$#*! My Dad Says -- TV Review
Take an audacious idea like adapting a hilarious Twitter personality into a TV show, add an ingenious casting coup like William Shatner, seal the deal with showrunners who know how to do edgy primetime comedy, and you've got real potential.
Which only makes "$#*! My Dad Says" a disappointment for CBS, which squandered valuable preseason buzz by executing a terrible pilot. Let's put it this way: "$#*!" makes ABC's ill-fated appropriation of the Geico cavemen in 2007 look like sheer genius.
There are so many problems with "$#*!" that one hardly knows where to begin. But let's start at conception: The idea had one strike against it the second CBS decided to transplant Justin Halpern's Twitter creation into broadcast TV because the profanities that are absolutely essential to its humor had to be left behind. Had "$#*!" been put on cable, it might have had a chance.
But what's even worse is how this series so fundamentally misreads the appeal of the Twitter feed. What makes Halpern quoting his father so hilarious? In every 140-character dose, the conventional Hallmark-esque notions of love and affection we've come to expect from a parent-child relationship are replaced with wildly politically incorrect scorn and abuse.
When we first meet Ed Goodson (Shatner), "$#*!" seems to understand this. Ed is being visited by his son, Henry (Jonathan Sadowski), who's afraid to tell his curmudgeonly father that he's newly unemployed and needs financial help. When Ed senses that Henry is struggling to tell him something, he barks: "Son, are you coming out to me? Because you wouldn't last a minute in that world."
But it isn't long before "$#*!" descends into a touchy-feely back-and-forth whinefest between father and son in which they endlessly discuss the one thing Halpern's father probably doesn't even realize he has: feelings. Desperate for any token of affection, Henry is so needy his sister-in-law (Nicole Sullivan) cracks the only good one-liner in the pilot: "Do you want him to play Peter Gabriel on a boombox outside your bedroom?" That joke is the essence of what the show should have been about: mocking feelings, not drowning in them. Instead, Halpern's creation has been morphed into a third-rate Neil Simon yawner that pours on the kind of goopy sentiment Halpern's dad wouldn't be caught dead saying.
You could argue that there's no way Halpern's humor could have survived being stuffed into a sitcom, but that's the kicker here: If anyone has experience making sure the genre doesn't suffocate truly envelope-pushing comedy, it's executive producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, who did it so brilliantly on "Will & Grace."
As for CBS, it had the model for what this show could have been right under its nose: Take a look at the coldhearted repartee between the Harper brothers and their mother on practically every episode of "Two and a Half Men." With familial tensions such a big part of "Men," it's also a mystery why CBS wouldn't have paired "$#*!" with that show Monday instead of slotting it Thursday following the totally dissimilar "The Big Bang Theory."
Then there is the matter of Shatner. Whatever magic David E. Kelley worked on "Boston Legal" to alchemize Shatner's nutty vibe into comic gold is lost here. It's as if Shatner has gotten the memo that he's a bit of a weirdo, and now instead of just being a weirdo, he self-consciously acts like a weirdo with wacky line readings. One can't help but wonder what another elder actor who can truly radiate insanity, like, say, Jerry Stiller, could have done with this role.
If CBS wanted the standard father-son two-hander, it's puzzling why it even bothered to adapt "$#*!". Trying to ride the Twitter feed's coattails by using a variation on its title is only going to frustrate viewers with a reasonable expectation the show actually might have captured the true flavor of the source material.