The latest episode of Dads may not have been incredibly funny, but at least it consistently elicited some chuckles. Increasingly, the show is taking on more of a Family Guy feel in structure—the action of the first half serves as a springboard from which the plot dives into a somewhat unrelated, yet funny second half. (At times, it’s a bit like launching from one diving board into a neighboring pool.) Whether that’s a positive or negative development may depend on one’s love or hatred of the Stewie-possessed cornerstone of MacFarlane’s animated empire. Regardless, Dads has been improving with each episode, suggesting that perhaps it’s just taking MacFarlane some time to get used to live-action actors.
The initial premise of “Double Trouble” revolves around an annual virtual tennis competition (via Wii) between Warner and Eli. Disappointed that she and Warner have no activities together, Camilla guilt trips him into having her be his tennis partner this year. This starts a silent war between Warner and Eli, in which they fight through text messaging and writing on a white board. Eli, downtrodden, contacts all his friends to find another tennis partner, but to no avail. Finally, Edna starts playing the Wii, and she is incredible. Team Eli/Edna soundly defeat Warner and Camilla, leading Warner to throw a temper tantrum, breaking the Wii remote and the TV.
In the show’s second half, Warner, Camilla and Eli enter therapy due to Warner’s anger issues. A mildly clever sight gag ensues as the trio is eventually moved into the “non-verbal communication room.” Drums are banged (and translated via subtitles), hurt feelings are mended, and soon Warner and Camilla are making out.
The show is showing some signs of change, however incremental. What was a show dominated by offensive jokes and shallow characters has eased up on the racist and sexual jokes, broadening it focus to include redheads and Mormons. (Hooray?) Crawford notes, “Boy it’d be so much easier to make friends if we were Mormons, we’d have eighteen brothers and sisters right in the bedroom,” and later, “It’s hard for redheads to make friends, because people subconsciously think they’re evil.” Okay, that may not seem like much of a change, but there has been a subtle shift in the whos and hows of the delivery. Increasingly, the show has made Martin Mull’s character (Crawford) the spouter of many of the more offensive jokes. (Mull is up to the task.) As a result, Dads may be slowly shifting from being a show that’s politically incorrect to a show featuring a character who is.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the relationships and characters have become a little deeper. Warner and Camilla have had ups and downs in their relationship (even though their children that supposedly exhaust them have yet to make an appearance). Crawford, with all his flaws, has a sweetness to him that is charming. David continues to be obnoxious, and Eli isn’t too far off. Perhaps we can look forward to seeing more depth in their personalities in future episodes? Then again, this is Macfarlane, as likely to flog a formula lifeless as to breathe new life into it, so perhaps it’s more a question of whether the series will last long enough to see in which direction it goes.
Obviously, at this stage of the game, Dads serves more as a joke-delivery device than a vehicle for plot arcs and memorable characters. Here are some of the hits and misses of the latest episode:
Jokes that Work:
—David, on friends: “The movie Cast Awaygot it right. Friends can be replaced by an inflatable ball.”
—Warner, explaining to Eli why Camilla is his partner: “Look, I know you’re really disappointed, but my wife wants to be my tennis partner, and she comes first. Well, not in that way. Well, okay sometimes. Okay, once, and I still have no idea what I did.”
Jokes that Whiff:
—David notes, while his son plays virtual tennis: “I had no idea my son was such a gifted fake athlete.”
—Eli remarks, on his father having no friends: “There is no way that you could have personality-based friends in a non-plane crash setting.”