We gave it a C+
Chris woods is not your father’s sitcom father. The title character of Michael Chiklis’ surprise NBC hit, Daddio, happily sticks a fork in his job as a restaurant-supplies salesman to stay home and cook for his four kids, while his better half, Linda (Anita Barone), brings home the lettuce as a lawyer. We’ve come a long way since Father Knows Best, baby.
Once upon a TV time, sitcom dads were distant, omniscient figures who worked in offices during the day, then returned home for piping-hot dinners prepared by their dutiful wives. This model held through the ’50s and ’60s, from Best‘s Robert Young and Leave It to Beaver‘s Hugh Beaumont to My Three Sons‘ Fred MacMurray (whose de facto helpmate was Uncle Charley) and The Brady Bunch‘s Robert Reed.
Starting in the ’70s, as America’s youth began to question authority, sitcom fathers became more fallible. Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) was mocked as a blowhard on All in the Family, yet he still ruled his domain from his armchair throne, barking orders at his ”dingbat” wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton). This buffoonish Bunker mentality served as a blueprint for such latter-day TV dads as Married…With Children‘s Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) and The Simpsons‘ Homer (Dan Castellaneta).
Sitcom moms, meanwhile, were declaring their independence. The Cosby Show‘s Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) and Roseanne‘s eponymous ”domestic goddess” proved equal to their partners, earning income and a vote in household decisions. Other mothers did just fine without husbands, thank you, on such shows as Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown (as Dan Quayle was all too quick to point out) and Brett Butler’s Grace Under Fire.
These days, most sitcom papas seem irrelevant factors in their families’ equations. Bryan Cranston’s blissfully out of it Hal on Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle hides behind his reading glasses and newspaper, allowing his ballsy wife, Lois (Jane Kaczmarek), to wear the pants — literally (he stands around naked while she shaves his back). When Ray Barone (Ray Romano) attempts to assert his paternal authority on CBS’ Everybody Loves Raymond, he’s dismissed as an ”idiot” by his spouse, Debra (Patricia Heaton). Clearly it’s a generational thing: Ray’s boorish father, Frank (Peter Boyle), gets waited on by his wife, Marie (Doris Roberts), even though she serves up sarcastic zingers with his scrambled eggs.
Daddio‘s attitude is, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. No hapless Mr. Mom, Chiklis’ Chris takes pride in his housework. Created by Matt Berry and Ric Swartzlander (Grace Under Fire, Ellen), the series occasionally offers clever insights on modern child rearing. Chris decries germ-phobic parents; neighbors who put up ”cutesy holiday flags”; and the dreaded Playtown, a Chuck E. Cheesey facility filled with ”plastic tubes, colored balls, and 100 kids hopped up on Gummi Bears.”
Too often, however, Daddio‘s humor is the equivalent of taking candy from a baby — jokes about breast-feeding, telemarketers, and poopy diapers. And the cast couldn’t be more generic. Unlike comedic powerhouses Heaton and Kaczmarek, Barone is forced to play straight woman (a thankless role she also filled on ABC’s The Jeff Foxworthy Show). Spiky-haired 12-year-old Max (Martin Spanjers) is the only one of the four kids who’s displayed any inkling of a personality. Plus, Daddio features not one, not two, but three nutty neighbors: a macho Gulf War vet (Crime Story‘s Steve Ryan), a cereal-munching mooch (Kevin Crowley), and his overwound wife (Amy Wilson).
All of this might not matter if Chiklis delivered more chuckles. He may have played John Belushi in Wired, but the ex-Commish is more akin to Jim Belushi, steamrolling over his punchlines. ”Once you find a bit you think is funny, you run it into the ground,” Chris scolds Max, but he could be talking about himself. I laughed the first time he suggested changing the name of the Mommies Group to the Falcons. Not so much the third time.
That gag’s a prime example of how Daddio both undermines and reinforces gender stereotypes. He might do ”women’s work,” but Chris still swills beer, smokes cigars, and flips when his son pretends to be a princess. At heart, the show reassures us, he’s a guy’s guy.
Speaking of guy’s guys: In Don’t Ask, John Goodman’s Fox series debuting this fall, the Roseanne alum will play a booze-guzzling, sports-fanatic single father who just happens to be gay. Somewhere, Robert Reed is smiling. C+