Not Just Comic Buffoons
When Nicole “Snooki” Pilozzi gave birth earlier this year, the internet consensus was that she was unfit to be a mother. We’ve heard less concern expressed about Jionni, Snooki’s beau, but now a network sitcom is asking whether former party boys can be good dads.
In fact, NBC’s Guys with Kids answers in the affirmative. Chris (Jesse Bradford), Gary (Anthony Anderson), and Nick (Zach Cregger) are the type of guys who sit around reminiscing about the time they managed to make it back from Cancun “with no clothes and no money.” Now, however, their concerns are more domestic, raising their babies and pleasing their wives, or in Chris’ case, ex-wife.
The premiere episode of Guys with Kids—sneak-previewing 12 September at 10PM before it takes up its regular 8:30PM slot next week—showcases Chris’ efforts to go on a date with a hot blond (Alex McKenna), even though it’s his night to look after his infant son. Having made a promise to his controlling ex, Sheila (Erinn Hayes) never to leave the child in the care of a babysitter (whom Sheila worries would spend all her time on the phone or making crack in the bathtub out of cold medicine) Chris is left with a choice: cancel the date or stand up to Sheila. Chris friends offer another possibility: “That’s why you moved into our building,” they say, “So we could look after you and play with your life.” He leaves his son with Nick, only to have to abandon his date when the guys’ plans go awry.
Part of that trouble has to do with Nick, who mistakenly thinks he’s free to babysit when he mistakenly thinks his wife Emily (Jamie-Lyn Sigler) is joking when she wants to go to the Titanic-themed party at their daughter’s school. It’s only after Emily shows up in an evening gown and elbow-length gloves that he realizes his error. By this point, he has Chris’ son in hand, an error that inspires Emily’s revenge: she’s going to the Titanic night without him—and with Gary’s wife Marny (Tempestt Bledsoe) instead. This leaves Gary home alone with his kids, a situation he knows too well, being a stay-at-home father of four, a parent whose exhaustion sometimes leads to mistakes in judgment.
This is a situation all parents might know too well, and one the show highlights. These guys with kids are competent, caring parents, not just comic buffoons. What’s more, Guys with Kids ridicules that stereotype. Noting Chris’ new paint job in his apartment, Sheila is quick to ask if he used lead-free paints. Chris retorts that the paint is “all lead,” ordered “from the ‘50s.” Sheila’s misgivings shape her bumpy relationship with Chris, as she micromanages his parenting. And when he objects, she asserts, “He grew inside me.” If Chris hasn’t yet devised a comeback for this rather bitter discussion-stopper, his buddies at least earn points for trying. In fact, Marny is frequently complimentary, noting that in their household, Gary has the harder job.
Marny’s attitude might be described as that of the show, which presents the men as better at what they do than most contemporary TV dads. It’s true, they’re not perfect, much as we’d expect in a sitcom. Gary’s children are largely out of control, Chris uses his son to pick up the beautiful blond, and Nick is sidetracked from pursuing his daughter by a pause at the refrigerator. Still, these few foibles don’t distract too much from the generally positive portraits, as Guys with Kids looks to dispel stereotypes and present Chris, Gary, and Nick as more or less real-world dads.
Unfortunately, the show offers few genuine laughs. Save for Sheila, the parents are likable and their circumstances familiar, but Guys with Kids relies too often on predictable jokes. As the show has it, beer-bong-loving party animals can mature into reasonable adults when they feel responsible for raising children. The idea was broached in this summer’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but we might hope that Guys with Kids, as a weekly series, will offer a more in-depth examination of the dilemmas and joys of men at this particular kind of work.