As an actual guy with kids, I feel I can say with some authority that NBC's new Jimmy Fallon-created sitcom Guys with Kids is terrible. Say what you will about the uneven first season of Up All Night -- the network's other baby-centric comedy -- but in its best episodes that show nailed the details of new parenthood in a way that was both identifiable and hilarious. Guys with Kids, on the other hand, feels like it was conceived by a team who have never met a child, let alone watched a good sitcom before.
In the interest of not spending the entirety of this review kicking sand in this young show's eyes, I will say that I appreciated Fallon and his fellow co-creators Charlie Grandy and Amy Ozol's attempts to bring the classic multi-camera sitcom back to NBC, a network that has gone whole hog on single-camera stuff ever since The Office became a hit. (In fact, as of now, this is the Peacock's only multi-camera comedy series.) As much as I love the creative freedom that single-camera allows -- and NBC offers some of the best examples of the format around in the forms of Community and Parks and Recreation -- writing a great multi-camera show is actually a bigger challenge... one that these writers ultimately fail miserably at. But wait, for the sake of the children, let's stay positive for a couple more minutes. The other good things about last night's pilot episode was the guest spot by the always-enjoyable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (buy Airplane! on Blu-ray this week!), watching Childrens Hospital's formidable Erinn Hayes wipe the floor with her slumming co-stars and the tykes themselves, all of whom are as cute as buttons and fortunately still young enough that they won't remember ever having been a part of this show after its imminent cancellation.
All right, now that the kids have been comforted and sent to bed, I'll really express what's on my mind. I knew I was in trouble in the very first scene, when the three leads -- stay at home father of four Gary (Anthony Anderson), newly divorced single papa Chris (Jesse Bradford) and doofus dad Nick (Zach Cregger) -- sat around a sports bar with their offspring loudly talking about their various parenting dilemmas and, more importantly, the sorry state of Chris's social life. If the writers' intention was to make viewers hate these guys from the jump, mission accomplished. That sequence set the tone for the rest of the show, which was filled with strained punchlines, predictably pained reactions to predictable kiddie hijinks and a pronounced fear of female power. The show's designated villain is Chris's ex Sheila (Hayes), whose cruelty manifests itself in such seemingly reasonable ways as not allowing her former hubby to watch Goodfellas in the same room as their child and forcing the poor urchin to wear a beret... which is bad for some unspecified reason. Chris's attempts to stand up to (re: yell back at) Sheila is his primary character arc during the pilot and it's just as unpleasant as it sounds.
While Chris is squabbling to Sheila's face and conspiring behind her back (which is a great way to retain parental custody, I'm sure), Gary hangs out at the home he shares with his constantly busy spouse Marny (Tempestt Bledsoe A.K.A. Vanessa Huxtable) and Nick cozies up to his bride Emily (Jamie-Lynn Sigler A.K.A. Meadow Soprano), whose sole dream in life is a night off from parenting. Although these women are allowed to be considerably nicer than Sheila, the show still establishes their concerns (not to mention their comedy) as being decidedly second to the men. That's a marked difference from Up All Night, where Christina Applegate and Will Arnett are allowed to be equal partners in marriage, child-rearing and laugh-generating. Not that there's much laugh-generating going on in Guys with Kids anyway; this is the kind of show where every punchline is written to appeal to a laugh track rather than a live studio audience. Just like some guys aren't ready to be parents, some sitcoms just aren't ready for primetime.
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