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3. Be Funny, Biting, Sweet, Ironic, and Just This Short of Sappy


3a. Let father (occasionally) know best again

In the first scene, Phil sits on the sofa, watching the Nature Channel with earphones on. He doesn’t notice that behind him, a family fight is breaking out—until Claire snatches the headphones off. They then argue about how much to oversee their son Luke’s school project on Vincent van Gogh.

Phil: You might have a little more confidence in him.

Luke: (He has taken Phil’s spot on the sofa, apparently convinced that sound-canceling earphones prevent the family from hearing him.) Mwaaaah! Mwaaah! No one can hear me now. Oooooh. Everybody is stupid. Except me. Ha. Ha. Ha. I am funny.

Danny Zuker (writer): I’d been trying to think of an idea for the opening scene, and I had my iPod on, listening to the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” walking into my house, singing, dancing, and I see people smiling and I think they’re into it. My daughter is laughing so hard she’s got a tear coming down! Then I take my earphones off—and it’s World War 3. I completely missed the fight. So I wrote an early draft in which Phil dances into the house, and they rewrote it with him obliviously listening to a nature special, which works just as well.

Chris Lloyd (creator): Probably three quarters of our kid things come from our lives—we had six writers last year and all of them were parents.

Steve Levitan (creator): So for Claire and Phil’s argument, it was part of an ongoing discussion my wife and I had about how she sits over my son when he does homework. And my point is: How is he going to learn?

CL: Then Steve would put his wife on the phone and I’d end up having an argument with his wife. Like we’re married.

DZ: There was a line we took out, because it came from my life—my wife saying sarcastically, “Your way is great, because not only does it teach the kids a lesson but it allows you time to go out and play poker.” Which is true! But it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

We argued about Claire: Some writers were worried this episode did not make her especially likable. But you know, Steve and I are both married to women who we find completely likable, who do this. And we’ve always been very interested in the classic sitcom thing: that the husband is always wrong. It’s not so much that it’s sexist, I just think it’s lazy writing. It felt important to go the other way sometimes.

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