A funny thing happened on the way to writing this review eviscerating Seth MacFarlane's Dads as the worst new comedy of the fall. Fox sent a screener of the second episode of Dads and the unthinkable happened: I laughed. Out loud. Twice.
I then had to shower, burn some demon-evicting sage and take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror to make sure I had not been possessed because there really is no way to disupte it: Dads is still the worst new comedy of the fall.
However, it also has the greatest potential for improvement. If you can make it past the blaringly offensive material in the first episode.
This half-hour comedy, which is produced by MacFarlane and the writers of Ted, stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as video-game entrepreneurs who have their lives flipped upside down when their dads (Peter Riegert and Martin Mull) move in with them.
The show makes every attempt to shatter political correctness at every turn. But instead of feeling provocative (like maybe Girls or Louie) this network-TV version has taken MacFarlane's deeply edgy humor and combined it with a laugh track (say whaa?), making it feel like an awkward 90's sitcom.
Going farther than William Shatner's (failed) "S—t My Dad Says" a few seasons back, Dads flaunts its political incorrectness (with s—t these dads say) without so much as a hint that any of the characters are aware of how offensive it is.
"The Chinese are a lovely and honorable people, but you can't trust them!" one of the dads (Mull) yells at his son (Ribisi) during a meeting with Chinese investors. "There's a reason Shanghai is a verb!" Also in the first episode, another dad (Riegert) mistakes Ribisi's on-screen wife, Camilla (Vanessa Lachey), for a maid, just because she is Latina.
The show's one saving grace is that the chemistry in the second episode is vastly improved from the pilot, and the four lead actors seem to have legitimately bonded and fallen into more of a rhythm. And while the pilot centers around a business meeting with Chinese investors (complete with the guys forcing their female colleague to dress up as a slutty Asian schoolgirl), the second episode enters less offensive waters, with a story about how Green's character needs an intervention to get back on drugs in order to do his job properly.
Fox is well aware this show is not going over well with the critics, after more than a few scathing reviews and a request from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, who asked Fox to reshoot scenes. (They declined.)
At the Television Critics Association press tour in August, Fox president Kevin Reilly asked critics not to judge the show based only on the first episode. "Here's a thing about Dads that I really ask you to put in context. That's a pilot," he said. "You know the lineage of these writers. They come out of Family Guy. They are the best writers. These guys are going to try to test a lot of boundaries. They are going to try to be equal-opportunity offenders."
When that didn't work, Fox decided to take the hateful reviews and make a "Critics vs. Fans" promo out of it.
BOTTOM LINE: Dads has nowhere to go but up.