There are a lot of bad new comedies arriving this fall, and the thought of writing separate reviews for "Dads," "We Are Men," "Super Fun Night," "Welcome to the Family," "Sean Saves the World," "The Millers" and "The Goldbergs" made me not want to get out of bed in the morning.
So I'm going to provide short and sweet reasons why you should avoid them. Standard caveat: Some of these shows could improve. It's about as likely that a unicorn will fly out of NBC's headquarters and sprinkle every TV viewer in America with joy-creating pixie dust ... but you never know, I guess these things could happen.
And here's a bit of context for what follows. I appreciate that pilots have to do an intimidating number of things. They have to introduce characters, set up the show's premise, outline the relationships between the people on screen and -- oh yeah -- entertain the audience as well. If it's a comedy, some laughs would be nice.
That's a lot of territory to cover. But there's one more thing that every pilot has to do, in many subtle and obvious ways: Tell us what its priorities are.
Is it going to go for belly laughs? Is it more interested in creating a mood or a feeling? Is it content to just hang out with the characters, or is the show more about the plot and the suspense? There are hundreds of different goals a program can pursue, but the pilot has to clue us in on a few of the priorities it cares about most. The priorities established in the pilot don't have to remain static for the life of a program -- and they really shouldn't -- but initial episodes need to tell the audience what matters to the creators.
For example, the priorities that the first two episodes of Fox's "Dads" communicated to me could be summarized in this way: "We are capable of coming up with the odd reasonably decent joke now and then, but we are quite satisfied with reaching for the easy, stupid, obvious, tired ones. Why? Because we can. Here's the deal: We're just not going to try that hard. Our priority is enabling our own laziness."
It's entirely appropriate to go after "Dads" for its racist and sexist elements, and many critics have done that extremely well. But those two elements are just symptoms of a much deeper problem with the show: It's not just willing but determined to take the easy way out at almost every turn. It's like a cook preparing every single dish in the deep-fryer, no matter what ingredients are on hand.
The second episode of "Dads" is less overtly racist than the first, but what becomes even more clear is that the premise -- which revolves around two dads coming to live with their less-than-enthusiastic sons -- results in stories and situations that are plodding and strained. A show about family members who don't actually like each other could be funny, but this is not that show. Creatively speaking, "Dads" comes off as if it were a much-resented homework assignment for all involved.
Fair enough, "Dads": You can settle into the rut you created for yourself in the first two episodes, and I won't give the show any more coverage. We both win.
But because critics live to destroy and attack everything that is good, let's not stop there. Here are some thoughts on a few other fall comedies you might want to run away from at top speed.
These aren't all the new comedies coming down the pipe, however. I enjoyed "Trophy Wife" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," and reviewed the latter here. I'm mixed on "Back in the Game," "The Crazy Ones," "Mom" and "The Michael J. Fox" show, but I'll be tackling them a little later this fall.
Until then, onward with the parade of non-awesomeness!
- The premise: Family life in the '80s.
- What it said to me: I'm sorry, I can't hear you, my ears are ringing from the sheer LOUDNESS of this show. On paper, the show's premise bears comparison to that of "The Wonder Years." In practice, this show kept telling me that it was going to shout at me a lot, and I am not a fan of migraines. "The Goldbergs" has a solid adult cast, but the whole thing leans heavily on broad humor and cartoonish moments -- and did I mention that it's LOUD?
- The premise: A bunch of guys live up in an apartment complex after divorces and breakups.
- What it said to me: "Women, amirite?" The existence of this comedy, which pretends to be brash but mainly succeeds in being more offensive, unfunny and predictable than "Dads," told me that we have angered the gods. How else to explain the arrival of both "Dads" and this collection of moronic douchebro humor in the same month? Awful.
- The premise: Rebel Wilson's Kimmie tries to manage her work life as a lawyer and quality time with her two BFFs.
- What it said to me: That absolutely nobody at ABC or on the staff of this show has any idea of how to effectively showcase Rebel Wilson, whose innate awesomeness is almost entirely squandered here. "Super Fun Night" isn't just bad, it's infuriatingly bad, given Wilson's likability, game energy and overall potential as a TV personality. It's as if the whole goal of the pilot is to get viewers to dislike every single character and want nothing to do with them ever again. I hope this show can quickly improve on its terrible pilot, but I fear ABC simply doesn't know what to do with Wilson. At all.
- The premise: Retired parents are annoying.
- What it said to me: As is the case with "Dads," this show posits that adults who have to spend time with their parents are basically living in hell. (The memo that apparently went out to comedy pilot writers this year: "Old people are the worst! Also, women, amirite?") The only thing I can think about when I watch the Millers is that Margo Martindale deserves so much better than this, and I wish she was free of this show's hackneyed, overly broad "humor" so she could go back to "The Americans" and be awesome on that show.
- The premise: A teen finds out at graduation that she's pregnant by her secret boyfriend.
- What it said to me: That everyone involved in this production finds family life annoying and teenagers grating. None of the strained culture-clash stuff between the white family and the Latino family is funny (it's actually quite musty and stale), and the way the two fathers make the whole crisis about them is tiresome. The bigger problem is, this show clearly has designs on being the next "Modern Family" and yet it isn't charming in the slightest. To hook viewers, the pilot needs to make them care about at least one person in this ensemble, and it can't manage that.
- The premise: A gay single dad raises his precocious teen and works for a weird boss.
- What it said to me: That we have entered the Wayback Machine and it's 1995 and a bunch of "Caroline in the City" writers got too much money to make the kind of semi-crappy sitcom that used to be slotted into those gaps between "Friends" and "Will & Grace" or attached to "Frasier" like an awkward barnacle. The rhythms, the "jokes" and the pace are all stiff and overwrought, and priority seems to be giving Sean Hayes a huge number of opportunities to mug for the camera. Hayes is a sharp, talented comedic actor, but this show doesn't use him well and it's as false and as brittle as they come.
Critics Picks 2013-2014
This story appears in Issue 68 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Sept. 27 in the iTunes App store.