The new fall comedy that TV critics privately slam the most?
That’s easy — Fox’s Dads, which has been knocked for making jokes about women and minorities.
So what happens when the show’s cast and writers are put in front a Beverly Hills ballroom stuffed with critics?
Surprisingly, a pretty civil conversation, with Dads team somewhat awkwardly being put in the position of backpedaling from their own pilot and urging critics to give the comedy time to find its voice.
“We don’t want the show to be the racial insult comedy show,” says veteran executive producer Mike Scully, who compared the show’s offensiveness to the early days of The Simpsons, when some viewers were outraged by Homer strangling Bart. “It’s a comedy about fathers and sons … anytime you’re doing a show, for the first six episodes, you’re still improving.”
“We’re still trying to define and discover who these people are,” adds star Giovanni Ribisi.
“Just to be fair, these are some pretty disparaging portrayals of white men,” notes star Seth Green, who referenced sitcom classics All in The Family and The Jeffersons.
Earlier in the day, Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly urged critics to be patient with the show, while saying it scored highly among a cross-section of viewers during focus testing. For comparison, he read blurbs from a slew of bad reviews for the first episode of CBS mega-hit The Big Bang Theory.
The most talked-about scene in the Dads pilot (see trailer below) is when Green orders an office underling played by Brenda Song (The Suite Life of Zach and Cody) to don a sexy schoolgirl outfit and giggle like an anime caricature to impress an Asian businessman.
Creator Alec Sulkin says the intention wasn’t to offend, but to find a humorous moment. “We thought it would lead to a funny scene … we’re trying to learn what lands and what doesn’t.”
Song says the scene came in after a weekend rewrite of the pilot. “And I said, ‘All right Brenda, this is your job.'”
“Coming from The Disney Channel, anything I do is going to offend somehow, somewhere, somehow,” says Song, who notes wearing the outfit was something she thought her character would do. “She’s a go-getter, she loves her job and will do anything she has to … I love being on a show where the envelope is always pushed… If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at all.”
Song says her friends will jokingly play off stereotypes, so the scene did not seem insensitive. “I joke around all the time, ‘I’m Asian, I’m really good at math,'” she says. “I know so many people who joke about themselves, we’re just doing it on TV. For me for my generation, I grew up watching The Family Guy and The Simpsons …I get to do what I’ve been dreaming about since I was 7 years old. I can’t complain.”