Dads, about two adult men dealing with their eccentric, interfering, and altogether insufferable fathers, is a bad sitcom. And yet I found it oddly fascinating. It feels like a show that’s literally out of its time — as if it had been time-warped in from the early nineties, when it was still possible for a sitcom jam-packed with bigoted or otherwise offensive jokes, populated by types rather than full-fledged characters, and conceived as an utterly unremarkable, brightly lit three-camera sitcom with a laugh track to make it onto a major network’s fall schedule and be hyped along with shows that don’t stink. That Fox has reacted to advance pans by digging in its heels and encouraging people to watch anyway, as a statement against the Oppressive Dictatorship of Criticstan or whatever, might be the only amusing thing remotely associated with this sitcom.
Created by Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, performers and writers on Family Guy, Dads stars Giovanni Ribisi as Warner and Seth Green as Eli, the owners and creative directors of a video-game start-up. Each man is still defined by his relationship with his father — and wow, does this show find old men burdensome and unpleasant. Warner’s dad, Crawford (Martin Mull), is an arrogant know-it-all who unnerves Warner and his girlfriend by strutting around the kitchen in a towel and barely reacting when it drops to reveal Little Crawford. “Now that you’ve seen it, I won’t be needing that anymore!” he says of the towel, while the laugh track hits a peak of ecstatic frenzied laughter, capped by some guy yelling, “Wooooo!” Seriously, who yells “Wooooo!” after a lame “comic” moment like that? I mean, besides that guy on the laugh track, who I bet was recorded during a studio taping of Sanford and Son in the mid-seventies and was probably on quaaludes at the time, and who probably died a couple of years ago, and whose grandchildren spent most of the memorial service watching Family Guy reruns on their Kindles?
But I digress: Dads — don’t watch it. That way you won’t have to roll your eyes back into your skull when Crawford and Peter Riegert, who plays Green’s dad, battle to avoid paying a lunch check by fanning or blowing it across the table — this show’s notion of brilliant physical comedy. And you won’t have to cringe when the lads encourage an Asian co-worker to dress up as a “sexy Asian schoolgirl” to appeal to potential Chinese investors, or when the show tries to get laughs from cultural stereotypes while half-assedly pretending the joke’s on our heroes for being so ignorant. (“There’s a reason Shanghai’s a verb!”) Just don’t watch it. For real.