2010 Fall TV Preview
William Shatner's '$#*! My Dad Says' doesn't come close to 'All in the Family'
Sunday, September 19, 2010
In a strange way, the new sitcom "$#*! My Dad Says," which premieres Thursday night on CBS, makes you realize how badly we need an Archie Bunker now. But this dad isn't the one.
The show is occasionally funny and its star, William Shatner, can work wonders with just the slightest gesture. The Twitter-based source material that sparked "$#*! My Dad Says" indeed tells us something about our culture now, but the "$#*!" written here for Shatner to blurt out with such gusto -- in his role as the cranky dad, Ed Goodson -- seems like a missed opportunity. What this dad winds up saying doesn't live up (or down) to the show's provocative title. (Which, of course, has already been condemned by parental watchdog groups who view the typographically coy "$#*!" as a further lapse in standards. In commercials for the show, CBS has chosen to pronounce the word as "bleep.")
If Shatner's Ed is expected to say some $#*!, then I wish the $#*! would be more relevant or provocative -- more like the kind of person that America needs Ed Goodson to be.
Or if not Ed, someone Ed-like: retired, with fixed income and fixed ideas and prone to reach for the nearest instrument of his Second Amendment rights when he hears something outside of his San Diego ranch-style house. The intruder Ed confronts outside turns out to be his son Henry (Jonathan Sadowski), newly laid off from his job and looking for a place to crash.
What Ed says is sometimes laugh-worthy ("Son, sit down. The house is clean enough," he says while Henry straightens up. "We didn't accidentally kill a hooker, we had brunch!"), but it lacks most of the inanity of the Twitter feed that summoned this sitcom into existence.
It has been massaged and reshaped into the comforting blandness of the modern sitcom, when what it needed was more controversial $#*!. Which it will never have, since "$#*! My Dad Says" comes from the same play-it-safe producers who gave us those successful and pleasantly neutered culture warriors "Will & Grace."
That's too bad. No character on any prime-time TV show represents the simmering resentment and anger that defines our social and political temperature in 2010 -- especially the kind of civic unrest seen in our older, fed-up-with-taxes citizenry.
Archie Bunker, that easy-chair misanthrope from Norman Lear's "All in the Family," would possibly be that person. I yearn to see a show about modern-day Archie dragging his wife -- long-suffering Edith -- to town-hall forums on Obamacare or to Glenn Beck book signings, if for no other reason than to send his progressive son-in-law, Mike the Meathead, into paroxysms of counter-indignation.
But that was 40 -- yes, 40 -- TV seasons ago. The Archie who was invented by Lear and his writers (and brought to immortal life by Carroll O'Connor) was born of zeitgeist necessity: Through Archie's frustrating intolerance toward the cultural changes around him, a simple sitcom managed to also become a therapeutic device. We learned to love Archie, despite and because of his opinions. "All in the Family" was many things, not the least of which was a steam valve.
On "$#*! My Dad Says," 72-year-old Ed's days transpire in a rather Bunkeresque fashion: He is usually found in his favorite chair in front of a television (watching Wolf Blitzer, whom he chides) or listening to old standards on vinyl LPs while eating bowls of Grape Nuts. Henry is the new Gloria, living at home in an economic downturn. (There is no Edith; Ed is thrice-divorced.) Here, in a style vaguely reminiscent of Archie, Ed holds forth on modern life and everything wrong with it.
"I hate downtown. It smells of motor oil and hummus."
A line like that almost gets at what sort of show this might have been. But "$#*! My Dad Says" prefers its codger to be more inappropriate than political.