Nobody goes in intending to make a bad TV show. Not even Jimmy Fallon, a funny man, and the other producers of NBC’s Guys With Kids, which, let us get it out of the way, is a bad, bad TV show.
This summer, Fallon (appearing by satellite) and the stars of Guys With Kids appeared at the Television Critics Association press tour and, as is often the case, said a lot of good things about the ideas behind their show. The sitcom, focusing on three friends and new fathers, was about how dads were becoming more hands-on parents, they said. It was about men balancing fatherhood, marriage (or dating) and family. It was about how taking care of your kids was no longer just a woman thing.
I’d watch that show. It’s certainly an idea that rings true in my life and the lives of other dads I know. And it would provide some company for Louie, Modern Family, Raising Hope and Up All Night, each about men who are not just dads but caregivers.
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Guys With Kids is not that show. It’s a cheap, stale, stereotype-addicted sitcom where no one, male or female, comes off especially well or likeable, excepting possibly the babies. The three male leads are written to offer a cross-section of the new-dad experience: Gary (Anthony Anderson), a put-upon stay-at-home dad; Chris (Jesse Bradford), a divorced dad with a shrewish, domineering ex-wife; and Nick (Zach Cregger), the, you know, normal dad, who has a job, a non-emasculating stay-at-home wife and a name from The Sure Thing. (Nick’s your buddy! Nick doesn’t mind if you throw up in his car!)
The show opens with a sight gag that you may have already seen, one that Fallon said was the first idea for the show and contains its essence–or, really, its problem. We see the three bros facing away from us, at a bar, watching a basketball game. All at once, they cheer, turn around–and we see they’re each wearing babies in carriers. Because dudes. Doing dude things at a bar. With babies.
The first problem is that she show’s defining sight gag is already a cliché: the idea that men wearing babies is inherently hilarious is already well-plowed by The Hangover and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. The other problem is that it’s too typical of Guys‘ humor: many of the jokes are not really jokes at all, except it’s supposed to be funny that a dude is saying them. As when Gary commiserates with Nick’s wife about begin taken for granted as a stay-at-home spouse: “Believe me, I know. And then when you do finally wind [the kids] down, they come in and wind them right back up! And then have to take an ’emergency call from work’… just when it’s bathtime!”
LOL! Hey, buddy, The Year Before You Had Kids called! It wants to know if you want your penis back!
Seriously, I doubt Fallon and Guys‘ creative team want the show to mock caregiver dads. They seem sincere when they say they set out to make the show into a funny picture of genuine trends you can see in younger parents—men out solo with their kids, more concerned about making time for their families. You can do that: the shows I mention above all have jokes about parenting, and jokes about being a man, without falling back on the idea that being a man parenting is funny in itself. (And you don’t have to be highbrow to pull this off–see the rude but funny and sweet Raising Hope.) Ironically, NBC also airs one of the best current TV shows about raising kids: Parenthood, which returned last night and is nuanced and astute about the fumbles and negotiations of parenting.
Guys With Kids‘ problem isn’t really in its heart but in its guts. Like so many bad sitcoms every year, it just doesn’t have the guts to go beyond the most obvious jokes in its premise—and the most obvious jokes in this one are that, three decades after Mr. Mom, it’s hi-larious when dads try to be “moms.” It’s conceivable, I guess, that it could become as good as the show its producers say they had in mind. But it will have to man up.