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

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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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