September 18, 2013

TV: Dads (Tue 8, Fox)

Dads has probably gotten more pre-season buzz than any of the fall's new shows, and none of it has been good. "It's racist and sexist and horribly offensive," has been the unanimous cry from critics.

The problem with the show, though, isn't really that it's offensive (though it is). Comedy can be offensive and be very successful; South Park has been doing it for years. And even Dads creator Seth MacFarlane has pulled it off, in the best moments of Family Guy. But offensive comedy must, like all comedy, be funny, and Dads isn't.

The premise isn't awful: Two best friends who run a video game company (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) have their lives disrupted when their fathers (Peter Riegert and Martin Mull) come to live with them. And those are four fine comic actors, who manage even to scrape an occasional laugh out of the flimsy material they're given here.

But oh lord, is it flimsy material; the central jokes of the first episode center around the boys asking their co-worker Veronica (Brenda Song) to put on a slutty schoolgirl outfit to amuse potential investors. Here we see that the show can't even be bothered with precision in its ethnic insults: An actress of Thai-Vietnamese descent is asked to perform a Japanese stereotype for a group of Chinese investors.

There are racist jokes (Riegert assumes that Ribisi's wife must be the maid, because she's Latina), and gay jokes, and old jokes, and "Jews are cheap" jokes, and it appears that the second episode is already resorting to the "dad eats a pot brownie" plotline, which most sitcoms don't get desperate enough to use until at least the third season.

It's one thing when a show sets the bar high and fails; you can at least respect its ambition. But Dads sets the bar as low as it can possibly be set, and still fails to reach even the minimal goals it sets for itself. It's a tragic waste of a talented cast on material that would be an embarrassment on the stage of the South Succotash Community Theater.

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