Dads (2013) – Created by Seth MacFarlane – Episodes 1 and 2: “Pilot” and “Heckuva Job, Brownie” – Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Seth Green, Peter Riegert, Martin Mull, Brenda Song, Vanessa Lachey, and Tonita Castro.
Halfway through the pilot episode of DADS, the first live-action sitcom from Seth MacFarlane, I was convinced the show was a joke, that this was somehow MacFarlane getting back at FOX for not picking up his version of the Flintstones. during my initial reaction to Sleepy Hollow, I said that the show felt like it had been made by stoned high school kids at 3 in the morning. Well, DADS feels like it’s being made by stoned college graduates at 3 in the morning, which is actually fitting given the show’s second episode.
We’ll get to the pot brownies in a minute because we need to start with the pilot episode, which is well and truly one of the worst sitcom pilots I’ve ever seen. It’s a dumb, clumsy, broad, infantile twenty minutes starring one guy (Giovanni Ribisi) who sucks at comedy, one guy (Seth Green) who sucks at nuance, and two guys (Martin Mull and Peter Reigert) who deserve far better jobs that slinking through this pile of stupid. There are women here, too: there’s the ridiculously hot co-worker (Brenda Song) who has to be fetishized as punishment for being the smartest person in the office, the ridiculously hot wife (Vanessa Lachey) who facilitates between bitch and sex-crazed dominatrix, and Seth Green’s housekeeper, who is a live-action version of the Griffin’s sometimes housekeeper.
When I watched the first episode of FOX’s New Girl, I hated it, but I could see that while it was stuffed with idiotic, empty, bland characters that I would never want to spend any time with, it was competently made. I can say the same thing for The Big Bang Theory – I don’t like it but that’s because it’s not funny, not because it feels like it was made by amateurs. The pilot episode of DADS feels like it was made by amateurs; at best, it feels like that sequence in This is the End where Rogen, Franco, and the others made Pineapple Express 2 in their living room.
I like Seth MacFarlane. I still watch and mostly enjoy The Family Guy, even if it has trailed off, and I watched every episode of The Cleveland Show. I love Ted. I thought MacFarlane was an excellent Oscar host.
But that pilot episode of DADS is a disaster. The jokes are awful, the dialogue is embarrassing, and the acting doesn’t elevate to the level of anyone giving a shit. But we’re not supposed to see any of that because laugh track.
Warner and Eli (Ribisi and Green, respectively) run a small but successful video game company. Veronica (Song) is their “assistant,” but seems to be the person who gets things done that need getting done. Eli comes up with the games and Warner doesn’t seem to do anything except act nervous. They’re trying to raise funds from Asian investors for Kill Hitler 2, and to help win these investors over, they make Veronica wear a school girl-type outfit. (It may be something that I’m not hip enough to understand – do people still watch Sailor Moon?) The deal is going well until Warner’s dad, Crawford (Mull) shows up and acts paternally racist.
So the deal is ruined. Except for when Veronica saves it because the Asian translator sent her a picture of his tiny penis. Because he’s Asian and Asians … look, if there’s a stereotype that the show can toss up on your screen in its attempt to be, I dunno, edgy or relevant or simply to pull in audiences who miss the days when a grown-ass white man could openly remark on Jews being cheap, then DADS is going to exploit it.
We’re forced to endure all manner of not funniness: Eli is a total dick to his dad, while Warner won’t stand up to his. Neither of the dads will pick up a lunch check. Warner does funny voices. It’s tedious, awful, pathetic, wretched television.
But it’s not without some hope.
The second episode, “Heckuva Job, Brownie,” is a marked improvement over the pilot. It’s still mostly terrible, but where the pilot was dominated by talented actors handcuffed by a wretched script, the second episode sees the actors starting to assert their presence on the process. The plot of “Brownie” sees the kids feeding their dads pot brownies because it makes their life easier, as both dads have now moved in with their sons. (The kids both hate this because fathers are horrible people who should have no role in your life, apparently.) Eventually, the kids apologize to their dads for doing this, but the dads are all, “We totally knew” and then they have a pot off to see who can eat the most pot brownies without falling asleep.
It’s a simple plot and there’s not a lot here, but the actors – mostly Mull and Riegert – can’t help but wring something out of this challenge.
It’s still not good, but you can see that there’s a path to freedom here, if the writers and producers are smart enough to follow it.
The characters have to grow, however. Even by the generous standards of what constitutes characterization in an American sitcom, these are not real people, and the treatment of the women is particularly galling. Both Song and Lachey deserve better, and one of them was on The Suite Life of Zach and Cody and the other was the replacement interviewer on Wipeout.
The biggest problem with DADS is that it’s just not funny enough to keep bringing me back except to see how wrecked the train can get. I like most of these actors – though I don’t think anyone knows why Ribisi is here or how to properly use him – so I think there’s every possibility the show gets better. I just don’t know if it can get better in time, and I don’t know if it can get to a paint that makes sticking around worth it.
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