“Modern Family” hasn’t exactly had a stellar history when it comes to the obnoxious-but-necessary practice of product placement. But in last night’s episode, the product placement was so obvious and clunky, that it actually took away from our enjoyment of the holiday-themed episode. In the episode, Claire (Julie Bowen) and Haley (Sarah Hyland) shop for “express Christmas” presents at Target, and spend quite a long time there.
How’d we know it was Target? Well, for one, Claire says in an off-screen voice loop, “Let’s go to Target.” Then you see a long establishing shot of the outside of a Target complete with a huge version of its signature logo, then another establishing shot of the massive inside of the store. But that wasn’t all: we had Haley lamenting that “this place is huge!” as she and Claire were pulling out a bright red Target shopping cart. Finally, Haley gets the last ladybug nightlight by donning a Target worker’s signature red shirt and offering to “assist” the person who grabbed it.
Remember, this is a show that makes a point to the Dunphys and the Pritchett-Tuckers driving in Toyotas and built a plot around Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) falling in love with Costco. And no one will forget that they wrote an entire episode around Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) getting an iPad, even though the producers and Apple swear up and down that no money exchanged hands for the episode. However, they did provide the then-new iPad to show on the episode, so it wasn’t exactly an innocent coincidence.
But the Target reference was almost as clumsy as the product placement you’d see in reality shows like “Top Chef” (If we hear one more chef’testant talk about how roomy the Toyota Venzas are that they’re riding in, we’re going to scream).There are two ways to write product placement into scripted shows: Either in a very meta, over the top way — “Arrested Development” and Burger King, “30 Rock” and Verizon — or in a subtle but evident way — Shane in “The Walking Dead” driving around in a brand-new Hyundai.
Look, we like to wander Target as much as anyone, and we know that product placement is necessary in this DVR-tastic world. But writers need to strike a better balance, especially on “Modern Family.” It’s tough to laugh at the adventures of these families when we’re busy cringing over all the in-show advertising that’s being shoved down our throats.