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


3c. Punctuate drama with pratfalls

There’s been a running gag since the first episode, based on a Ty Burrell (Phil) joke, that there’s a broken step that Phil keeps promising to fix. In “Starry Night,” he trips as he and Claire go up to check on Luke’s progress with his Van Gogh project, only to discover Luke taking apart a Mr. Potato Head toy. Claire yells at Phil and storms away.

Claire: (angrily) I don’t want to hear anything about your new method of doing things. There’s one thing that works with these kids, and that is staying on top of them. Which, thanks to you, my friend, I will now be able to do all night long. (She trips on the step and falls down the stairs.)

SL: This is a moment where I go—I don’t want to sound like a jerk but—this is really working. That’s an incredibly dangerous physical move, where she just took it upon herself to throw herself down the stairs.

Jason Winer (director): In the first couple of takes we did a minor trip. Then I said, “Really go for the fall.” She took a real tumble, so when she stands up with that glare, I think she was using some actual physical pain.

CL: I had to ask her to stop.

JW: And the improv Ty threw in here was so genius, because he’s trying to make a point about Luke’s ability to focus. But he’s distracted himself, and he trips and says, “Your son is working on an awesome Van Gogh—gotta fix that!—masterpiece.” There’s a lot of jokes inside what is essentially a dramatic scene: There are real stakes for the couple. And in the midst you’ve got this ridiculous step thing, explored three different ways—he trips, she falls, then he avoids the step and glances at the camera.

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