Latest Sign of Economic Downturn: A Fake TV Dad

Talk about a sad premise. On Fox's new show, Sons of Tucson (premiering Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET), three school-aged boys are essentially orphaned when their wealthy, single dad goes to jail for a white collar crime. To avoid foster care, they flee from New Jersey to Tucson, Arizona, where dad's provided them with a posh, suburban home and cash to live on—ostensibly until he gets out. Forced to grow up fast, the boys are sharp-tongued, scheming and determined to tamp down any childish fears or needs.

And yet…did I mention that this is a comedy? Here comes the funny part: The boys need a fake Dad to sign them up for school, hoodwink their suspicious teachers, and outwit the principle when they get in trouble. So they hire a scruffy, chubby, down-on-his luck con man, Ron Snuffkin (Tyler Labine) to befuddle everyone. As it turns out, Ron is a master befuddler.

Ron is a lot like a typical Jack Black character—with darker circumstances. He's recently been dumped. He's homeless. He doesn't seem long for his job as a clerk in a sporting goods chain store. And he has a violent loan shark gunning for him to repay $2000 he doesn't have.

But when it comes to scamming people with charm, Ron's got a magic touch, and his elaborate lies serve the kids well. "On the surface, Ron is not equipped at all raising three kids, let alone just being around three kids at the same time," says Labine. "But I think through the course of the show, that’s sort of the challenge. Maybe there was a deeper guy in Ron that he didn’t even know about. Maybe he has a capacity to be a paternal figure."

While taking fake family pictures to deceive eight-year-old Robby's (Benjamin Stockham) teacher, Ron sets up a photoshoot of them playing catch together. Turns out, Robby's dad never taught him how to do that. Ron's face momentarily flickers with compassion, and then he rushes in to show the kid how to throw. "Tyler Labine grounds big comedy with heart," says producer/director Todd Holland. "And he will elevate drama with comedy."

In fact, Ron does make this sad circumstance funny. Given the depressing economic times we're living in, I imagine we'll be seeing a lot more of this kind of so-pathetic-it's-funny comedy. Hey, at least we're laughing, right?

PHOTOS: Onscreen Dads We Adore

Do you think that TV is starting to reflect our economic times?

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