Are We There Yet?, like a lot of other sitcoms of its ilk, is about a massive dick who is unworthy of anyone's love. And yet, everybody he knows loves him nonetheless. Picking up immediately where the film series of the same name left off and thus filling in the gaps we've all been curious to see filled in since Are We Done Yet?, the sitcom tells the story of how Nick Parsons, a guy who's, honestly, a couple steps ahead of everyone in the, "Yeah, he's earned a right to be a dick" competition completely (since he married a single mom with two kids, something one just doesn't do if they don't have some sort of heart) and totally burns away that advantage by overreacting to some of the tiniest slights to his masculinity imaginable. And it's not like his new wife or step-kids are devoid of dickishness either. In the world of Are We There Yet?, everybody's trying to get one over on everybody else and claiming they're doing it for love. Look at those episode titles! Even they are pretty much just the equivalent of the producers throwing up their hands and saying, "Fuck it! We're calling it 'The Credit Check Episode!'"

When I volunteered to take a look at Are We There Yet? (as we try to cover just about every scripted new show that we can), I wasn't expecting anything great. But I'm someone who found something of worth in Ruby and the Rockits. All I was looking for here was a moderately sweet family comedy about how it can be tough to be the stepdad. And the people in and behind the scenes of the show were promising as well. Terry Crews is one of my favorite slow-burn comedic actors right now. His work on Everybody Hates Chris was some of the more unheralded sitcom acting of the past decade. And the guy behind the show, Ali LeRoi, shepherded Chris for its four-season run, keeping it funny and one of TV's most overlooked quality sitcoms, a show that proved family sitcoms could still be moving and funny long before Modern Family was a glint in anyone's eye.

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I mean, clearly, these guys are slumming a little bit with a sitcom remake of an Ice Cube movie that was inexplicably popular a few years ago, but they're talented dudes. And most of the rest of the cast is pretty good, too, proving that LeRoi continues to have a good eye for quality actors that have good family chemistry. LeRoi also seems to be one of the few people out there who can cast kid actors that don't feel like over-prepared little tots, and the two kids in this show's cast, Teala Dunn and Coy Stewart, are pretty good at being funny without being overly precious, something that's harder than it sounds when you're a kid in a multi-camera sitcom. There are all of the building blocks here for a show that I wouldn't watch but a show that I could appreciate.

I've never seen the Ice Cube movies. I'm not trying to say this as some badge of honor. I'm just saying this as a point of fact when I say that the character of Nick (the character Ice Cube played in the films but Crews plays here) seems like a massive, self-involved dick who has only won over the love of Suzanne (Essence Atkins) by being what appears to be the only other at all attractive man she's not related to within a 30-mile radius. I mean, yeah, single moms with kids who find a man who loves both them and their kids might be more willing to just dive into a relationship with the guy, consequences be damned, but, Lord, these first two episodes of Are We There Yet? make Nick and Suzanne look like they've wholly committed to traditional gender roles simply because they realized they're characters on a sitcom.

The first episode TBS screened was entirely about Nick whining about Suzanne hyphenating her name until she finally was ready to just cave and take his name, instead of throwing together her name and his. (I am not well-enough-versed in Are We There Yet's deeper mythology to know if Suzanne's name is her former married name or her maiden name. If it is, indeed, her former married name, I guess I can see why Nick feels threatened by it, though he's still Terry Crews and America's finest man, so he should really learn to get over it.) His evidence for why this is a bad idea? John Stamos and Rebecca Romijn got divorced after she refused to take his name and, instead, hyphenated. There's also some really stupid macho bullshit about how she should feel lucky to take his name, and later, her friend Gigi (one of two completely useless "friend" characters the show has cooked up to give the series somewhere to cut to) lectures her about how she should take his name because she's so lucky to have found a man at her age and in her condition. Sakes alive!

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But wait! There's more! Nick also spends a lot of time berating his wife - played by a gorgeous and hot Hollywood actress - for not looking like Halle Berry when she goes to bed as opposed to during the rest of the day. Look, Nick. Confidential to you, but if you are married to a woman who looks like Halle Berry during the day, does it even matter what she looks like when she goes to bed? It's not like she's the Cryptkeeper or Clifford the Big, Red Dog or something. She's just a slightly plainer version of Halle Berry. AND SHE OCCASIONALLY LETS YOU TOUCH HER. This is a good thing. Don't blow it, man!

Really, watching Are We There Yet? is sort of like the sitcom equivalent of a cheesy horror movie where you keep yelling advice at the characters because you know things are going to go very badly for them. Much of the first episode is taken up with Nick just doing dick-ish things because the show thinks that's a good way to build conflict. Much of the second episode is taken up with Suzanne lying about her bad credit score because the show thinks that's a good way to build conflict. It's enormously tempting to sit in your recliner and yell advice to the characters, advice they only take at the last possible moment, thereby making everything leading up to that moment all the more painful. I don't mind predictability in these sorts of shows, but when the characters seem so loathsome, only to have a message forced on them at the end, it just becomes that much more irritating.

And yet, as bad as Are We There Yet? is, it's not as bad as the two Tyler Perry sitcoms it's sandwiched in between, sitcoms that completely redefine the idea of an irritating adherence to traditional gender roles and sandwich that in with broad acting and bad writing. Are We There Yet? has too many talented people involved to be a total bust, and there's something promisingly real in the relationship between Nick and his kids. But in its cynical trotting out of old sitcom tropes - can you BELIEVE the SECRET COMPETITOR one of the kids is going up against in episode two is another cast member? - the show feels rather beneath everyone that works on it. Are We There Yet? could be worse. But it could also be a show where the characters aren't so transparently easy to hate.

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Stray observations:

  • Ice Cube turns up as Suzanne's brother. Somewhere, the Are We There Yet? fanfic community furrows its brow in an effort to reconcile these discrepencies.
  • I have no idea why, but the interstitials between scenes look like the photo album view in an iPod. It's kind of cool, really.

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