'The Dangerous Book for Boys': TV Review

Seen it before, sadly.
3/30/2018

What could have been an amazingly creative effort from Amazon turns out to be a generic network kids show.

It was probably too much to ask streaming services to be consistently different from networks, just as it was too much to expect, in the early days, for cable channels to be consistently different from networks in the type of content they produced. At some point, everybody goes in for family fare or mass-appeal shows, lowering the bar and getting rid of the whole exceptionalism thing.

Netflix slowly went mainstream and by the time it had Fuller House, well, all bets were off.

Amazon, on the other hand, has mostly produced high-quality fare so it shouldn't be held against it that its latest family series, The Dangerous Book for Boys, based on the best-selling book, skews far closer to its rote children's programming than something creative for families and pre-teens. That would have been the hope — in fact, in a perfect world that should be the goal for streamers; do something the networks have done to death with flair and imagination. In the case of The Dangerous Book for Boys, at least that would have set it apart.

With a premise tailor-made for creativity and artistic ambition, The Dangerous Book for Boys, co-created and written by Bryan Cranston and Greg Mottola (Superbad), misses a great opportunity to be uniquely engaging. Instead, the series comes off as a combination of limp adult sitcom that you've seen 10,000 times and saccharine childhood feel-good mess, with a bunch of uninspiring whimsy tossed on top.

If only Cranston, Mottola and executive producer James Degus (Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams) had seen something like The Adventures Of Pete and Pete, on a loop for 500 hundred times. Like that. Be inspired by something like that.

Instead, we get the McKenna family, led by frazzled mom Erinn Hayes (Kevin Can Wait), whose husband has died young and left her with three kids of central casting origin (introspective gentle soul, brainiac, dumb rough-houser) and a grandma (Swoosie Kurtz) who inexplicably wants her feet rubbed all the time, is often naked and has lived a life of not very believable excess that's supposed to be funny because, you know, she's old now.

The series stars Chris Diamantopoulos, who is wonderful in everything, but gets saddled here with two parts: one good, as the dead father who teaches his youngest, introspective son via fantasy sequences garnered from the book he leaves his boys; the other not good, as the living twin brother who is mostly dopey and unreliable and is essentially just the fourth kid that Hayes has to deal with in the house.

Frazzled, sad mom, dead dad, eccentric unreliable twin brother, weird grandma and three disparate and easily identifiable kids — yep, you're in predictable sitcom territory now.

Look, The Dangerous Book for Boys is fine enough for the target audience. The problem is the target audience has already seen this so many times. And the book it's based on could have been the backbone for so much inspired imagination and sweet (not sugary) emotional interaction between a dead father and the boys who need his advice. Instead of taking the opportunity for true tenderness, real emotions and actual humor, Amazon has created a show in The Dangerous Book for Boys that is just another show, period. Opportunity missed.

Cast: Chris Diamantopoulos, Erinn Hayes, Swoosie Kurtz, Gabriel Bateman, Dew Powell, Kyan Zielinski

Created and written by Bryan Cranston and Greg Mottola

Directed by Greg Mottola

Based on the book from Conn and Hal Iggulden

Available now on Amazon Prime