TCA: Cast and Creatives of Fox’s ‘Dads’ Defend Racist, Sexist Humor

Comments arrive on the heels of Fox topper Kevin Reilly noting that 'Dads' tone needs work

TCA: Cast and Creatives of Fox's
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Journos approached the panel for Fox comedy “Dads” with guns blazing, launching question after question at the cast of the Seth MacFarlane comedy regarding the offensive humor featured in the program’s pilot.

MacFarlane himself was not present at the laffer’s TCA session, leaving exec producers Mike Scully, Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin to take on questions about the racist and sexist jokes used in the show.

“We don’t want this to be the racial, insult comedy show,” Scully remarked. “It’s a show about fathers and sons. With my father, I grew up with him saying horrifying things at the dinner table…The word ‘motherfucker’ I thought was normal dinner conversation…As you get older, you find things slipping out of you where you’re like, ‘Oh shit, that’s my dad coming out.'”

In the “Dads” pilot, many jokes center on stereotypes surrounding Asians, Hispanics and women. While this brand of MacFarlane humor has panned out well on “Family Guy,” its use in a live-action comedy has resulted in a largely negative response from TV critics.

Topliner Seth Green referenced “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” as shows that were “provocative” and “prompted change in cultural thinking.”

“This is an opportunity for characters to have that discussion in the way most people can’t,” Green said. “I think we’ve become a really careful culture, with people suing each other over hurt feelings…I’ve gotten into the weirdest discussions with people about what they think is racist.”

The comments from the cast and scribes arrive after Fox chairman Kevin Reilly acknowledged during his exec session the derogatory nature of the “Dads” pilot, and how the show will need retooling and recalibrating in order to find an appropriate comedic balance. He asked journos to wait until January to “take the show to task,” should “Dads” not evolve from its pilot.

“I don’t think we signed on to be cruel and insensitive, but we want to make it funny,” said Peter Riegert, who plays one of the dads on the show. “And the other thing I think is good about this writing are the moments when inadvertently the fathers and sons tell each other some truths.”

Most panelist emphasized that the racist and sexist humor is leveraged to emphasize generational differences, and how those offensive comments can have a trickle down effect from father to son.

Scully drew upon his past showrunning experience on “The Simpsons” when discussing the offensive nature of “Dads.”

“Anytime you’re doing a series, in the first six episodes, you’re still improving your pilot. I think you’re going to see a noticeable change in the tone and balance. We do want this to be funny, and this happened with ‘The Simpsons,’ too. There were times when people thought the show crossed a line,” including Homer strangling Bart, or expressions that Mr. Burns would use.

Cast members Brenda Song and Vanessa Lachey reflected on their own history dealing with being minority actresses in Hollywood, with Song even noting that playing a Chinese girl on the Disney Channel, to her, was “offensive.” (Song is not of Chinese descent.) Many journalists were quick to bring up a scene from the “Dads” pilot where Song’s character dresses up as an anime character and riffs on Asian stereotypes as exemplary of “Dads” offensive nature.

“I feel like if you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at all,” Song explained, quipping that she herself toys with Asian stereotypes in social settings for comedic effect.

“For me, to see this script and see Brenda in this outfit,” Lachey said, “…I’ve had a lot of those moments. I was the dark girl. The Asian girl. The Latina. The ‘what is she?’…So what do you do about that? You learn from it. I love, as Seth [Green] said, being able to magnify it…and put yourself in a third person perspective and deal with it…We make the joke before you can…I’m not saying this show is a lesson, but if we can’t laugh at ourselves and these situations and come out on the other side of them, what are we doing in this life? We’re not moving forward.”