Is Redemption Possible for the Tools on VH1's 'Dad Camp'?

Trying to prove they can become more than deadbeat dads, is it worth rooting for these future fathers to change their ways?

VH1’s Dad Camp (Mondays at 11 p.m. ET) is something of a 16 and Pregnant meets Tool Academy concept: Six couples (most under the age 25) consisting of scorned, weepy women and the heavy-drinking, porn-watching, skirt-chasing guys who got them pregnant, spend 30 days in a house together while licensed counselor Dr. Jeff Gardere gets the dads-to-be to “man up” to pending parenthood or lose all rights to custody once the child is born.

There are some real characters in this bunch. Take Elliot, 22, who has tattooed the words “Dead Beat” onto his knuckles (in homage to his own deadbeat dad…which makes sense to him, I assume). Or Donta, 21, who shrugs off smoking pot, even around his pregnant girlfriend, because it’s just a harmless hobby. “Some people like to knit, some people like to collect coins. I like to smoke weed,” he tells us. Yes, real winners.

During a van ride together at the beginning of the episode, we learn that these men all love booze and/or pot and refuse to give up their friends and life of “going out” just because they’re going to have a silly ol’ baby. It’s sad and depressing, because the women and the babies really could use a father, and clearly, these stooges are not ready. But without at least a shred of hope, this wouldn’t be much of a show, and we do see flashes of desire to actually do the right thing. During his “THIS. IS. YOUR. FUTURE.” introduction to the daddies, Dr. Jeff -- whose meek, bookish demeanor grew on me as the episode went on -- elicits what appears to be genuine shock and fear when he tells the guys that their women are going to claim sole custody and shut them out if they don’t get their crap together. Will a 30-day stint fix these fellas? Probably not. But maybe it’ll be good trainwreck fun to watch them try.

The guys arrive at the house they’ll share with their girlfriends for the 30 days, and a quick tour reveals that they’ll be sleeping cramped together in a tiny cot-lined room. A frantic search of the cupboards for some booze that will take the edge off turns up nothing. But just as it seems the guys are ready to bag the whole thing and run to the nearest bar, Dr. Jeff walks in with some good news: The men are being treated to a night out on the town while the ladies stay home and have dinner together (think scenes of the men downing shots juxtaposed with footage of the women taking turns listening to each other’s fetal heartbeats).

Thoroughly convinced that this would be their last hurrah as free men, the guys down tequila shots, flirt shamelessly with other girls, and later, of course, have to sit next to their pregnant girlfriends while video footage of their drunken shenanigans screens before the entire group. Elliot the “Dead Beat” is seen caressing a woman’s arm and telling her that he and his pregnant girlfriend Tiffany, 19, are “on the rocks.” Tiff is crushed, but Elliot somehow manages to put her on the defensive for misinterpreting actions he by no means can be held accountable for because he was so drunk. Well played.

Austin, 21, comes off the worst. His drunken montage includes scenes of him taking a shot in honor of his unborn daughter and then celebrating by kissing and dry humping a female patron with a big behind he can’t seem to take his eyes -- or hands -- off of. Austin’s girlfriend of 4 ½ years, Candace, 21, is completely destroyed and reveals that Austin has cheated on her more times than she even wants to know about. This was either the low or high point of the show, depending on how you process the experience of watching abhorrent people hurt each other on a television show. It was nothing we haven’t seen on Tool Academy, but the familiar scene was presented in a particularly disgusting light as Austin later tried to apologize and nuzzle against his wife’s pregnant belly. Gross or fascinating? I say a little bit of both.

The debut episode of Dad Camp was particularly hard to watch because we have not yet reached any moments of redemption or small steps made toward progress. The premiere simply introduced us to these lying, cheating guys who bring unthinkable pain and suffering to their vulnerable, pregnant girlfriends. Previews of future episodes show the men wearing pregnancy suits and breaking down into tears during confrontations with their own fathers with emotional/inspirational music piped in behind them. For all the bleakness of the debut, I’m confident there will be some cheering in between all the sobbing and groveling as we move along. Maybe even some actual growth, or at least something producers can edit to make look like actual growth.

But the real question is whether these women are better off with these d-bags even after the most productive 30-day reform session imaginable. The women are scared, needy 20-somethings who, from their reaction to the night-out video, appear way too willing to forgive their deadbeat men for being complete tools.

Sure, explaining to these guys what they need to do as parents is a good start, but it’s naïve to predict a complete 180-degree turnaround for anyone on this show, and that really is what’s required. As I watched Elliot apologize over and over to his sobbing pregnant girlfriend, I couldn’t help but think that what these women really need is a 30-day session with a counselor who prepares them to be strong single mothers, as well as a session or two with a lawyer who teaches them how collect child support.

So it may be a guilty pleasure to watch these fathers-to-be go through Dad Camp and see what kind of progress they can actually muster, but I’m not sure I can root for them to wind up with the moms. Truth is, if these ladies actually “need” these guys to raise their babies, sadly, both they and their kids are in for a tough road ahead.

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Is Dad Camp fascinating or a total trainwreck? Chime in below!

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