Although it became fashionable during the TV critics tour to be wildly offended by “Dads,” the exaggerated tumult the show engendered shouldn’t eclipse its general badness, in the process squandering the promise of Peter Riegert and Martin Mull in the title roles. The main problem, frankly, is how the series traffics in predictable, played-out gags, from the videogame setting to the crazy-old-coots conceit — think of this as “$#*! Our Dads Say” — that’s become such a popular way of allowing more desirable demos to laugh (hopefully, but not likely) at their elders.
Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi (truly deserving of better) play longtime buddies and partners Eli and Warner — one single, the other married — who run the game business together (their big seller is titled “Kill Hitler”). Each, meanwhile, must deal with the headaches associated with their respective pops: Crawford (Mull), lives with Warner and has a knack for cheerfully saying the wrong thing, while specializing in bizarre get-rich-quick schemes; and the gruff David (Riegert), who parachutes back into Eli’s life and, naturally, will stay for as long as the show endures.
For those who haven’t kept up, much of the controversy regarding this show created by “Ted” and “Family Guy” writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, working with Seth MacFarlane, surrounded low-brow and racially questionable gags, including a bit in which the guys’ co-worker, played by Brenda Song, is prodded to dress in an anime-style schoolgirl outfit to impress foreign investors. That a MacFarlane-produced comedy (seriously, does that guy ever sleep?) would engage in bawdy humor and objectify women would seem to fall under the heading of being shocked, shocked to discover gambling is taking place at Rick’s Cafe, but go ahead, knock yourselves out with righteous anger.
The truth is, “Dads” merits condemnation less for such outrages than because the tone is so broad and slapdash. The only amusing scene in the pilot has Mull and Riegert’s characters sharing lunch together, with both being so cheap that each goes to inordinate lengths to steer the check back in the other’s direction. And even that (which actually evoked chuckles in a cut-down version at last spring’s upfront presentation) drags on until it’s stale.
The second episode, where Mull and Riegert’s characters eat special brownies intended to get a creatively blocked Eli working, does yield a few stoner giggles, but would only approach “good” for those either grading on a curve or similarly medicated.
Fox has scheduled the series to lead off its Tuesday sitcom block, joining a lineup that barely got by ratings-wise last season. Certainly, there are some ingredients here that ought to provoke attention, but if the juvenile nature of “Dads” seems unlikely to grow up, barring an unexpected wellspring of interest in the auspices, it also looks like a serious long shot to grow old as well.