Jamie Foxx’s leap from TV to the big screen — in an era when the chasm between the two was gapingly vast — is one of the most notable cases of the early 2000s. Only four years separate the end of The Jamie Foxx Show on the now defunct WB network and the actor’s staggering achievement of winning the best actor Oscar (for Ray) and being nominated for best supporting actor (for Collateral) in the same year, 2005. Since then, he’s headlined Django Unchained, co-starred in a couple of Spider-Man movies, voiced the lead in Pixar’s Soul and won a Grammy for his side career as a rapper. Television’s caught up to film in many respects since The WB days, but news of Foxx’s return to the small screen — in a multicam family sitcom of all things — struck many as a head-scratcher.
The eight episodes of Netflix’s Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! seem to answer at least one question about its existence: Foxx might have signed on because he missed goofing around. He’s clearly enjoying himself playing Brian Dixon, the heir to a cosmetics company his mom founded and the father of 15-year-old Sasha (Nickelodeon alum Kyla-Drew), who comes to live with him after the death of her own mother. (The only kind of woman Hollywood likes more than a pratfalling heroine is a deceased matriarch.)
Reuniting with his former In Living Color castmate David Alan Grier, who plays Brian’s Pops, Foxx leans into his sketch-comedy roots with impersonations (e.g., Obama, Pacino) and caricatural supporting characters like bartender Rusty, a Joe Exotic-inspired redneck in a blond mullet and leopard print, and Reverend Sweet Tee, a flashy preacher whose outfits would strike the Vatican as “too much.”
Foxx’s chameleonic turns are finely detailed and go-for-broke physical, but they’re not charming or fresh enough for DSEM! to feel like anything more than a wan throwback. The star and his daughter, Corinne Foxx (an executive producer here), reportedly mined their intergenerational conflicts for the series, but nary a scene feels true-to-life, let alone resonant.
The pilot finds Brian and Sasha at a therapist’s office, where the horny counselor (played by guest star Luenell) assumes that they’re a couple in an unfunny bit that goes on for way too long and ends with a lascivious proposal of a threesome. Later, when a model who works for Brian’s firm ends up in his bed while his daughter arrives from Chicago to move in with him, he panics and attempts to persuade the woman to sneak out through the second-story window.
Given Netflix’s mission to appeal to as many demographics as possible, DSEM! is certainly for … someone. But its target audience would have to not mind that creator Bentley Kyle Evans and his writers don’t even bother to fit their main characters into sitcom archetypes. Brian is introduced as a suave womanizer, but he also doesn’t seem to know the first thing about girls and young women, aka the consumer base of his beauty company. (Or maybe that’s why his business is failing, though the show doesn’t make that connection.)
Kyla-Drew is a promising performer, but the writers don’t give her much of a temperament beyond “earnest and nice,” which is incidentally the personality void shared by Brian’s love interest Stacy (Heather Hemmens). Rounding out the cast of characters are Brian’s sister Chelsea (Porscha Coleman), who lives with her brother for no discernible reason, and her unlikely lover, a white cop named Johnny (Jonathan Kite).
Brian and Sasha take turns talking to the camera, sharing their perspectives with the viewer, but DSEM! never doesn’t feel like The Jamie Foxx Show 2, with the showboating actor sucking up all the energy in the room despite having little character or plot developments to tackle. It doesn’t help that the series looks about as cheap and sparse as a WB sitcom, with conspicuous product placement clogging up the screen. Jokes about skinny jeans and a gag in which Brian runs through the front door and leaves a Looney Tunes-style hole in his wake add to the sense that the series is channeling Brian’s out-of-touchness much more readily than Sasha’s clued-in-ness. It’s great that Foxx is having so much fun, but perhaps somebody else should, too.
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Kyla-Drew, David Alan Grier, Porscha Coleman, Jonathan Kite
Created by: Bentley Kyle Evans