February 11, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Dads”


FOX executives have been swearing to anyone who’ll listen that DADS improved greatly after its much-panned early episodes, so it seemed appropriate to check back in with the show on the occasion of its back-to-back season finale half-hours.

And the answer is… no.  Dads ended the season just about as awful as it began, although those who objected to the racial (and other stereotype) tinged humor of the pilot may be relieved that it seems as though the show took to confining that strain of joke to the character of Edna (Tonita Castro), the Mexican maid of Eli (Seth Green), who speaks malaprop-laden English and when she’s not imitating a cartel gangster or playing her Latin music too loud is unable to tell the difference between the phrases “He’s dead” and “He’s almost dead.”  For those of us whose problems with the show were its charmlessness and complete lack of laughs, those haven’t been fixed in the least.

The main storyline of the penultimate episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Julius Sharpe and directed by Mark Cendrowski, had Camilla (Vanessa Lachey), the killjoy wife of Eli’s best friend and business partner Warner (Giovanni Ribisi), ordering that she, Warner, and Warner’s father Crawford (Martin Mull) had to stop drinking after Crawford got so drunk one night that he mistook the living room couch for a urinal.  (Those who’ve seen Dads will recall that the show’s premise was that both Warner and Eli had to survive life after their troublesome fathers moved in with them.)  The big joke was that all three were such functioning alcoholics that they couldn’t go a few dry hours without falling apart (Warner poured an entire shaker of sugar into his morning coffee), and then, when Warner and Crawford coped by composing and performing songs together, the two of them sang a pro-drinking tune to an AA group.  Meanwhile, Eli’s father David (Peter Riegert) turned out to be stealing Edna’s accumulated change in order to win the toy for Eli that his son had always wanted as a child, and still did.  Both stories were unfunny and a little bit rancid.

The emotional stakes were supposedly increased for the actual season finale, written by Co-Executive Producer John Viener and directed by Kelly Cronin.  (Sharpe and Viener, like series creators Wellesley Weld and Alec Sulkin, are all members of Executive Producer Seth MacFarlane’s animated writing stable.)  Crawford finally moved out of Warner and Camilla’s house, and then David had a heart attack, which made both sons realize how much they really loved and valued their fathers, prompting Warner to run to Crawford’s retirement home and bang Graduate-like on the window to get him back.  Meanwhile, Eli and Warner’s assistant Veronica (Brenda Song) announced her engagement, which caused Eli to suddenly recognize that he really cared for her (in fairness, perhaps these feelings were developed through the course of the season, although there wasn’t a hint of them in the previous episode) but, in what was seemingly meant to be a genuinely moving climax, he decided to walk away and let her be with her fiance.

It’s true enough that nothing in Dads is particularly offensive anymore–but none of it is funny, either.  The MacFarlane writers still seem to have no sense of what it means to write for an actual flesh-and-blood human being as opposed to a cartoon, and the show is as obvious and rigged in its plotting as a 30-year old sitcom, except without the craft and style that those shows had.  Mull and Riegert are pros, and they march through their lines whether the laughs are coming or not, but Green and Ribisi are embarrassingly broad (Song, however, deserves better).

Dads’ ratings were lousy all season, and it was given up for dead (its back-order was reduced), but a not so funny thing has happened over the past few months:  all FOX’s other half-hours have collapsed, leaving Dads at a ratings par with the infinitely better The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and not that far below New Girl.  It’s suddenly possible that if the network’s comedy development for next season is weak, Dads could find itself back on the air.  This would be good news for the people to whom Dads represents a steady paycheck. For the rest of us, not so much.



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."