In one of those strange circumstances of television scheduling, Fox tonight will premiere the best new sitcom of the season -- and one that many critics have already dismissed as the worst.
In general, critics agree that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is the funniest of the many new situation comedies set to debut during the next few weeks. It’s the best gig series that lead Andy Samberg has had on any screen since he left NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” in that it allows him to come off as a smart and caring individual without compromising the signature goofiness and anything-for-a-laugh approach to comedy that made him a star in the first place. But the real draw here is the seemingly effortless comedic performance of Andre Braugher, one of the finest dramatic actors in series television. The guy is hilarious. Who knew?
If “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a sterling example of Fox’s comedic sensibilities at their finest -- a show that belongs in the company of “Raising Hope” and “New Girl” (and the late, great “Malcolm in the Middle” and “That ‘70s Show”) -- “Dads” represents the other end of the spectrum, where one might find the festering corpses of “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” “Do Not Disturb,” and too many others to list here.
The premise of “Dads” isn’t half bad, and the cast is just great, which makes the awfulness of this show even more distressing. Two young guys (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) who run a successful video game company are enjoying their happy lives when their aging fathers (Peter Riegert and the awesome Martin Mull) decide to move in with them. The young guys are supposed to be very contemporary and politically correct while their dads are just the opposite.
The pilot for “Dads” has already stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy, primarily for scenes involving a female Asian-American character asked by the two young guys to dress up like a schoolgirl in an effort to impress visiting Chinese businessmen who are potential clients for their company. There’s more, but why repeat any of it here? The offensive elements of the pilot have been well reported everywhere.
The show’s problems don’t end with its crude humor. It just isn’t well thought out. For example, one of the young guys is single and the other is married with children, which weakens the entire structure of the show. The opportunities for great character-driven, cross-generational humor would have been so much richer if the young guys were single roommates and both dads moved in with them, or moved in next door. (The guys could certainly afford a house or apartment big enough for all of them, given what we see of their success in the video game industry.)
If nothing else, a greater emphasis on their home lives would take the focus away from the guys’ video game company, where the show spends far too much time, and where absolutely nothing hilarious ever happens. (It’s one of those sitcom workplaces unlike any known to man, except maybe people who work in writer's rooms.)
That’s one of the biggest problems with “Dads” -- and a very good reason why critics shouldn’t get so worked up about it. It’s just not a genuinely humorous or remotely realistic show. This became clear watching the pilot, but the second episode only reinforces how hard the writers and producers (including Hollywood superstar Seth MacFarlane) are straining without success to “find the funny,” as they say in television land. There are silly jokes about “Brokeback Mountain,” sexual performance and smoking pot for corporate profit. (Indeed, two of the characters try to convince another, who has given up pot, to start smoking weed again so he’ll be more creative at work.) There’s even a crack about Jewish people being tempted by anything that’s free (in this case a revolting penguin meat sandwich).
Here’s one of the “funniest” lines in the episode: “My dad did something that required five toilet flushes at 4:12 a.m.”
“All in the Family,” the comedy classic with which “Dads,” is often incorrectly and insultingly compared, could send studio and home audiences alike into convulsions of laughter with the mere sound of a toilet flushing. No other information was required.