Tracy Jordan of "30 Rock"? Funny, but not the best dad. Homer Simpson? Also not so great. Despite what viewers may see on TV, dads aren't generally challenged by every child-rearing task that’s set before them. In fact, lots of fathers are pretty good parents.
But you’d never know it from “Modern Dads.” A&E’s new reality series, which premiered Wednesday night, still seems insistent on portraying stay-at-home fathers as incompetent boobs who can’t parent their way out of a paper bag.
The show takes viewers into the lives of four different fathers: there's Stone, a single dad who likens raising a 5-year-old to dating, citing “the puppy dog eyes, the mixed messages, and I pay for everything." Sean is a stepdad who proudly claims he has no filter and says lots of things to confirm it; Nathan, a new dad who actually refers to himself as “Nate Dog”; and Rick, the experienced dad who’s shown wandering around the house in his boxers, seemingly uncertain as to the whereabouts of at least one of his four kids.
Watching these dads commune with each other begs the question whether the series was designed to appeal to viewers who find dads like “Family Guy’s” Peter Griffin too proficient. With all the forward strides TV has made in stepping away from stereotypes, why are dads still depicted as losers?
“TV generally has been terrible at portraying fathers,” said TV critic Marc Allan. “Even the best of dads – Jim Anderson of ‘Father Knows Best’ or Ward Cleaver of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ – were scattered or jumped to conclusions too quickly. The best you can hope for nowadays is Phil Dunphy and Jay Pritchett on ‘Modern Family’: You know they’re going to screw up, but ultimately they love their kids.”
It’d be one thing if “Modern Dads” merely offered up an obligatory frat-boy father to appeal to the lowbrow demographic, but based on the first episode, all four men are cut from approximately the same cloth, with seemingly none of them able to separate “being a guy” from “being a dad.”
“It wouldn’t be bad to have a few doofuses if there were other competent, Cliff Huxtable-like dads out there,” said Anne Bannon, editor of YourFamilyViewer.com. “As it is, though, (‘Modern Dads’) is just asinine. It goes nowhere providing any sort of balance and, as a result, it says very little about what it really is to be a father.”
A&E did not respond to requests for comment.
What the show seems to suggest is that guys are nothing in the parenting department without their supposedly better halves.
“This trend seems to perpetuate the dusty stereotype — and lazy joke — that the women of the household are expected to hold things together and properly parent kids, while the fathers are hapless man-children, all thumbs when it comes to folding Huggies and lax at exacting discipline,” said Matt Webb Mitovich, who manages to be a father as well as editor-at-large for TVLine.com. “It seems obvious that the recurring note handed down by network execs is, ‘But where's the fun in a father who knows what he’s doing?’”
Allan agreed. “Homer Simpson is funny. A dad who’s involved in his family’s activities and shares in the housework and child care isn’t,” he said. “TV thrives on stupidity and conflict.”
“Modern Dads” may focus on the fathers, but the moms aren't missing. Granted, the wives or girlfriends inevitably end up being acknowledged as sex objects by their significant others, but the dads mention that the reason they’re able to stay at home is because their significant other is a major breadwinner and none of the women are ever portrayed as being anything less than a competent parent.
“You can't exactly have a show where the majority of the stay-at-home dads are good at what they do because that would upset the status quo,” argued Mekeisha Madden Toby, a TV critic, blogger, wife, and mother. “It's funnier, easier and more predictable to show dads messing up and dropping the ball. Not because moms don't do this too — because we do — but it's less of an indictment when dads are imperfect. Dads aren't expected to be super human. Moms are.”