NEW YORK -- What's all the fuss about "Dads"?
This new Fox sitcom has drawn more than its share of attention leading up to its launch Tuesday at 7 p.m.
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Granted, one of its co-creators, Seth MacFarlane, is a high-profile showbiz force, particularly as he expands his TV empire from such animated hits as "Family Guy" and "American Dad!" to this, his first live-action comedy.
As a master of rawness, tastelessness and low blows, MacFarlane is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of humorist whose fans (and I count myself among them) see his offensiveness, when he's on his game, as overwhelmingly redeemed by laser-sharp insight and a grand fearlessness. And hilarity.
So "Dads" is being greeted with keen interest, and speculation: Would it soar (or plunge) to MacFarlane's time-honored standards?
Early viewers looking for offense have found it, notably in a scene (with an Asian woman tarted up as a giggly schoolgirl) that's been blasted as both sexist and racially degrading all in one.
The truth is, viewers who celebrate MacFarlane as well as those who revile him should be equally dismayed by "Dads." It's just a mediocre multicamera sitcom, complete with formula humor and unearned laughtrack. It's not even the worst newcomer on the fall schedule (that teeth-grinding honor would probably go to CBS' "The Crazy Ones"). Did MacFarlane really have a role in "Dads"? His hand in the squalid process is barely noticeable.
The premise is simple and hackneyed. Two best friends (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) who run a video-game-designing business are saddled with their respective troublesome fathers (Peter Riegert and Martin Mull), each of whom is crashing with his son.
This setup, of course, invites plenty of cheap shots at the older generation, lampooned as out of shape, out of touch and burdened with bad breath.
But bad-breath jokes aren't limited to the oldsters. When Green's character learns that his pal, played by Ribisi, has invited his father to his birthday party, Green explodes: "How could you invite him?"
"Two years ago you blew an Indian-food burp right in my face," Ribisi explains, "and it's payback time."
The MacFarlane brand of edginess goes no further than when Green's character recalls getting his head shaved as a child before his dad, Reigert, took him to Disneyland.
"We got a free lunch with Goofy, didn't we?" Reigert reasons.
"It's not funny, Dad," Green says in one of the episode's few spot-on lines.
At the Television Critics Association conference last month, onstage colleagues of MacFarlane (who tellingly, wasn't present) seemed a bit contrite about the "Dads" pilot when pummeled with questions about its lapses in taste. The series is a work in progress, those producers declared.
But judging from the pilot and a follow-up lame episode, they're fooling themselves. "Dads" is a display of parental abuse.