Remember when reality TV was easy? All you had to do was stick seven strangers in a house to find out what happened when people stopped being polite and started getting real. Then we wanted to watch as two haphazard teams waged war as they tried to survive in harsh foreign environments. And finally, we wanted to see pretty people hand out roses and find real, true love – while millions of people watched from the comfort of their couches.
But in the past two years or so, things started to change. "Reality" shows have started to resemble sitcoms more and more, to the point where some of the most popular examples have recently been referred to as "unscripted sitcoms." It's a fitting term for shows with so much heavy-handed editing and clever manipulation of raw footage that they no longer represent "reality," but rather a heightened sense of life filled with hilarity and fun.
With all that in mind, it's no surprise that A&E would try their damnedest to craft future "unscripted sitcoms" in a way that emulates their juggernaut hit Duck Dynasty (nearly twelve million viewers tuned in to the fourth season premiere last Sunday). And while Dynasty does a good job of entertaining while showing the silly side of the Robertson clan's multi-million dollar duck-call-making operation, A&E's latest attempt at striking reality gold is the antithesis of anything you might consider "fun."
Modern Dads, which premiered on the network last night, follows an Austin, Texas-based group of four stay-at-home fathers that (as network materials describe it) are "balancing their roles as dudes and dads." If that description doesn't incite an immediate eye-roll, you may want to go back and read it again.
In the simplest terms, Modern Dads is the latest unscripted sitcom that allows viewers to follow family life through the eyes of HD cameras. Only, this time around, the focus is on fatherhood. Let's forget the fact that the idea of the stay-at-home dad as some sort of rare novelty is completely outdated (and borderline insulting to all the awesome SAHD out there). Tossing that detail aside, the premiere episode alone is enough to piss off nearly every father out there.
If, for some reason, hundreds of years from now, the only example people have of what a "modern dad" looked like is this first episode of Dads, they would assume that all fathers were nearly incompetent, barely interested in their children, completely obsessed with picking up women (solely for the purpose of getting them back to their bed), and basically unable to do anything without the help of their wives (including, but not limited to, diaper changing, feeding, and woodworking). They'd be completely horrified.
Saying that Dads is an accurate portrayal of what real modern fatherhood is like is akin to saying that we'll all be floating around on hoverboards like Marty McFly in the next year and half.
Instead, Modern Dads takes every single stay-at-home-dad stereotype and turns it up to eleven. It preys on the most baseless, tired, and insipid stereotypical traits and uses them in an attempt at humor. Sadly, watching these dads stumbling around isn't even very entertaining.
Let's take the way the show portrays its four dads. Rick, the "veteran dad," has four kids (including twin one-year-old girls) and doesn't have time to plan the twins' birthday party because he's more concerned with spending as much time in the bathroom as possible.
Nathan, the "new dad," actually refers to himself as "Nate-Dog," and at one point can't be bothered to stop the car while picking up his buddy because he's afraid his one-year-old son will wake up. Just imagine if he actually had to get him back to sleep. The horror!
Sean, the "step dad," comes across as the most normal of the group. His interactions with his two step daughters seems the most genuine, but his apparent ineptitude with power tools just looked like he was acting.
The lowlight of Modern Dads, however, is the way it portrays Stone, the "single dad" father of five-year-old Danica. Not only does the show paint him as a testosterone-fueled ball of horniness who will stop at nothing to bed the next available woman, but, at one point, he also equates raising a child to dating. The coup de grace comes when Stone takes his daughter with him to the urologist for a vasectomy consultation. When the doctor calls his name, he decides to leave his little one in the waiting room so the nice lady behind the glass window can watch her while he figures out if getting snipped is right for him.
In the event you didn't take our word for it, we decided to ask a few real dads we know what they thought of the show.
Stephen Lorincz, father of two girls (5 and 8) says that Modern Dads "seemed scripted and an over-the-top exaggeration." He continues: "I'm not sure how it relates at all to real dads. It's certainly not an accurate portrayal of any of the fathers I know," he says, adding he'll never watch the show again.
"I just don't feel like we're seeing real life," said Jeff McDonnell, father of 23-month-old twins (one boy, one girl). "The show is flat and boring, and we don't see the kids nearly enough. I want to see the real dads and the real interaction with their kids. That's when funny things happen. Unfortunately, Modern Dads didn't show any of that. Instead we just got a bunch of guys standing around talking and sometimes holding their kids."
Do we think that the four fathers on Modern Dads love their kids wholeheartedly? Definitely. Do we think they're capable fathers in real life? No doubt. But do we also think that A&E's cameras and editors have made them out to be bumbling, horny, barely competent dads? Absolutely.
It's a given that viewers must, to an extent, suspend their disbelief and give in to the funny, mindless aspects of reality TV to enjoy the hit-you-over-the-head comedy stylings of these unscripted sitcoms. Unfortunately for Modern Dads, not even suspension of disbelief can make the show engaging, insightful, or entertaining.
There's nothing funny to be seen here, folks. Only sadness, disgrace, and shame. These four dads – and all the real, genuine fantastic dads everywhere – deserve a whole lot better.