A strange sitcom, inasmuch as its best moments are serious, not funny.
CBS’s dramas are a touch lighter this fall, but its comedies have more weight. First, there’s tender romance in “Mike and Molly,” and then the reworked adaptation of Justin Halpern’s Web-based hit “$#*! My Dad Says” — a strange sitcom, inasmuch as its best moments are serious, not funny. William Shatner makes the pilot barely watchable, but only because the fleeting moments of heart overshadow the mostly limp one-liners. In a business obsessed with younger demos, the septuagenarian Shatner is an unlikely sitcom star, but he provides the lone spark in this otherwise-formulaic comedy.
Of course, there’s an element of condescension in the basic premise, as there is in the sudden stardom of Betty White. Essentially, the fallout of a youth-obsessed culture has yielded the equivalent of “Old People Say the Darndest Things,” turning the format that once featured kids on its head.
That’s the underlying point of this comedy, on which Halpern serves as a producer but is run by “Will and Grace’s” Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. Jonathan Sadowski was a late replacement as Henry — the grown son who loses his magazine job and must crawl back to his dad seeking money — but it’s not much of an upgrade. Still in the picture, meanwhile, are older brother Vince (Will Sasso) and his wife Kathleen (Nicole Sullivan), who love the old coot but can’t bear the thought of living with him.
The constant remains Shatner as Ed, the irascible dad, but really just doing another variation on his bombastic late-in-life persona in a “Let Shatner Be Shatner” kind of way. Ed is the kind of curmudgeon who grouses about Girl Scouts pestering him, meets visitors with a rifle and says to a DMV worker, “You seem like a perfectly nice homosexual.”
While Henry comes across as whiny — griping about wanting “a gesture” from the old man — Shatner plays Ed as a guy stuck in his ways, but also with regrets: Stubborn, divorced and mostly alone, he’s too old to change but fears being isolated, especially if he can’t renew that damn driver’s license.
There’s actually some poignancy in the character and even the performance, but the punch lines — few of them memorable — keep getting in the way. (The best might be Ed’s complaint about cleaning up the house, saying, “We didn’t accidentally kill a hooker. We had brunch.”)
There’s something truly admirable about Shatner’s longevity and ability to reinvent himself, escaping “Star Trek’s” Vulcan ropes. He somehow managed to become cool all over again — winning Emmys for his over-the-top character on “Boston Legal,” popping up on Howard Stern’s radio show, even serving as a talkshow host on Bio and near-ubiquitous pitchman in Priceline ads.
“$#*! My Dad Says” — a title already protested by the (yawn) Parents Television Council — doesn’t diminish that legacy, necessarily, yet nor does it promise to significantly add to it. And while “The Big Bang Theory” ought to provide a healthy lead-in, if Shatner is the only reason to watch, it’s hard to imagine this father-son tale fostering an extended reunion.
Then again, as Halpern could probably tell you, $#*! happens.