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The Dad TV Comedy Really Needed, And He Trained With The Best

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
October 12, 2011

It really does make all the sense in the world.

I was recently lamenting to a single-dad friend of mine that for all the frustration I have (and have been discussing) about television’s current treatment of men in general, nothing has been burning my bacon quite as much as its treatment of dads. There’s no balance anymore between bumbling or hapless dads, which we’ve always had, and solid, assured, loving dads, who seem to be gone. Cliff Huxtable, Steven Keaton, Dan Conner … we used to have great TV comedy dads, and they managed to be funny even though they didn’t need anybody to fix their parenting or explain to them how to relate to their own kids.

That’s not to say there aren’t any good dads. All the dads on Modern Family, for instance, are good and loving dads in their own ways. So is Homer Simpson. But they’re not particularly confident dads, and they all spend a lot of time seemingly screwing up and then being redeemed as everybody learns that love is what matters most. That’s perfectly fine — that’s a totally legitimate style of comedy, it doesn’t offend me, and it doesn’t put me off in and of itself. Goofy Dad is one kind of dad. I’m just not thrilled about having it be the only kind of dad.

That was brought home to me very vividly the second I saw Malcolm-Jamal Warner last night on BET’s new comedy, Reed Between The Lines.

On it, Warner plays an NYU English professor who works from home (online classes!) while his wife (Tracee Ellis Ross) works as a therapist.

Now, this is not a particularly great show. Ross’ workplace stuff, in particular, tends toward the broad, and you have kid sitcom actors doing a certain amount of what kid sitcom actors do — though with much more restraint than some. They’ve staffed Ross’ office up with solid actors including Anna Maria Horsford, but I’m still not quite sold on it.

The home stuff, on the other hand, is very solid and appealing in an old-school family comedy sort of way. Alex and Carla Reed love each other, they’re good to each other, and they still want to have sex with each other. They fundamentally like their kids, they like being parents, and it doesn’t require a last-minute realization at the end of the episode for everyone to conclude that it’s a loving family. It’s a family where Mom and Dad sit on the couch at the end of the day and hang out with their kids. It’s a loving family already.

Now. When you praise a show for having this quality, what you hear a lot is, “But if they’re perfect, that’s boring! Why do you want everyone to be perfect?” To which I would say: Do you love your family and act like you do? If so, does that mean your family is perfect? They’re not perfect. They’re just a basically happy and high-functioning family. That has always had a place in television comedy, and it should have one now.

While I like Ross here, Warner is absolutely marvelous. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. I mean … it’s Theo Huxtable. He’s essentially gone into the family business, and now a great TV kid is a great TV dad who studied under one of the greatest dads television ever produced. Is this The Cosby Show? Well, of course not. That’s a great comedy; this is a solid comedy. But Warner is excellent in it; he’s magnetic and charming and confident, and he comes off as both a devoted husband and a father who doesn’t need instruction. (He is also, if you are at a phase of life where you can appreciate the hotness of sweatpants and familiarity, almost discomfitingly sexy.)

It’s far from a perfect show, but I’m very glad BET made it and is presenting it at this particular stage in the development of television families. It’s good to have moderation in all things, including dads being doofuses. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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