Dads is not the worst new show of the fall 2013 season! Go ahead and take a victory lap, Seth MacFarlane and the rest of the creative team, specifically co-creators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild—you may've birthed the most despised new show of the year according to my unofficial survey of television critics' tweets, TCA stories, and general sourness over the idea of Dads—but it's not the worst (more on that in the notes section, below). Give yourself the day off, you deserve it.
However, Dads is morally absent, contains some of the laziest humor I've seen on TV in years, stains the resumés of several talented people, and just flat-out forgets to be funny. Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi, two actors who have both achieved critical success over the course of their careers, play cool young dudes Eli and Warner, respectively, and they're held prisoner by the promise of a paycheck and humor that would make laughing gas cry. They play a pair of on-the-up video-game developers who don't really care for their dads, but then their dads move in with them! (The dads are played by Martin Mull and Peter Reigert in embarrassing roles that will probably inspire the AARP to revoke their memberships for the unfair portrayal of old people.) That's basically the premise, and yep, it stinks.
You could easily make it through the entire half-hour without laughing once, as I did, but is that really such a surprise when the attempted zingers involve Eli's maid thinking his dad looks like Eric Stoltz's radically deformed character from Mask? Or Mull's character Crawford defending his use of Warner's social security number because, "If I used mine, the IRS would be all over this place like flies on ham"? Or Crawford and Eli making their Asian female coworker (Brenda Song) dress up like a sexy Asian schoolgirl and giggle like a tease to impress Asian businessmen? Or Crawford thinking a new boxing video game is called Punch the Puerto Rican? Or Crawford reminiscing about the time he blew a business meeting because he mispronounced "Shi'ite"? Or both of the tightwad dads fighting to not pay a lunch bill for an excruciatingly long time but not quite long enough for you to find a sharp object that you can use to end the torture? Or Reigert's David saying that the hour from three to four is his "go time" in reference to when he defecates? Or the running gag that David, who otherwise spends the entire first episode acting like a lost curmudgeon from Grumpy Old Men, for some reason greets people with a gentle kiss on the mouth? I would go on, but I'm one memory recall of a Dads "joke" away from Dads-related PTSD.
But I'll defend Dads for one minute and say that I didn't find it nearly as offensive as lots of early reviews made it out to be. Instead, the racist jokes are just pitiful, like a lonely bigot boy lashing out because no one will play with him. The pilot undeniably targeted Asian people, or "Orientals," as Crawford said, but the gags were so sad because all the humor did was make picking on Asians seem incredibly lame. The episode's grand finale was a flurry of small Asian penis jokes after Song's Veronica received a dicture from the Asian businessmen's translator (her sexy schoolgirl outfit was a big hit), and it was probably the closest Dads got to being offensive. But really, it was just depressing. (Disclaimer: I'm part Asian. There, the truth is out.)
MacFarlane's frat-fart humor can work sometimes, particularly when it comes out of the mouth of a porky cartoon character or an animated dog. But when real flesh-and-blood human actors spit out the same words, the veil of anonymity is lifted and all that's left is the core hate that's disguised by brightly colored drawings in Family Guy et al. Yes, giving a cartoon a pass on controversial humor is contradictory, but I'm sure there's some science out there that proves cartoon characters and cute things can get away with murder and we're all okay with it. Put it this way: When a fluffy puppy poops on the carpet, it's kind of cute. When I drop a huge steaming whopper on the rug, all of a sudden I'm a revolting barbarian. Dads is kinda like me doing that.
But what was shocking about the pilot was just how little effort went into it, and how oblivious the people who made Dads or who approved Dads were to allow any minute of it to reach the air where the public could see it. Fox obviously has a special relationship with MacFarlane, so this must have been the product of a throw-in on a larger deal, and it might get a longer leash than it would've if it came from an unknown producer. Why? Because life is not fair, we all know that. Dads is bad, and we all know that, too. The bottom line is that comedies should make you happy, but Dads is just depressing.
– Are we supposed to be mad at Brenda Song, an Asian-American, for being part of this? Are we supposed to be sad? Or do we say "Whatever, it's just Hollywood"?
– For those of you who are wondering which new series earns the title of worst of the fall season now that I've told you it isn't Dads, here's a hint.
– Dads Episode 2 is not much better; it involves lots of pot brownies.
– Okay, which one of you internet heroes is going to post of copy of the pilot with the laugh track stripped?
What'd you think of the pilot? Was it everything you hoped or feared it would be?
AIRED ON 12/3/2013
Season 1 : Episode 11