The new CBS comedy $#*! My Dad Days was one of the more eagerly anticipated new offerings in an otherwise lackluster fall slate. It was scheduled in the coveted time slot following the newly-relocated top-rated comedy The Big Bang Theory, where it ranks among the top new shows of the season. Competition like the reviled Outsourced on NBC and the quickly-cancelled My Generation on ABC was a recipe for success. However, after watching the first few episodes of the series, $#*! is nothing more than a generic sitcom in need of a few creative tweaks to justify its placement.
Roll With Me Henry
The role of Henry (the “my” in the title) is rather generic in that it could be played by anyone at this point. The characterization either requires some beefing up on the part of the writers in a way that gives the actor a lot more to work with or a dynamic comedic actor needs to be brought in who can compensate for the lack of overall character development by infusing the role with aspects of his own personality. In the part, Jonathan Sadowski falls somewhere in between as he can deliver the funny lines but has not yet been able to fully step into the largely-undefined character. The same could probably have been said of Ryan Devlin, who was recast after the original pilot was taped.
William Shatner is well-cast as Ed (the titular Dad) but with him in role, there was a need to make it more than a one-note part of reactionary zingers and one-liners. The writers have wisely explored Ed’s futile attempts to maintain the lifestyle to which he had long been accustomed despite a new live-in. This has allowed the series to draw from the deep well of father/son conflict inherent within the overall concept of the series.
Unfortunately, much of this conflict comes from a clichéd backstory presented in the pilot that was intended to serve as the foundation for whatever issues Henry has with Ed. This situation was handled more deftly on Roseanne in the 1990s and Titus in the early 2000s with much better development. Here, it comes across as an unnecessary plot device that was magically resolved the following episode.
TV’s First Twitcom
Many have claimed that a Twitter feed cannot effectively be adapted into a television sitcom. However, the premise of an unemployed adult son needing to move in with a dad who is far from easy to love is both timely and highly relatable regardless as to its source material. The inherent old-school father/new-school son Odd Couple conflict has the makings of a great television sitcom but despite the Will & Grace pedigree of series creators Buz Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the problem with the series rests solely in its transition into a Twitcom.
The show’s focus has been inordinately place on the Dad character. If the series is to be better adapted from Justin Halpern’s Twitter feed, more should be seen of Henry’s attempts to continue his writing career and rebuild his life – which would provide fodder for the caustic, inappropriate and politically incorrect observations on how his son is approaching this process.
The producers and/or the network erroneously fell into the sand trap of making Ed less abrasive than the model upon which he is based. The result is a more sanitized version of what made the Twitter feed so popular in the first place – which is odd given the throwaway backstory of how Ed treated Henry’s mother. The producers and/or the network may want to take a cue from the edgy Bernie Mac, who was able to orchestrate a successful transition of his expletive-laden stand-up persona into a winning sitcom persona without diluting that edginess.
Adding nothing to the series are Mad TV alums Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan – who are utterly wasted in the roles of Henry’s older brother Vince and his wife Kathleen. Their appearances are largely limited to inane make-the-show-funnier “B” storylines that converge at various points throughout each episode in the same manner as Jack and Karen on Will & Grace. Whereas there was more of a purpose to those earlier characters, one is hard-pressed to find the necessity of these characters on a regular basis outside of providing a more successful contrast to the down-on-his-luck writer.
A recent episode featured Will & Grace alum Tim Bagley in a continuing role from the show’s pilot as a DMV clerk turned waiter turned housekeeper that provided genuine laughs and exhibited some promise for the show. Unlike Sasso and Sullivan and to a lesser extent Sadowski, he plays very well against Shatner. His part should be expanded and the Sasso/Sullivan parts reduced so they can find a project that makes much better use of their great talents.
Shades of Will & Grace are also evident in how the show is written – which was fine for that series but doesn’t work with $#*!. Will, Grace, Jack and Karen were inherently funny characters so it made sense for them to be sharp-tongued and quick-witted. Such isn’t the case with $#*! as neither Justin nor the Dad are inherently funny characters. As with their previous failed effort Good Morning Miami, the writers and producers are at times forcing unmotivated and groundless comedy onto their characters for the sake of trying to be funny (remember the Weather Nun?). With $#*!, the comedy comes naturally from the situation in which Justin and his dad unexpectedly find themselves where two divergent world collide into a mess of miscommunication and mutual resentment. With Henry is more of the straight man, Ed is all the more funny because he isn’t trying to be funny but is of the age where he can be brutally honest and call things as he sees them – largely at the expense of his son.
A Better Dad
$#*! My Dad Says has allowed itself to become inhibited by its source material instead of nurtured by it. A conceptual adjustment, stronger character development and a shift in focus will turn what is now a generic sitcom carried by a plum time slot into a much better comedy series that could not only stand above a lackluster freshman class but potentially provide the same boost to a new series that it is getting from Big Bang.