News Column

'Dads' panel goes south; Simon Cowell talks about 'The X Factor' (but not the baby): TCA 2013

August 1, 2013


Aug. 01--BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF: What was intended to be a typical bring-out-the-cast-and-creators event to promote the new Fox sitcom, "Dads," turned into a tense exchange between reporter/critics and the show's stars today at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

Having watched the pilot of the show, the only episode made available to critics, I can verify that it's horrible. Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi play two lifelong friends who have their own business. But supposedly hilarious hijinks ensue because both guys' pain-in-the-neck fathers live with them.

The fathers are played by the very talented Peter Riegert and Martin Mull, both of whom deserve better material than this. "Dads" is created by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, identified in the press info as "the creatively outrageous minds behind last year's highest-grossing feature comedy, 'Ted,' and FOX's hit animated series 'Family Guy.'"

So, anybody who goes into the pilot expecting Noel Coward-level comedies of manners is obviously in for a painful disappointment.

But what's most notable is how not funny the "Dads" pilot it. Adding insult, literally, to injury, the pilot presents two of its female cast members -- Brenda Song and Tonita Castro -- in demeaning scenes that expect us to laugh at how baldly they play into racial stereotypes.

It doesn't work. At all. And reporters and critics let the show's creators and the cast know it. Which made for an uncomfortable, but fascinating session, as one side kept asking the other how they could miss the offensive nature of the material, and the other kept defending it with a variety of unconvincing responses (i.e., everything offends somebody; we're basing it on things that happened to us; it's politically incorrect, but we thought it was funny; etc.)

No wonder Fox cut the panel short earlier than it was scheduled to conclude. Mike Scully, an executive producer who carried good will from his work on "The Simpsons," seemed to grasp that the pilot had rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and mentioned that they'll be tweaking it as they continue.

Can't happen soon enough.

Other Fox news:

--Fresh from headlines about him reportedly becoming a father for the first time, Simon Cowell showed up in person, for the panel on the new, re-tooled season of "The X Factor." After a polite amount of time, someone congratulated Cowell and asked about his impending fatherhood.

(If you've missed it, New York socialite Lauren Silverman is reportedly pregnant with Cowell's child. She's married to someone else, however.)

Cowell smoothly deflected the subject, saying that for now, "I have to keep this private. It's just one of those things."

As to "The X Factor," Cowell said he enjoyed working an all-female group of judges this time around, including returning judge Demi Lovato, and newcomers Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio. New host Mario Lopez was also on the panel.

--Other panels focused on "Almost Human," a new sci-fi/procedural from J.J. Abrams' production company, created by "Fringe" veteran J.H. Wyman. Set 35 years in the future, "Almost Human" stars New Zealand actor Karl Urban ("Bones" in Abrams' "Star Trek" movies) as a cop, and Michael Ealy as his android partner, who turns out to some very human-like qualities.

Ealy said playing an android has made him observe human behavior more closely than ever.

Asked whether an android can "get it on," Wyman said not so much.

"Almost Human" gets off to a rather wooden start in the pilot, but the cast is solid, and includes Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook and Michael Irby.

--"Enlisted," a new Fox comedy, has an appealing premise: it's about three brothers who are all in the military, and wind up serving on the same Florida Army base. Co-creator Kevin Biegel said he wanted to reflect that wide swath of members of the military who don't fall into the two pop culture extremes -- PTSD sufferers of video-game warriors.

The pilot, which has lots of slapstick comedy and brotherly ribbing, had Oregon's Ron Funches as a member of the goofy ensemble on the base. But co-creator and co-executive producer Mike Royce said they lost Funches to the other pilot he filmed, NBC's upcoming midseason comedy, "Undateable."

-- Kristi Turnquist


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