somewhat, Gloria: Yes, Mitchell: Yes, Cam: Yes.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Claire: the only sensible one, Phil: the fun one, Jay: the skeptical one, Gloria: the passionate one, Mitchell: the sensible one, Cam: the fun one.
Is the hero curious?
 Claire: Yes (snoops into daughter’s date), Phil: No, Jay: Yes (snoops into stepson’s business), Gloria: Yes (ditto), Mitchell: No (never suspected any of Cam’s arrangements), Cam (snoops out Mitchell’s family problem)
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Claire: Yes, Phil: No, Jay: Yes, Gloria: Yes, Mitchell and Cam: we don’t get to see yet, as they encounter no big obstacles until the end (family’s dubiousness about the adoption), and that obstacle remains unresolved.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
 Not really.  Jay offers Manny $50 not to ask that girl out, but that’s about it.  Two of the families are atypical in their structure, but not so much in their (somewhat hapless) parenting techniques.
ENSEMBLE: Is this a strong ensemble (beyond the hero or co-heroes)?  (13/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
All six were well-regarded TV vets. 
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
Yes. Every actor, including the kids, would excel as the show progressed.  The casting is excellent up and down the line.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
Yes.
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
Yes. The delay of the backstory reveal until the end proves that the show can rely entirely on front-story whenever it needs to.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
Very much so.  Each parent and child is motivated almost entirely by self-interest.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
Yes, in that the show is about their decisions as parents.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
Yes, the never-seen documentary crew.
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
Yes and No, they families tell everything to the documentarians’ camera, but the  documentarians choose to parcel out that backstory to us. 
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
Clare and Phil are 2-way: Strict vs. loose.  Their kids are 3-way: Alex is head, Luke is heart, Haley is gut. Also 3-way: Jay is head (“this is a bad idea”), Gloria is gut, Manny is heart.  Cameron and Mitchell are two way: Uptight vs. frou-frou.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 Claire: No, just generic mom, Phil: immature “playa”, “we cool” “keep it real”, Jay: outdated alpha male “take it down a notch, that’s all I’m saying”, Gloria: Spanglish, Mitchell: Not really, Cam: maternal (“nesting instinct” “redheaded daddy is angry daddy”) therapy (“that’s science, you can’t fight it” “you’re an avoider)
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Claire: exasperated, Phil: immature, Jay: gruff, Gloria: fiery, Mitchell: uptight, Cam: serene
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Claire: Glare and yell, Phil: appeal to friendship, Jay: mock, Gloria: overshare, Mitchell: mock, Cam: declare as a fait accomplait
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
 Gloria
STRUCTURE: Is the pilot episode a strong stand-alone story and good template for the ongoing series? (22/22)
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
Yes.
If this is intended for commercial TV, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
Yes, three.
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
Yes: First: Dylan arrives and Phil fails to stand up to him.  Next: Phil shoots Dylan.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
Yes, most episodes will cover one day, intercutting from family to family.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
Yes.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
It’s a center-cut pilot for two of the families and a premise-pilot from Mitchell and Cam, but it’s established right away.
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
Yes, three.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Yes, three stories is a lot to juggle but each is very simple.
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Yes, for four of them: hard for Claire to allow daughter to date, for Phil to shoot Luke, for Jay to all Manny to do his own thing, and for Mitchell to confess all to his family.
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
 Claire: get the kids fed, Phil: no, Jay: calm Gloria down, Gloria: get Manny to play Soccer better, Mitchell and Cam: prepare for the flight.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
 Claire: daughter has boyfriend coming over, Phil: must defend daughter and shoot son, Jay: manhood insulted, stepson seems headed for disaster, Gloria: husband won’t accept son, Mitchell: feels looked down upon, Cam: boyfriend is freaking out.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
 Yes for all.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 Claire and Phil: Dylan, Jay: the dude and Manny, Gloria: Jay, Mitchell: people on the plane, Cam: Mitchell
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Claire: tries to avoid, Phil: puts off the shooting, tries to befriend the boy, Jay: no, confronts directly, Gloria: No, confronts directly, Mitchell: avoids confrontation with family, Cam: No, deals with it directly
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
 Claire: Daughter goes up stairs with boy, Phil: Hurts himself while confronting boy, Jay: Son is picking flowers, Gloria: No, Mitchell: Finds out Cam called his parents, Cam: Mitchell upset with him.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Claire: confronts Dylan, Phil: shoots son and , Jay: , Gloria: , Mitchell: , Cam:
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
 Yes for all.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
 Yes for all.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
 Claire: Alex forces her to face her fears, Phil: Shoots Luke accidentally, Jay: told to join mallwalkers, Gloria: no, Mitchell: family tells him not to adopt, Cam: No
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
 Claire: Goes up to Haley’s room, Phil: No, Jay: Buys new clothes, Gloria: No, Mitchell: Tells family the truth, Cam: No
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Claire: Yes, Phil: No, Jay: Yes, Gloria: Yes, Mitchell: Yes, Cam: Yes
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
 Claire: Realizes that she needs to stop her daughter from becoming her, Phil: , Jay: , Gloria: , Mitchell: , Cam:
SCENEWORK: Is each scene the best it can be? (21/23) (Sample scene: Claire and Alex discuss the fact that Haley is upstairs with a boy and her door is closed. Alex prods her mother into acting by telling a story about a girl in her school who gave birth then pretended she had just had mono and it was her mother’s baby.)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
It has been established that Claire is tense about what is going on upstairs, and that Alex is annoyed at her sister.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
It begins at the beginning, but cuts out the middle by intercutting with the Phil and Luke scene.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
It’s not intimidating, but making frosting together keeps them active.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
Alex wanted to read her book.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
The frosting.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
There is a presumption that the goings-on upstairs may be escalating.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
Yes, for both.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
Yes, Claire is pained.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
We share Claire’s concern, and enjoy Alex’s sadism.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
They both want the same thing (for Claire to check in upstairs) but for different reasons, and each is prodding the other in different ways.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface conflict: Help me with the frosting. Next layer: What’s going up upstairs? Subtext: will you control us or will we control you?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
Yes, though the mono discussion.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
Very much so.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
Very much so, Claire tricks answers out of Alex, Alex tricks Claire into acting.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
Yes, they move around the kitchen, Claire seems to put a hand on her back at the end.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
Claire hands Alex a whisk, representing an attempt to restore her motherly status.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
Yes, at first Alex wants to be left alone, then she decides to sabotage her sister.  First Claire wants to find out what’s going on, then she wants to defend her daughter, then changes her mind.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Well, Claire wanted to do it, buy might not have if Alex hadn’t prodded her with a trick.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
No, they both unironically get what they want.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
No, just reiterated.
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
What are they doing upstairs?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
We are worried that Haley might get pregnant.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
Yes, what will Claire find upstairs?
DIALOGUE: Is this powerful dialogue? (15/15)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Very much so.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Very much so.  Even in their interviews, with a little hindsight, they fail to accurate identify their failings, which is great. 
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Yes.  Again, they’re more willing to do so in the interviews, but even there they often fail to do so.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
Very much so.  Mitchell is clearly refraining from criticizing Can and says “I’m not saying anything,” but Cam responds “You’re saying everything.” 
Do the characters listen poorly?
Very much so.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
Yes.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
Yes, Gloria’s spanglish is handled deftly enough that it lively and fun, rather than offensive or stereotypical.
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
Yes, the parents use a lot of unique-but-universal parent-isms.
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
In this case, this and the above are the same thing.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Very much so.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Yes, the final scene with the whole family.
TONE: Does the pilot manage its tone to create and fulfill audience expectations? (10/10)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
Family mockumentary three-camera sitcom
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
No genre elements
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
Yes, fast-paced, sarcastic, droll, zingy
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
Somewhat.  Claire/Phil is more broad and satirical, Jay/Gloria and Cameron/Mitchell more open-hearted and warm.
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
Mitchell makes the speech on the plane: the jeopardy is public humiliation due to a failure to navigate the tricky politics of the changing nature of families.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
The documentary interviews provide a framing sequence.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
 Will Haley fool around?  Will they shoot Luke?  Will Manny be humiliated?  With Mitchell and Cam it comes later: what will happen when Mitchell’s family arrives?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
Claire talked before about her own high school promiscuity, etc.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
There aren’t really any plot contrivances, but the big reveal is that they’re all one family, and that’s subtly set up well.
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
Yes and no, they’re all answered in the second half in succession.
THEME: Does the pilot create a meaningful ongoing theme? (10/14)
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
No, each of the pairs of parents has a philosophy of raising kids that contrasts with his or her co-parent.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s stated statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
Yes, at the very end: It seems to be delivered by Jay in a sincere manner, but then we realize that he’s reading Manny’s ridiculous love note.  This is a good cheat, allowing them to have a sentimental summary of theme without actually having to be annoyingly sincere, but soon the show would give in and allow actual syrup to leak into the end of each show.
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Should families trust each other or set each other straight?
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
Yes, shoot your kid or break your word? Denounce possible bigotry or give the benefit of the doubt?  Protect your stepkid from embarrassment or let him be foolishly brave?
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
Yes and no, they’re linked, but the links on this show are never subtle enough.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
Yes.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
Yes, all of the above dilemma will continue.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’s set-up reflect the way the world works?
Yes and no: the families are very authentic, but the economics and work life will be fantasy-land.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
Yes, within the families.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
Yes and no: the painful struggle to break down social assumptions is right upfront, but the other struggles facing America are absent.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
No. It is disingenuous to pretend that the struggles within the 1% represent a true portrait of a “Modern Family”  Also: the show criticizes Jay for going to great lengths to avoid showing Mitchell and Cam kissing, but the show itself would refuse to show that for many years. 
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
Yes, Luke really does get shot, Manny really does get humiliated, Mitchell really does get ridiculed by his family.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
No.  As always on this show, there will be too much talk about what it all means.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
Yes.
Total Score: 120/133

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