Pop Culture

'Dads': Not as bad as you heard, but not as good as you hoped

The cast of "Dads," from left: Martin Mull, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth Green and Peter Riegert.

Is "Dads," Fox's new sitcom, offensive? At times. Is it funny? Meh. Is it godawful? Not totally.

Sure, critics greeted the comedy about father-son relationships with brutal reviews: Robert Bianco of USA Today called it "a leaden fiasco with illusions of offensive grandeur." Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times called the attempts at humor "willfully sophomoric" and "politically incorrect," and noted that the material "comes across as obvious and boorish." (Ouch.)

Over at The Hollywood Reporter, chief TV critic Tim Goodman flat out said, "The pilot is terrible. ... Not only is the show not funny, it has heavily racist overtones for Asians."

A media watchdog group for Asian Americans even demanded a reshoot of parts of the pilot because of "racial and sexual stereotypes." 

Fox president Kevin Reilly defended the sitcom to reporters this summer, explaining "Dads" as "an equal opportunity offender" like "Family Guy." And that would be all fine and good if, you know, the characters on this new show were as funny as the idiotic, insulting — and hilarious, we might add — Peter Griffin.

It should be noted that insult-king and "Family Guy" mastermind Seth MacFarlane is executive producing "Dads" — and his is the mind that also gave audiences "Ted" and jokes that made celebs squirm at the Oscars last year. There was no way this show was going to be PC after he's gotten away with offensive lines as audiences laughed away. Why else does he have two hit shows on Fox's block of Animation Domination on Sundays? 

What's worse is that the "offensive" jokes — and most of the punchlines, in fact — just aren't funny. At all. They're dumb and old. The bit about the Chinese businessman sexting a photo of his (apparently microscopic) penis to Brenda Song's Veronica? Ridiculously lame. (By the way, this writer? Asian American, and not outrageously offended by the gags, though not amused either. However: You go, Veronica! Sexy Sailor Moon outfit or no, you're the boss!) 

The "bad dad showdown" between stars Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green? There was nothing horrible to compare (unless the occasional "soft kiss on the lips" as a sign of fatherly affection is the new twerking naked in public with your girlfriend — which it's not). Various ways to kill Hitler in a video game? Yawn. Talk about an easy, obvious target that doesn't push any boundaries.

So no, we didn't bust a gut laughing during the pilot, but there were a few smile-worthy moments. It is a father-son comedy, after all, and sweetness generally comes with part of the territory when done properly.

And therein lies the potential: The talent is there, particularly in the cast. Give Green, who created and wrote for sketch-comedy "Robot Chicken" and gave hilarious turns in the "Austin Powers" films, a shot at the scripts, and genuine laughs will practically be guaranteed. Viewers already know Ribisi can be hilarious. ("Friends" and "My Name Is Earl?" anyone?) And Martin Mull, who plays Ribisi's character's dad, did magic with his work on "Roseanne," and wrote HBO's mockumentary "The History of White People in America." 

In addition to MacFarlane, it looks pretty decent behind the scenes too. "Dads" was created and written by Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, both of whom have worked on "Family Guy."

But as laugh-free as the pilot was (unless you count the laugh track that punctuated all the unfunny bits to make the jokes fall even flatter), things do seem like they could be looking up for "Dads." An advance look at the second episode provided a few chuckles from the get-go and a fairly funny situation. (PC police be warned: There are old, really old, stereotypes about other minority groups.) 

The network also did something fun with all the bad reviews that came "Dads'" way: It played up some of the worst feedback in a teaser

We all have to laugh at ourselves sometimes, and it's promising to see that the team behind "Dads" can do it. Here's to hoping they start doing it even better when — or if — they get a chance.

"Dads" airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox.