Modern Dads debuts tonight on A&E at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
Much like the recently failed NBC sitcom Guys With Kids, A&E’s newest offering, Modern Dads, manages to flesh out an entire series based on how much the development team must have adored the visual from The Hangover of Zach Galifianakis with sunglasses on and a baby strapped to his chest. That “idea,” pushed aggressively in the marketing material for Guys With Kids, is resurrected yet again, several times over, during the première of Modern Dads. The assumed hilarity of quasi-hip men having to take care of children—with no moms present!—is painfully and awkwardly stretched into an entire reality series in this newest incarnation, with a grab bag of tired clichés and well-worn stereotypes.
The four full-time dads featured in the show are all based in Austin, Texas, and comprise a seemingly tight-knight circle that also doubles as a full spectrum of dad-dom. There’s “new dad” Nate, 37, who has a 1-year-old with his medical director wife. He immediately ingratiates himself to the audience by whooping it up to camera and announcing, “Hell yeah, I married up!” Then there’s very single Stone, 41, who is a single dad to Danica, 5, and is carved out to be the sexy player of the group with his copious amounts of hair gel. Also, he makes a bitter jab about “paying off” his ex’s breast implants within moments of appearing. Stay-at-home stepdad Sean takes care of his venture capitalist girlfriend’s two daughters, Joopsy, 5, and Arwen, 8. And the elder statesmen of the group, Rick, 42, is the most experienced of the bunch with four children and a busy, working wife.
The actual plot of the episode is so thin and flimsy it’s barely worth mentioning, but technically, after meeting each dad and peeking inside their homes, the dads focus on throwing a party for Rick’s 1-year-old, twin daughters. It serves as the most rudderless of devices and involves little more than two shoehorned conversations—including one where Rick’s wife shakes her head and crosses her arms over the idea, like any busy businesswomen might—before the guys band together and throw a successful party. The conflict is almost completely absent other than the party brainstorming session between the dads where Rick pushes for a Godzilla theme because, “the kids have done to my sex life what Godzilla did to Tokyo.” If you close your eyes, you can hear the sound of the show’s producers high-fiving each other for getting such an over-written zinger on air.
Meanwhile, the guys are harping on Stone to get a vasectomy for some bizarre and under-explained reason. Though he says he’s fairly sure he doesn’t want more children, his friends—hanging in the Central Perk of their world: the sad, neighborhood park —push in a myriad of unfunny, misogynistic ways for him to get the procedure and save himself from the nightmare of having more children. There’s also a barrage of cringe-worthy jokes between the guys about how Stone is living the dream being single, not having to deal with the crushing brutality of monogamy. Other than Stone, it should be noted that these men and their children are all being completely supported by their working wives.
Sure enough, Stone is suddenly in a doctor’s office in the very next scene, talking to a doctor about getting the procedure. The editors amuse themselves by intercutting the conversation about scrotum snipping specifics with shots of Stone’s daughter in the waiting room, using child scissors to cut up construction paper. Because it’s, like, ouch dude!! Your balls!! He decides against the vasectomy, almost immediately picks up a girl at the grocery store who looks suspiciously like an actress, and walks away from the counter they’re both waiting at without ordering anything. It’s one of the most lazy and obviously soft-scripted reality scenes out there and almost applause-worthy for its utter disregard for appearing at all natural.
The party day is perhaps the only quasi-enjoyable scene of the whole episode if only because babies dressed up as medieval kings and princesses are, you know, cute. But it’s hard to shake the embarrassing faux-macho guitar riffs and Reservoir Dogs-aping transitions—featuring the aforementioned shots of the dads strolling slow-motion through the park with kids strapped to them—that make up the half-hour.
While the show might think it wants to spotlight the unique, entirely modern trend of American dads devoting themselves to full-time child-rearing, it makes no bones about what it really thinks: It’s emasculating and requires a bottomless pit of jokes about the women (“She brings home a lot of money. Life is pretty good,” says Sean about his girlfriend) and children in their lives (“Raising a 5-year-old is a lot like dating. The puppy-dog eyes, the mixed messages, and I pay for everything,” says Stone). If there are any lingering questions about the tone of the show, let the parting words of Rick as he reflects on the birthday party he and his friends threw for his twin daughters send you off: “We made that party our bitch.” And cue heavy riff!