Dads: Tuesdays at 8 p.m. On FOX
Normally, when I look at a show, I open with a little context about the TV landscape it’s coming into. I do this normally to give not only a little context, but to highlight trends in new TV so you know what’s competing for the eyeballs and attention of a given market segment (there’s a lot of TV out there and precious little time after all. While this show is one of many comedies built this year around adults and their parents cohabiting as the end result of a stagnant economy, (and I’ll discuss this more next week when I look at CBS’s Mom) I think the best place to start any discussion of Fox’s new sitcom Dads is with the negative buzz that has surrounded this show.
Simply put, many of the critics who have seen advance screenings of Dads have found the show to be complete and utter dreck, both unfunny and morally reprehensible (particularly in matters of race, but I defy you to find a Seth McFarlane show that believes in holding back). Fox in turn, has started an ad campaign telling America to ignore these fine people who get paid to watch TV and to watch their controversial new show. Needless to say, for the purposes of this one show, with as much vigor as I try to answer the question “Should I watch this show?”, I’m also going to try to answer “Did this show deserve the heat it got from critics in screenings?” (By the way, I feel like some marketing guy at Fox is going to completely take that last question out of context).
That being said, Dads follows the lives of two best friends: Warner, played by Giovani Ribisi and Eli , played by the hardest working man in McFarland: Seth Green. Their lives are simple and straight forward until their dads, played by Martin Mull and Peter Reigert unexpectedly move in. From there, hilarious hijinks ensue as generations clash under one roof!
So, is it as bad as those who got to screen this at the TCA’s claim it is? In one word: Yes, just yes. Dads is the sort of tired, hacky, TV that takes the worst elements of every sitcom you’ve ever seen and churned them into a blender of pure unfunny the likes of which I’ve never seen. Warner and Eli’s dynamic is ripped straight from The Odd Couple without any of the heart. The jokes, are hacky, cliché, and stretched past the point of any credibility, and delivered with excessive mugging and an almost playground bully-esque cadence (seriously, try plugging in “Smooth Moves, Ex-Lax into any line delivered by any lead in the show, and you’ll probably laugh harder). Making matters worse is the omnipresent laugh track that laughs at every. single. line. The end result is the sort of show that looks and feels like a sketch from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, down to the very cringing you’ll be doing while watching it.
As for the racism and sexism, it’s not nearly as atrocious as people hype it up to be, but the fact that they went for the most base, lowbrow, and least innovative way to address the topic is revolting. Worse yet, any potential irony or opportunity to leverage the joke as a function of someone’s ignorance is erased by the (even more moronic) laugh track. With no seeming hypocrisy, subtlety, or even something as simple as a generational divide (a golden example in using the mechanism of turning the joke back on the oppressor is Pierce Hawthorne) the race jokes feel empty and more like cheap shots than they probably would anywhere else, particularly when it is established immediately that our younger leads are no more enlightened than their fathers on the topic. The end result are jokes that are more like **ha ha, [insert group here]**, which is the sort of sensibility that leads to this sort of sociological criticism of Dads, even if the jokes themselves seem way too dumb and unfunny to actually do real damage.
The Final Verdict: Dads is the sort of show that seems like it would show up inside another show as a parody of a cliché, trite show. It definitely takes a sloppy hand with the racial humor and sexist humor, but it’s not nearly as morally reprehensible or mean spirited as it was initially perceived– just mind numbingly ignorant. Skip at all costs, this show is the sort of soul crushing utter garbage that should it ever get a fan base, they will be about as reviled as Juggalos.
Next Time: This Sunday is the Emmy Awards! I’ll be here on Manhattan providing live coverage!