[12 August 2005]
An animated series based on the animals in Siegfried and Roy’s Las Vegas show probably seemed a great idea at first. Imagine the studio execs going ga-ga at the pitch. “NBC teams with DreamWorks—the folks who brought you Shrek and Shrek 2? It’s a sure-fire hit, baby!”
Perhaps it would have been. Father of the Pride was certainly shaping up that way, with John Goodman performing the voice of a lion named Larry, and Carl Reiner speaking for Larry’s father-in-law, Sarmoti. If nothing else, there was comedic potential. Unfortunately, after Friday, 3 October 2003, otherwise known as the day when Roy was mauled by one of the tigers in the duo’s act, it was magically transformed from a sure-fire hit into something that’s… frankly, it’s a little creepy at times.
One would think that, given the circumstances, someone would’ve said, “Maybe we should put the kibosh on this show. Roy’s in the hospital, and, c’mon, no one’s gonna be able to watch this without thinking about that!” Someone probably did say that, but there was a great deal of money already tied up in the show’s preproduction and they’d already started recording sessions with the actors. Add to that the fact that, even from his hospital bed, Roy demanded that the show go on, and there was no chance the plug would be yanked.
No, that wouldn’t happen until it actually got on the air.
Getting beyond the Roy factor, the likely reason for Father of the Pride‘s failure (only 10 episodes aired), is that it’s just a really odd show. In no way does its look match its content, a fact clear to the show’s writers and producers. During “Possession”—an episode where Larry reminds his wife Kate (Cheryl Hines), “You know I pitch a tent when I fancy-dance”—a writer comments, “That might’ve been the brilliance of what we tried to do, or the reason it was an absolute failure, because we had cuddly animals talking like this.”
The brilliant part was surely helped by the voice actors, including Goodman, Reiner, and guest stars such as John O’Hurley (a fine fancy-dancer in his own right), Garry Marshall, and John DiMaggio (a.k.a. Bender on Futurama), it’s hard to get past the fact that it looks like a show for kids. NBC might’ve tried to play the “primetime animation” card with the show—a placard that reads, “If an animated series is on between 7-11pm, then it’s not for kids and parents shouldn’t let them watch it”—but nobody was buying that load of malarkey once Eddie Murphy reprised his role as Donkey, from Shrek.
The animals are definitely the stars of the show. The actions of the animated Siegfried and Roy are a bit too surreal, so they seem more like a 21st-century version of the Festrunk Brothers rather than illusionists extraordinaire. Invariably, their wild and crazy activities are relegated to B-story status, and rightfully so. The relations among Larry, Kate, and daughter Sierra and son Hunter, all living with Sarmoti, drive the series. There’s an extremely funny bit where Hunter is singing Tori Amos’ “Silent All These Years” in the bathtub, resulting in a dead silence from Larry and Kate, only broken by Sarmoti asking, “Are we still pretending he’s not gay?”
The show is not shy about presenting “lifestyle” options. Orlando Jones voices Snack, a gopher who has a decidedly sultry-looking gopher girlfriend. An elephant shares a pad with a turkey, but they swear there’s nothing going on, and that they’re just “splitting the rent” (Suuuuure they are). Larry and Kate go to a rave where they end up getting dosed with catnip. There’s also a hysterical moment when, during a “road trip” through the desert, a coyote has what appears to be a bad acid trip, with a toad trying to talk him down: “How long has it been since you last licked me?” It’s no Family Guy, but not a kids’ show either.
The release of the series’ short run on a dual-sided DVD might help all involved recoup some of the lost investment. In addition to the inclusion of 14 episodes (three never aired, plus a second version of the pilot), Universal has upped the must-buy quotient by adding such bonus features as a script for a never-animated episode of the show and commentary by writers on three episodes. For the TV-on-DVD fans who take the time to listen to such things, head writers Jonathan Groff and Jon Pollack, and staff writers Rob Cohen, Cheryl Holliday, and Jon Ross demonstrate they had a vision for the characters, including the relationship between the lions and tigers in Siegfried and Roy’s menagerie. (The tigers are the nouveaux rich to the lion’s middle class, if you were wondering.)
Some would say the show’s failure was ensured by Roy’s injuries, but by the time the show aired, he was on the mend. Unfortunately, many viewers wrote it off as an exercise in poor taste nonetheless. This, coupled with the gradual realization that, despite its look, the show was certainly not “Must-See TV” for the pre-pubescent set, ensured cancellation. Perhaps the DVD will allow fans of the semi-subversive Adult Swim school of animation to rediscover the joys of Father of the Pride.