I never watched Dad’s Casa during its original run. Oh, I undoubtedly caught a few minutes here and there while channel surfing, but I never sat down to watch an episode. All the ads made it seem like the hokiest, lamest thing ever, especially since I’m not usually a big fan of family based sitcoms (other than The Simpsons).
But back in 2013, I read Donna Bowman’s TV Club 10 piece on Dad’s Casa for The A.V. Club, describing the show’s ten “most essential” episodes. She painted the show as being a lot funnier, and a lot more inventive, than I would have thought. Since this was back when you could stream all twelve seasons of Dad’s Casa on Netflix, it was pretty simple for me to go watch those ten episodes Donna talked about so I could judge for myself.
And I gotta say, in almost every case, they did not disappoint. Not only were they some of the show’s best episodes, but they showcased the wide variety that Dad’s Casa is capable of. There’s the character driven comedy of “Carmella’s Casa”, where a lightning bolt causes Dad and Carmella to switch bodies, and they learn what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes. There’s the slapstick farce of “Dad’s Cabesa”, where the kids keep hitting Dad on the head to give him amnesia, so he’ll forget they’re grounded. And there’s the social issue drama of “Dads’ Gato”, where the vet accidentally gives the family cat a sex change, and Dad struggles with whether he can still think of Buster as a boy cat now.
Of the ten episodes Donna recommended, nine of them were fantastic enough to make me a diehard Dad’s Casa fan, bingeing the whole series over the next few weeks.
But then there’s “Dad’s Bermuda”.
For the life of me, I cannot imagine why Donna listed this as one of the show’s “most essential” episodes. The best argument she makes is that it “represents a unique phase in the show’s development”. And that is true, but it’s a phase we could all do without. Because “Dad’s Bermuda”, you see, is one of the infamous Ice Cream Episodes.
After Season 2 of Dad’s Casa finished, the ratings (while ridiculously high by today’s standards) weren’t quite enough for NBC’s tastes. They demanded a retooling of the show to boost its viewership. Apparently they had some statistics saying that domestic sitcoms were out and workplace sitcoms were in, because starting in Season 3, everything changed.
The Casa, that place we’d all come to know as a loving if dysfunctional home environment, was changed to an ice cream shop. At some point between seasons, Dad quit the never-really-defined job he’d had up till then, and decided to get into the ice cream business, transforming his home into the oddly named Dad’s Casa Ice Cream Parlor.
The kids were gone. In the season premiere, Dad made a quick joke about giving them jobs in the ice cream shop, but then social services took them away because of child labor laws (a rather tasteless reference to the allegations surrounding how Dad’s Casa treated its child actors). Aside from Dad himself, the only characters still on the show were Carmella (running the ice cream shop with Dad) and Horatio (who, in a typical fit of poorly thought out rivalry, turned his own house into competing ice cream shop).
And the new characters introduced to fill the void? Well, there was the Casa’s new employee, Amelie, played by a pre-superstardom Kate Beckinsale, doing her best effort at . . . I think it’s meant to be a Brooklyn accent? Or it could be Southern . . . or possibly Swedish.
The other new main cast member is Herman, a regular at the ice cream shop and . . . hoo boy. Herman has precisely three character traits: 1) he’s old, 2) he’s cranky, and 3) he’s potentially a Nazi war criminal. If you like jokes where he fondly reminisces about his time at the camps, then goes, “Camping! I meant camping!”, then you’re gonna loooooooove Herman.
This was all such a terribly, unbelievably misguided attempt to rejuvenate a series that didn’t need rejuvenating (now Season 7, that could have used some rejuvenation). The heart and soul of Dad’s Casa was the screwball family dynamic, the way home life at the Casa could take on radically farcical shapes, while always remaining grounded in the sincere bond of family. To strip that away, and replace it with the cold (no pun intended) world of the ice cream business? To get rid of the kids, each with their own defined personality and well-honed comedic style, and replace them with these painfully schticky newcomers? It’s no wonder the writers seemed to rebel against these new dictates, and turned in the most half-assed scripts in the show’s history. Case in point, “Dad’s Bermuda”.
The premise is that Dad is trying to drum up business for the Casa by promising that one customer that day will win an all expense paid trip to Bermuda. When Carmella questions how they can possibly afford that, Dad points to the fine print on his advertisements, which specifies that the trip is to the town of Bermuda, Michigan. And on the off-chance someone wants to take a trip to Michigan, they still won’t be able to go, since a dam that went up last year left the entire town of Bermuda underwater.
As is the pattern in these Ice Cream Episodes, Horatio responds to Dad’s promotional effort with one of his own. He’s sent out a bunch of flyers promising customers a date with Horatio himself (each flyer, naturally, contains a photo of Horatio’s face pasted onto Hulk Hogan’s body). And, as is also the pattern, both these plans go awry.
Dad’s plan hits a snag when the guy who wins the trip to Bermuda was well aware the offer was for Bermuda, Michigan, and that the town’s been flooded. He’s excited at the prospect of Dad renting him a minisub so he can go exploring the underwater town. Dad is horrified at how much this is going to cost him, but really, this is nothing compared to the horror going on in Horatio’s B-plot.
It seems a great many of Horatio’s flyers were distributed at a nearby senior citizens’ center, and his ice cream shop is now flooded with horny old ladies eager to go on a date with Horatio . . . and do a lot more to him than that. Horatio’s whole bit this episode is that he’ll come into the Casa, begging for help, looking to escape the horde of elderly women trying to rape him. And Dad, preoccupied with his own stuff, repeatedly throws the screaming Horatio out the door and into the arms of his rapists. Naturally, the studio audience howls in laughter every time this happens.
You’d think that would easily be the most distasteful part of the episode, but the turn the A-plot takes gives it a run for its money. See, the guy who won the trip to Bermuda has diabetes. He only bought some ice cream on the off-chance of winning the trip. That’s when you see the gleam of an idea enter Dad’s eyes, and he starts trying to convince the customer that, to celebrate his good fortune, he can allow himself just one spoonful of ice cream. And maybe another after that, and another after that.
Yes, Dad’s plan is to make a diabetic guy eat ice cream until he falls into a coma and dies, just so he won’t have to pay for the guy’s trip. If this were Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, maybe that sort of cold-blooded behavior would make for a good joke. But this is Dad we’re talking about. He may be a bit gruff at times. He may have pushed Carmella’s grandmother down the stairs, and sent Lucinda to that Cambodian prison camp, but those were rooted in his buffoonishness and inability to see the consequences of his actions. He is supposed to be, fundamentally, a good person and a loving father (even if the kids are nowhere in evidence right now). To see him coldly and remorselessly plot a man’s death, just to save himself some money, is an insult to the character and everyone who’s ever seen a little of themselves in Dad.
It’s a small mercy that, in the end, the customer doesn’t die, thanks to Amelie (told by Dad to hide the guy’s insulin) accidentally injecting him instead. The episode closes with him walking away happy, Dad and Carmella presumably out many thousands of dollars, and Horatio, covered in lipstick marks, his clothes all but torn off, crawling his way into the Casa before collapsing. Then Dad, getting another gleam in his eyes, walks to the door and shouts out at the old ladies, “Hey, anyone who buys an ice cream wins a date with Horatio!” We hear the stampede of old lady feet, Horatio’s eyes widen in horror, and the credits start rolling to thunderous laughter from our studio audience.
“Dad’s Bermuda” is abysmal. It’s not funny. It’s frankly disgusting in its treatment of what should be serious subject matter. It flies in the face of everything that makes Dad’s Casa one of the greatest television comedies of its era. And yet, of the Ice Cream Episodes, it’s sadly only a little worse than average. If I wanted to review the worst episode of the bunch, I’d have had to cover the ep before this, “Dad’s Wigwam”, but no one should have to sit through that a second time.
Luckily, the Ice Cream Era of the show would only last one more episode. In response to the predictably terrible reception of the show’s new direction, Episode 7 (the appropriately titled “Return of the Casa”) undoes all the changes made this season. The ice cream business is closed down, and the Casa is back to being the family home. The kids all return (though, except for Jose, played by different actors). And the writing returned to the tasteful, cornball cleverness we’ve come to expect from the series.
Amelie did stick around for a few episodes, now working as the kids’ babysitter, until Kate Beckinsale’s contract was up. After that, she disappeared without explanation, and was never so much as mentioned again. And I think that’s a good way to treat everything from the Ice Cream Episodes, don’t you?
- You might be wondering, with the kids gone, how these episodes were able to keep referring to Dad as “Dad”. Well, in yet another way this episode spits at the show’s traditions, “Dad’s Bermuda” breaks the ironclad rule of never revealing the character’s name. This is such a violation of the show’s ethos, that on all subsequent airings of the episode, as well as on the DVDs and on the Netflix version I watched, his name is dubbed out. But you can still clearly see Carmella’s lips forming the word “Phil”.
- The opening scene has a guest appearance by Trevor Peacock, star of the British series Father’s Villa that Dad’s Casa was based on. He gets the only genuine laugh in the episode, when Amelie tries imitating his English accent (meaning Kate Beckinsale gets to speak in her native accent, rather than the painful I-don’t-know-what accent she attempts for the rest of her run on the show) and he complains about Americans always butchering English.
- I didn’t discuss Herman’s plotline in the episode. It involves an Israeli Nazi hunter coming to the Casa, and Herman misdirecting him in various ways. I think that about says it all.