September 19, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
With a new sitcom on Fox named Dads, it’s hard not to tune in and, having done so, register an opinion. It turns out a lot of TV critics did the same thing, and, at this point, it’s hard to know which is worse, the show or the critics’ responses. But, if I were asked to make a call, I’d have to say that, horrible as Dads is, the critics’ takes are worse. The two taken together tell us a lot about the anti-dad fever that’s gripped the nation for so long. Dads isn’t the only TV offering about fathers, and many of them don’t promote the type of frank misandry the Fox show does, but by itself, Dads hustles every anti-father stereotype that’s zipping around the ether. That just happens to be the good news.
Dads premiered this past Tuesday. The set-up is that two 30-something men, Warner (Giovanni Ribisi) and Eli (Seth Green) run a small but reasonably successful business making videogames. Warner’s father Crawford (Martin Mull) lives with him, his wife (Vanessa Lachey) and their two kids. In the first episode, Eli’s father David (Peter Riegert) comes to live with him.
What are these fathers like? Do you really have to ask? They’re the very incarnation of every bad stereotype of fathers trafficked in by everyone from NOW to the judges who daily decide child custody cases, almost invariably choosing Mom custody over equal custody. If dads are really like they are in Dads, who could argue?
There’s not much to choose between Crawford and David. After all, when you have one stereotype of a father and two fathers to apply it to, they inevitably come out looking a lot alike. And sure enough, both dads are childish, clueless, selfish and self-absorbed and uncaring. They’re also abject failures at everything. They’re failures in business and penniless, which is why they’re living with their sons. They’re failures at love, having left (or perhaps having been left by) their wives. And of course they’re failures at fatherhood. David left his whole family years before and Crawford is just a jerk.
All of this is hammered home in the classic sitcom tradition that nothing can be too obvious. So, within the first minute of the premiere we see Warner’s kitchen in a shambles because his father had made himself a sandwich. His wife provides the obligatory lesson that she’s already got two children and doesn’t need a third.
From there we’re treated to a show-long litany of crudities courtesy of the dads. Needless to say they’re racist (slurs against Asians), sexist (Crawford refers to Warner’s wife as “the maid) and homophobic (he asks if there aren’t “some gays” at Warner and Eli’s office).
In short, the fathers are pretty much what you’d expect – the worst of people with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. As Gomer Pyle would say, “surprise, surprise, surprise.”
By about the first commercial break, we also get the message that the apple hasn’t fallen far from either tree. The sons are just younger versions of their dads. Oh, their business is successful enough for now, but look at how they treat their female employee, a young Asian-American woman (Brenda Song). For potential Chinese investors, they have her dress up in a sexy “little Chinese schoolgirl” outfit, assuming this will impress the money men. Meanwhile, their other scams include Eli’s dressing in jeans and wearing a motorcycle helmet to convince the investors that their company is cool and, presumably cutting edge.
The none-too-subtle message is that dads are creeps and, however much their grown sons try to convince themselves they hate them, the younger generation hasn’t changed much, if at all.
With that take on fathers, I was heartened to learn that the critical response to the show has been uniformly negative. Article after article, I read, found the show to be awful, a loser. So I figured people are starting to catch on. In a culture that seems to seek ever more hateful ways to depict fathers (remember Kevin Spacey’s Pay it Forward character whose father had poured gasoline on him as a child and set him alight?), surely people were catching on. Or so I thought.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The show premiered on Tuesday; by the end of Wednesday, I’d read about a dozen critiques of it, and, as I’d been led to believe, they were without exception derogatory. The problem, though is that each reviewer, again without exception, completely missed the obvious. Reading them, I sometimes thought “they didn’t watch the show,” but that’s not right. They accurately described the action, the characters and quoted them in detail. The reviewers had clearly watched the show.
But astonishingly, not a single one of them noticed the screamingly obvious fact that Dads disdains dads. Despite the fact that it’s made painfully clear from literally the first seconds of the show, not a single reviewer mentioned the fact. Nor did they notice the - admittedly more subtle but still clear – point that the younger men are just somewhat hipper versions of their old men. The frontal attack on fathers as stupid, incompetent children sailed right past every reviewer I read. I suppose if they witnessed a gasoline truck collide with a school bus and explode in a ball of flame, they’d talk about the new store at the mall in the background.
What reason did they give for disliking Dads? To a person it was the same; it’s “racist and sexist.” It’s racist because Asian people are depicted in a stereotypical light. It’s sexist, not because of its treatment of fathers, but because Warner and Eli’s Chinese-American employee is forced to dress up in a schoolgirl’s uniform and Warner’s wife is never seen outside the kitchen.
Well, those things may be worth mentioning, but to notice what are essentially sidelights and ignore the anti-father narrative that appears literally in every scene, is bizarre at best.
What’s worse, though is that the reviewers do what’s unfortunately become de rigueur over the years – they don’t notice who’s wearing the white hat and who the black. I know it’s a fiendishly difficult concept, but, in no-nuance shows like this, when the bad guy (he’s the one in the black hat) says or does something, we know it’s bad. See? He’s the bad guy. When Snidely Whiplash ties Little Nell to the railroad tracks, we’re supposed to know that his doing so is a bad act, not a good one.
Sadly, the college graduates who reviewed the first Dads show haven’t mastered that most basic and simple of concepts. They think that putting the Asian employee in a girl’s school uniform with sexy red bra peeking through, is a slap at women – sexually objectifying them, don’t you know. What they miss is that it’s done by the idiot sons of idiot fathers. Because it’s forced on the young Asian woman by them, we’re meant to understand that sexual objectification of women is bad and therefore so are they. It’s so painfully obvious, but somehow everyone missed it.
Ditto the fact that the three of the four women in the piece – Warner’s wife, the Asian employee and a Hispanic housekeeper for Eli – are the only sane, competent and remotely normal people in the bunch. That may be sexist, because of course women aren’t always that way. On the other hand, it may be sexist because there’s a clear divide here between the sexes that’s far easier to see: the men are destructive idiots and the women are competent and together.
Strange how every single reviewer missed all of that. Is the show sexist? You bet it is; it’s a non-stop tirade against fathers. Somehow the critics managed to not notice.
Generally speaking, I think pop culture should be free to say pretty much anything. I think humor particularly should have a free rein in expressing ideas. But where I draw the line is where it too often promotes discrimination against a certain group of people. Pop culture’s role in creating and maintaining certain concepts is in making them part of the mainstream. It does that by depicting them as normal, everyday.
So, if we’re routinely treated to, say, African-Americans in roles as thugs and dope addicts, pop culture makes it easier for us to subconsciously assume those qualities about blacks. That in turn makes it easier to imprison them, fear them, treat them with suspicion, etc. Black people in the U.S. have a hard time getting an even break in many walks of life, and that sort of portrayal by popular culture makes matters worse. Many blacks have pointed this out many times.
Well, fathers too get the short end of essentially every stick, at least when it comes to their children. From custody to child support to adoption to paternity fraud and more, the legal system kicks dads to the curb, the unsurprising result being damage to them and their kids. It’s a situation that screams for change. Dads urges us to maintain the misandric and destructive status quo.
And not a single critic noticed.
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