VH1's 'Dad Camp,' previewed by Hank Stuever

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 31, 2010

Once again, VH1 lapses into a familiar pattern: horrible show about dating followed by therapeutic attempts to mend the social fabric.

The network recently showed five nightly episodes of the viciously shallow "Undateable," which endeavored to count down the top 100 physical and character traits that make a man repugnant to all women (back hair, embroidered jean pockets, using coupons on a date) and never once gave the viewer hope that women who keep such lists could and should remain bitterly undateable as well.

Predictably, "Undateable" is now followed by the complete tonal shift that is "Dad Camp," a reality show premiering Monday night about six young men who would seem extremely undateable. And yet, not only did six women date them, they also got impregnated by them. Applause all around.

None of the couples -- ages 19 to 30 -- is married, but all of them will soon have a baby to care for; the women are between five and eight months pregnant. The women all hold down jobs, pay bills and, despite an occasional wistful nostalgia for butterfly tattoos and complimentary Jager shots, have fully received the hormonal messages transmitting from their wombs to their brains: It's time to wise up.

Not so for their insipid boyfriends, who disappoint the women in innumerable ways and resent the baby who will soon usurp their man-child lives. These young men are unemployed, or alcoholic, or unfaithful, or addicted to weed, porn, television, sloth. Everything they need to know they learned in kindergarten, where booze was apparently served by topless waitresses. One even has the letters D-E-A-D-B-E-A-T tattooed on his knuckles, as an homage to his own absentee father.

"Dad Camp" has the temerity to attribute its "mission" to President Obama's call to America's young men to become better fathers. I don't think he also meant get on reality television. The show brings these six couples to a large mansion, where, over several one-hour episodes, the men will be drilled on fatherhood skills and emotional maturity in a Dr. Drew-like immersion therapy setting. They will wear leaden pregnancy bellies. They will be awakened all night to care for artificial, bawling newborns. They will retch and gag as they change poopy diapers. At the end of the series, their girlfriends will decide whether or not to dump the boyfriend.

This is all administered not by Dr. Drew (who is finally too busy to appear on yet another show), but by Jeff Gardere, a psychologist whose tough talk has a milquetoast annoyance to it. The first night, Dr. Jeff sends the men out on a final-binge "guy's night," where their debauchery is filmed and then shown to the mothers-to-be. It doesn't go well.

Of course it doesn't go well. "Dad Camp" is disgustingly addictive television, designed to bring out the conservative scourge in all of us. I'll hate myself every time I tune in, and I defy you to watch it and not launch a series of harangues toward the screen about kids today -- even if you're the same age as them. Shows like this are ridiculously manipulative to everyone involved, including the audience.

But that's not my biggest gripe. "Dad Camp" tragically presents a world where decades of gender studies and equality movements have simply never occurred. Reality shows like these never address the 10 or 20 giant steps backward our society has taken on the definitions of "man" and "woman" and who does what. Who raised these young men -- and the women, for that matter? (Trailers for future episodes indicate we'll meet the fathers of the young dads-to-be. Fine, but if it were my show, I'd drag everyone's parents in to explain how they not only raised such male chauvinists, but also such passive girl-women.)

Don't let the tattoos and body piercings fool you. When it comes to gender expectations, these kids have ideas that are fixed firmly in the early 20th century. They are afflicted with "be a man" and "I'm a princess." Sure, you can teach diaper-changing at "Dad Camp," but what about the piles of outdated doody in these young people's minds?

Dad Camp

(one hour) premieres at 10:30 p.m. Monday on VH1.

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