Father of the Pride had everything going for it. The series came from the same people who brought us the smash hit film franchise Shrek. It had the same levels of CGI wizardry and the unique sense of humour that Shrek was so successful at. Network NBC embarked on a relentless pre-season campaign to create awareness, and its launch was heralded by the network the future of television animation.
So what went wrong. Perhaps it was the mixed response from the industry press. Many critics merely saw Father of the Pride as a tired attempt to cash in on the success of Shrek. A perhaps flawed view as the series itself was much different from the green ogre. Could it have been the decision to air the first episode in August, well in advance of the traditional start to the new fall season, when viewers might not be expecting to be watching television in the last days of summer.
Maybe it was an error to start the series by airing the episodes out of order. Indeed, the first episode aired was the fifth in production order. The episode What's Black and White and Depressed All Over? is not a bad episode, but not exactly the strongest to start with. Obviously the pilot episode will be geared best to introduce viewers to the characters and the universe they inhabit. Or maybe it was the incident that almost killed Roy Horn a few months before the series went to air.
All are interesting possibilities, but they still don't seem to explain why Father of the Pride failed to catch on with viewers. Perhaps it is just one of those series like so many others, that despite their high quality and talent involved, they simply fail.
Which is an absolute shame as Father of the Pride is a brilliant series. It may not be as cutting edge as some sitcoms, but it blends a mixture of adult and family humour. While not exactly reaching the levels of South Park, it can be surprisingly mature with it content. But it does so in the knowledge that younger viewers will not have a clue what they are talking about, which leaves the adults free to chuckle.
One of the real strengths of the series is the mix between the daily life of Siegfried and Roy, and their animals living in the Secret Garden sanctuary. It is quite amusing that Siegfried and Roy lead a very bizarre and unusual lifestyle. The types of adventures they go on are in stark contrast the normality of the animals. Larry and his family experience the same problems as most other sitcom families do.
Personally I find the shenanigans that Siegfried and Roy to be hysterical. From Siegfried's hostility to The Today Show's Matt Lauer, to their trip to a local 7-Eleven and on to their attempts to compete with the hottest new magical acts in Las Vegas. The enthusiasm that they exhibit towards even the most mundane things and the unique humour they hold, never fails to raise a smile on my face.
Meanwhile, Larry and his family are well above your average sitcom family. They may be white lions, but they are nonetheless the same as every normal family. They experience the same problems and situations we've seen a thousand times in hundreds of other series. Father of the Pride actually manages to make them more real and relevant.
But the real strength of the show is the wealth of voice talent that bring the characters to life. It is hard not to see John Goodman in Larry. Every nuance and gesture of Larry is easily recognisable to anyone who ever watched him on Roseanne. Larry is the atypical 'dad' who loves his family but sometimes finds it hard to be around them. Cheryl Hines seems to have become the poster mother type. He voice adds a calmness to Kate, but also a strange sexiness to her character. She can sometimes be stern, but other times gentle and reassuring.
Orlando Jones is perfect as Snack the Gopher. The tiny rodent friend of Larry who is virtually the devil on Larry's shoulder. Perhaps doing more to get the lion into trouble than even Larry's own bad judgement. Carl Reiner is also well suited as the arrogant but also failing Sarmoti, the former head lion and father-in-law to Larry. His dismissive attitude to Larry is not different than most other sitcoms, but when push comes, he will help Larry if it means that his daughter and grandchildren can be happy.
The chaos of Siegfried and Roy is brilliantly brought to life by the duo of Julian Holloway and David Herman. It is hard to think that they are not the real Siegfried and Roy. Although you can understand that both men are mere caricatures of their real selves.
The series is also boosted by the vocal talents of numerous celebrity guest stars. Kelsey Grammer does a great turn in one episode, while Lisa Kudrow plays the depressed female giant panda Foo-Lin. Eddie Murphy's turn as Donkey feels about the only misfire in the entire series. It seems that his appearance more than any other thing was used to dismiss Father of the Pride as a cheap Shrek knockoff.
Father of the Pride is an intensely witty series that is gorgeous to look at in all its CGI finery. If feels wonderfully original and unlike anything you ever seen on television. It deals with some of the most traditional staples of sitcoms like racism, drugs, rivalry and sex. But also goes to the absurd with questions over whether eating your neighbour is acceptable.
Frankly Father of the Pride is one of the finest sitcoms to air in the past decade of television. Its demise is to be lamented as its loss is made more apparent with each viewing of an episode.
What makes Father of the Pride stand out is the fact it is intensely funny, but also has a heart. And you will be hard pressed to find a show that can combine both so well.