Television Turmoil is a look at the worst and weirdest series to make their way onto the small screen.
For the past two decades, CBS has remained at or near the top of the broadcast network game thanks to a mix of catering to a slowly aging audience and sticking to a mostly rigid formula of what their programs look like. Watching an evening of CBS prime-time programming feels a bit like driving around a cul-de-sac. Sure, you can tell that each house is technically different from one another, but you’re not sure what exactly sets them apart. Comfort and routine are key to the CBS brand at this stage. Even when something outside the norm gets made, it often feels like it must play inside the confines of what CBS sees as “network television.” Which is what makes $#*! My Dad Says one of the worst outliers in this era of the network.
Based on a Twitter feed by blogger Justin Halpern, one of the most popular at the time for the nascent social media site. $#*! My Dad Says‘ (pronounced Bleep My Dad Says,) follows Henry Goodson (Jonathan Sadowski) a down on his luck writer with a surname that is the closest thing to a real joke the show provides. Desperate for money, Henry moves back in with his father, Ed (William Shatner) and has to deal with constant visits from his brother Vince and Vince’s wife, Bonnie (Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan.) As the title suggests, there is plenty of $#*! this dad ends up saying.
Neither the show’s premise nor its tried and true multi-cam production are outliers to the CBS style. What makes the show stand out is how all in it goes on being an “edgy” sitcom. CBS had found success with faux-edgy sitcoms like Two and a Half Men and Two Broke Girls so, why not a third show that didn’t have “two” in the title? Those shows mistook dick jokes and overt racial humor as “edge” and were rewarded with consistent viewership. It only makes sense that the next logical step is to add an expletive to the title and let fate work out the rest.
It is perhaps a bit too pat to say, but $h*! My Dad Says is well and truly shit. For as boiler-plate as most CBS shows are, there is a baseline of mediocrity that sort of blends all but their worst programming together. This is the rare show so thin in both premise and character that all that stands out are the tasteless and unfunny jokes. Within seconds of his first appearance on screen, Shatner is pointing a shotgun at his son’s genitals and threatening to turn him into a woman. The awfulness of Shatner’s titular dad attempts to be the “hook” that keeps us all coming back, like a repugnant version of Archie Bunker. The problem is that no one on the writing team gives poor Ed a character outside of “racist and mean.”
To be fair, no one is much of a character in this show. The cast exists for the express purpose of delivering jokes, and there is little time for something as trivial as stakes and character development. It probably isn’t much of a surprise that normally game comedic actors like Sasso and Sullivan are essentially sleepwalking through this program. There is nothing much to do here but walk into one of the three sets that are used in an episode, belt out some jokes that went stale in the 90s, and pause long enough for the laugh track to be added in later.
Ultimately, the problems this show faces stem from that wafer thin premise. Perhaps there is a reason that no one else has really attempted to adapt a popular Twitter account into a sitcom since. Even if the people involved carved something manageable from nothing, they would still have to contend with that all time stinker of a title. Why anyone allowed the actual title of the show to include a word that couldn’t be said in advertising or on the network itself is a mystery for the ages. Best I can tell, it was a ploy to attract attention to a show that needed all the help it could get. They got that attention, just not in the way they expected.
It is sad to think about, but even in the recent history of 2010, the prospect of including one of the “big swears” in the title of your show courted a significant amount of controversy. The vast majority of this came from that bastion of censorship, the Parents Television Council. Their primary argument was the classic “I don’t want my kids to see this” ploy. Advertisers were also skeptical about the name despite repeated assurance from the network that the dreaded swear would never be said aloud. Even Shatner got in on the fun with a statement only he could make saying, “The word ‘shit’ is around us. It isn’t a terrible term. It’s a natural function. Why are we pussyfooting?”
Overall, the controversy gave $#*! My Dad Says a big debut number of over 12 million viewers. The number dropped steadily once the audiences realized how shallow the show’s premise and characters actually were. The show lasted 18 episodes before dad was put out to pasture. An expected ending when you have so little to offer.
Quality is rarely a determining factor in what attracts audiences to a show. Often, all you need to do to achieve success is provide something for your viewers to engage with. $#*! My Dad Says instead doles out cheap laughs on even cheaper sets with actors who would rather be anywhere else.
Next Time: We head to the world of syndication and enjoy some Burt Reynolds voice-acting with the alien sitcom Out of This World.
As always, thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions for future shows you want to see covered, leave them in the comments below. For more great content, follow me on Twitter @JesseSwanson.