As has been widely reported, the “Dads” pilot has certain racially charged elements, especially in the way that a young Asian-American woman named Veronica is written and portrayed. The primary offense involves the two young men at the center of the story (who run a successful video game company and are doing so well that their fathers move in with each of them) asking Veronica to dress up like a sexy schoolgirl and giggle to impress visiting Chinese businessmen. Elsewhere in the episode, a character refers to Chinese people as “Orientals.”
Everyone involved with this show, from co-creators
and executive producers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, to executive producer Seth MacFarlane and the network and studio executives who read and approved the script, had to know that content of this
kind would be a source of great outrage not only to the Asian-American community but to everyone offended by stereotypes of every stripe. One would have to be headless not to understand this.
Nevertheless, “Dads” is hardly worth getting all worked up about, because if the pilot is a sufficient barometer of the overall quality of the series, it will in all likelihood be pulled by the November sweep. “Dads” isn’t likely to die because some people will find some of its content unacceptable. “Dads” will likely be short-lived because there isn’t a single strong laugh in its first episode, and I rather doubt that anyone who sits through it will be eager for more.
This isn’t an effortless dismissal, because the concept here isn’t terrible and the cast is comprised of several impressive actors, including Seth Green, Giovanni Ribisi, Peter Riegert and one of my all-time favorite television performers, Martin Mull. (I recently had the good fortune to chat with Mull for the better part of an hour at the Soho House in West Hollywood. We talked at length about his love of painting, the museums and galleries that have displayed his work, his unforgettable roles as brothers Garth and Barth Gimble on the classics “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and “Fernwood 2-Night,” respectively, as well as the “Fernwood” re-vamp “America 2-Night,” and his portrayal of the title character’s gay business partner on “Roseanne.” “Dads” never came up during the conversation.)
The thing that’s bothering me most about the controversy surrounding this show is that it is often compared to “All in the Family,” the first sitcom to openly and very smartly address bigotry and racial stereotyping in American society. The comparison is lazy and makes me bristle, because “Family” was one of many progressive comedies from that decade that remain among the best scripted series television has ever produced.
Further, Archie Bunker, the bigoted working class everyman at the heart of the show, was one of the first truly multi-dimensional characters on network television. His opinions and observations were narrow and antiquated and reflective of the environment in which he was raised, but he was at heart a good man who worked hard to support his loving wife and daughter and even his lazy son-in-law. As the series progressed, Archie’s love for his family and friends and their love for him brought about a gradual softening of his views. “Dads” may ultimately prove to have its own merits. It may even prove to be popular. But it will never belong in the same sentence as “All in the Family.”
I can’t go further without acknowledging that critics aren’t supposed to review the new season’s new shows until closer to their premieres. That generally means that they shouldn’t rip into a new series (or heap great praise upon one if so moved) until the screeners of 2013-14 fall freshmen that were provided as far back as May are cleared for review -- or new “polished” versions are made available. I’m commenting now on “Dads” simply because the current controversy surrounding it is already making news. As such, this column should not be considered a formal or final review.
Given the ugly fuss in recent weeks, I imagine “Dads” might have been one of those rare programs that gets cancelled before it premieres if it weren’t a product of the fertile mind of MacFarlane, a multi-talented fellow whose many animated series, including “Family Guy,” are way too successful for anyone to even consider ruffling his feathers. Sulkin and Wild are also “Family Guy” alumni, so all three are well versed in the not-always-fine art of politically incorrect humor. Plainly, it’s one thing for potty-mouthed, ignorant, animated characters to scamper about saying rude, naughty and patently offensive things. It’s quite another for actual human characters to be showcased doing the same.