Normally when I put in a screener for a new series, my attitude is somewhere between unbridled enthusiasm (your Sons of Anarchy, Longmire) to weary skepticism (anything CW). But with Modern Dads, it bordered on outright fear.
We all have our sensitive spots when it comes to seeing aspects of ourselves and our backgrounds portrayed on TV. Mine happens to include people from small towns and fathers. With so much of reality TV revolving around rural folk, you might think that the whole genre would be one big land mine. But whether it’s the over-the-top outrageousness of Honey Boo Boo or the respectful (and respected) rendering seen on Duck Dynasty, I’ve made my peace with the redneck/rube/hayseed/down-home good old boy shows. Go head, Turtleman. Do what you do, and enjoy some Go Go Juice while you’re at it.
Fatherhood, however, is still a bit touchy. I have two young sons and while I have never been completely stay-at-home, my daily routine has always been far, far different than the dad who works all day, comes home, cracks open a beer and expects dinner on the table — all the while being thoroughly clueless as to how the domestic side of the house functions. And I know it’s been a few years, but I believe I’m safe in saying I could still change a diaper and have it not turn into a slapstick comedic disaster of Chaplin-esque proportions.
So, what’s it going to be, Modern Dads, are you going to further the dreaded “dumb dad” stereotype? Come at me, bro.
Thankfully, the A&E series that follows four stay-at-home fathers in Austin, Texas, largely avoids all that.
Like all good “reality” shows, it adheres to a standard sitcom formula of having mismatched yet complementing personalities spend an inordinate amount of time together. There’s Nathan, the overzealous new dad; Rick, the domestic ninja and father of four who dispenses advice to his fellow pops; Sean, the cool, artistically minded stepdad who’s always looking for a laugh; and Stone, the ladies man who makes plenty of time for getting phone numbers, but (in what I’m sure he has never used as a pickup line) the most important girl in his life is his 5-year-old daughter.
Also, Modern Dads shows that it isn’t just celebrities who pick unusual names for their kids. There’s Cormac (whose mom’s name is Truly, btw), Arwen, Joopsey and (OK, maybe this one isn’t so out there) Danica. Just sayin’.
I’m not sure how much eye-opening will be done by Modern Dads. Is it meant to appeal more to families who will find a welcome stroke of recognition or people looking to get insight into a totally foreign world? Time, and ratings, will tell. While the dads are all portrayed positively, there is definitely still a huge sense of novelty to all this, one that I’m not sure is as appropriate in 2013 than it would have been even a decade ago. Lest we forget, Mr. Mom was 30 years ago. But hey, I get it, you gotta bring the comedy in from somewhere. And while I can’t really relate to going overboard in wanting to throw the perfect princess party for your baby girl, I know a lot of parents can.
Modern Dads also continues A&E’s welcome approach to reality series, focusing more on positive portrayals that act as a bit of an antidote to all the screaming, hair-pulling, puking-in-toilets antics that once defined the genre. Call this new approach the Duck Dynasty effect. People love that show almost as much for what it isn’t than for what it is. The dads here don’t end every episode in prayer around the dinner table, but there is a palpable sense of joy and relief that the kiddos are in bed, and they’ve all made it through another day. Now you’re speaking my language.
Modern Dads premieres tonight at 10:30pm on A&E.
Photo: © 2013 Credit: Richard Knapp