September 17, 2013



Read All Our Fall Pilot Reports here.

DADS:  Tuesday 8PM on FOX  – Change the Channel

It’s hard to believe that the comedy executives at FOX, who have put such high-quality shows as New Girl, The Mindy Project and Raising Hope on the air in recent years, not to mention the upcoming and very promising Brooklyn Nine -Nine (our review of that is here), aren’t aware that DADS doesn’t belong with those; even the network’s recent comedy misfires like Ben & Kate and The Goodwin Games have been somewhat defensible, while Dads‘s badness has a stench that’s hard to miss.  But as a corporate entity, FOX has a fantastically profitable relationship with Seth MacFarlane, and his deal guaranteed him a 6-episode order for a live-action sitcom, which the network has since expanded to 13.  Particularly after the Fox movie studio ran the risk of alienating MacFarlane by passing on his movie Ted (which became a blockbuster for Universal), the network has every reason to give the producer what he wants on this one.

Although Dads is produced under MacFarlane’s aegis (and deal), it’s actually written by Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Weld, two long-time associates (both have written for Family Guy and collaborated on Ted).  What’s surprising about Dads isn’t so much that it’s terrible–this is the first time either of the writers has written for live-action TV characters, and even Ted, truth be told, was saved from mediocrity by its irresistible central gimmick–but that it’s so antediluvian.  Old Jewish guys who are too cheap to pick up the check for lunch, Asians who have small penises and like to watch women dressed as schoolgirls, Latina maids who know just enough English to insult their white bosses–the level of humor here is like a Las Vegas lounge act circa 1983.  It rolls right past “offensive” to pathetic.  Cringe-worthy humor, of course, has always been MacFarlane’s stock in trade, but in the mouths of living actors and without the surreal element of animation, this time it doesn’t generate any laughs.

The premise couldn’t be more hackneyed.  Eli (Seth Green) and Warner (Giovanni Ribisi) are man-child BFFs who run a video game company together.  (One of their games is “Kill Hitler,” which includes the ability to slay Hitler by impaling him with a menorah, a perfect example of a gag that could have worked as a cut-in on Family Guy.)  Eli runs regularly through girlfriends, while Warner has a wife (Vanessa Lachey) who he treats like a girlfriend.  Both men have contrastingly terrible relationships with their fathers: Eli and David (Peter Riegert) fight constantly, while Warner can’t bear to confront Crawford (Martin Mull) at all.  What the two dads have in common, though, is that they’re abject failures at business, bankrupt and–by pilot’s end–forced to live with their sons.

Sitcoms can accommodate plenty of dysfunction and hostility, but on some level, you have to feel as though something draws the characters together, or else why should we be drawn to them?  Although the Dads pilot tries to establish some bonds between its men, it’s all too easy to believe that they fundamentally dislike each other (the least convincing relationship is between Eli and Warner, who seem to be friends solely because the script demands it).  After half an hour, we want to spend time with them about as much as they want to spend it with each other.  The show’s women, meanwhile, are marginalized, notably Eli’s sassy maid Edna (Tonita Castro) and Veronica (Brenda Song), the employee who dresses as an Asian schoolgirl for a business presentation (there are some politically correct gags of the “we’re so gonna get sued for this!” variety that are meant to compensate).

All of this crassness could be rationalized if Dads were funny, but it’s not.  Set-pieces have no punchlines (we never even find out who paid the bill when Crawford and David have lunch together), and pop culture references, including the millionth quote of “You put one of ours in the hospital…” from The Untouchables, are sprinkled randomly and with no real point.  Under Michael Cendrowski’s multi-camera direction, Green and Ribisi are pitched too high, while Riegert and Mull do what they can with the material they’ve got.

FOX will certainly give Dads every chance in terms of marketing and patience because of the MacFarlane relationship (pity poor Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which has Dads for a lead-in), but it’s in a tough timeslot, against NCIS, The Biggest Loser, and the new Agents of SHIELD and The Originals, and it’s hard to see the show finding much of a foothold.  Once that 13 episode commitment runs out, Dads should find itself parked in a retirement community.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."