‘Dads,’ in clashing bad taste
This new Fox fall sitcom aspires to be two things and fails at both
August 16, 2013
Foods that are bad tasting, like Roquefort cheese or caviar, aren’t as bad as foods that are partially bad tasting, like a Roquefort-and-jelly sandwich or ice cream with caviar sprinkles.
That’s the problem with Fox’s new fall comedy “Dads.” It’s co-created by Seth MacFarlane, who’s responsible for the network’s all-bad-taste animated comedies “Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show” and “American Dad,” but it uses bad taste only as an ingredient in a naturalistic sitcom about young men trying to live with their difficult fathers.
Just when we’re starting to empathize with the characters, one of them says something tasteless that would be unremarkable coming out of the mouth of, say, Peter Griffin but that is offensive spoken by a real live actor in a relationship-driven comedy. The byplay between the young men and their dads has its moments, but not enough to clear our palates.
In the premiere episode, airing on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m., Eli (Seth Green) and Warner (Giovanni Ribisi), who run a videogame company, are trying to close a deal with Chinese investors while Warner, who lives with his difficult father, Crawford (Martin Mull), is planning a surprise birthday party for Eli. Eli’s equally difficult father, David (Peter Riegert), spoils the surprise when he asks if he can stay with Eli for the weekend.
Crawford keeps trying to come to work with Warner. David, meanwhile, undermines Eli’s confidence. When Eli complains about the spoiled birthday party, he and Warner have a “bad-dad showdown.”
“My dad quickly closes the laptop every time I walk into the room,” says Warner. “I wonder why.”
“My dad can clear his throat for 50 minutes of a 90-minute movie,” says Eli.
“My dad is in debt in three continents, including Antarctica,” says Warner.
The fathers’ behavior is generally within the bounds of modern sitcom standards of outrageousness. Crawford enters the kitchen in a towel, which falls off while he’s talking to Warner’s wife, Camila (Vanessa Lachey). “Well,” he says, “now that you’ve seen it, I won’t be needing a towel from here on out.”
He makes casually sexist, racist and homophobic remarks that are typical of the way TV comedies portray people over retirement age.
David has an annoying habit of greeting people with a short kiss on the lips. He ruins the surprise party with a toast in which he reminisces about making Eli’s mother take a paternity test.
Despite their slight edginess, most of the father-son scenes are based on the theme that family members sure can be annoying, but ya gotta love ‘em.
Throughout the episode, however, the script — by MacFarlane and two of his co-writers on “Family Guy” and the movie “Ted,” Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild — keeps dropping bad-taste bombs. To help close the deal with the Chinese investors, Eli and Warner ask their intelligent co-worker Veronica (Brenda Song) to “dress up like a sexy Asian schoolgirl.” And she does.
Later she makes a reference to a man’s “tiny China penis.”
The videogame they’re pitching to the investors is called Kill Hitler 2. “You can even impale Hitler with a menorah,” says Eli. “What the heil?”
In a moment that we’re not sure how we’re supposed to take, Eli comes home late one night and finds his father watching a documentary about a massacre of Jews in 11th-century Spain.
If “Dads” were a bleaker satire, these jokes would fit right in. And if the family-based humor were funnier and stronger, we could ignore them. As is, they stink.
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