Photo Credit: Richard Knapp
On TV right now, hands-on dads are all the rage. NBC's Guys With Kids (a sitcom about three 30-something fathers trying to stay hip) didn't last, but the network is already trying again with Sean Saves the World (a sitcom starring Sean Hayes as a single dad to a teen girl). ABC Family has Baby Daddy (about a 20-something single dad). And that show's plotline sounds a lot like Fox's Raising Hope. Even FX's Louie mines laughs from a divorced dad storyline.
This week, a new "dad show" joins their ranks: A&E's Modern Dads (premiering Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET). Following four stay-at-home dads in Austin, Texas, it's basically Guys With Kids, unscripted. Watch a sneak peek here:
It's still a novelty for a father to be the primary caregiver (giving these shows a hook to hang their hats on). But it's not as unusual as it used to be, especially in these recessionary times. Most people know at least one dude in the carpool or planning play dates, and we've all witnessed some of the benefits. (Men get a better understanding of traditionally female roles, kids get a broader range of parenting styles, and so on.) So if TV producers are going to do a dads-are-people-too show, they'd better get it right.
Unfortunately, Modern Dads doesn't. These guys seem... emasculated. In the sneak peek above, the wife is the no-nonsense adult, while the dad comes off as too bumbling to plan a kid's birthday party. "Please have faith in me," he tells her. "I can do this." But later we see him at the playground, concocting a ridiculous plan. "Maybe we can make some cake buildings and dress them up like Godzilla," he says. "And let them attack some buildings."
To be fair, the show clearly aspires to Duck Dynasty-esque humor, and that comment could easily have come out of Jase Robertson's mouth, endearingly. But this dad's incompetence feels false. His wife leaves him to care for the kids all day, but she doesn’t think he can plan a birthday party?
Men can (and many do) perform this job well. The idea that stay-at-home dads have to use duct tape to fasten diapers doesn't ring true. (Seriously, they don't know how to use the handy, built-in tape that Pampers provides?) The challenge for a show like this: present the guys realistically while also making it interesting. And that's hard, because playground trips aren't implicitly exciting. But goofing on the dads just isn't the way to liven them up.
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an Atlanta-based writer who covers pop culture and watches too much TV. Luckily, iVillage gives her an excuse to watch even more. Follow her on Google+.