My Two Dads was something of a hit show when its first season ran in 1987, landing in the Nielsen’s to 20.Originally on NBC, it aired through 1990, and after that it was popular in syndication during the ’90s. The story of two self-involved, single, straight men sharing custody of a 12-year-old girl after the death of her mother is the basic foundation. It sounds tame, even silly today, but back then it professed some subject matter that was still considered risqué for family television.
First, there was the problem that the two main male characters, Michael and Joey (played by Paul Reiser and Greg Evigan) had both been involved with the girl’s mother. Their competition for the affections of this woman caused a rift in their friendship, and there is still an animosity between them more than a decade later. Then there is the matter of the daughter, Nicole (Staci Keanan), whose paternity is in question because these were the days before rampant DNA testing on day time talk shows.
One of these former friends is her father, and for some strange reason the judge (the ever dryly drôle Florence Stanley) grants them joint custody. They all move into an apartment together and the judge buys their building, thereby fulfilling the roles of authoritarian/landlord and wacky neighbor all at once, and then we’re off! After these points, the show pretty much followed standard sitcom guidelines.
Of course, there’s an obvious element of The Odd Couple at work here, with Reiser playing the straight-laced and slightly neurotic financial manager, Michael, and Evigan playing his opposite, the free-spirited, slacker artist (he wears an earring!), Joey. But the reason so many sitcoms fall back on this formulaic premise is because it almost always works, and Michael and Joey’s interplay is infinitely more interesting than Nicole’s often stale storylines.
That’s not a dig at Keanan’s performance. She’s quite good, and she holds her own among the more experienced actors and comedians. Not to mention, she’s much more believable as a savvy 12-year-old girl than many of the adolescent actors Disney, Nickelodeon, or any other network has churned out in the intervening years. However, the plots she is given are plodding and predictable. A daughter’s first date is standard sitcom fare, for instance, and that episode (titled, naturally, “Nicole’s First Date”) offers nothing new really, not even in the nervous double daddy department.
Of course, the “adult” subplots are hardly original, either. Joey and Michael fight over a woman in more than one episode (Wait… isn’t that how they got into this situation in the first place?).
My Two Dads was produced by Michael Jacobs (Charles in Charge), but the story editor credit on several of the first season episodes was Chuck Lorre, who now writes and produces Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. This, along with Reiser’s proto-Mad About You delivery style probably had a lot to do with the sharp comedy that is sporadically evident in many of this season’s early episodes despite the repetitive set ups, but which was watered down to the point of dissolution as the show carried on and is sorely lacking in the subsequent seasons.
It may have just been the way things were done in television at the time, but the early addition of Dick Butkus as the owner the local diner and a baby-faced Giovonni Ribisi as Nicole’s boyfriend, Cory, as well as a number of guest stars (Davy Jones, Scott Baio, New York Mayor Ed Koch and Dr. Joyce Brothers, among others), doesn’t really allow for the family dynamic—non-traditional as it was at the time—to develop. It’s debatable whether this ultimately had any effect on the show, but perhaps if those relationships had been further explored before resorting to stock guest spots, they could have been mined for a deeper, more consistent kind of comedy.
In spite, or maybe because of, its predictability, My Two Dads: The Complete First Season comes across as endearing and enduring entertainment. Additionally, this set is very nicely presented. Four discs are packaged in two slimline cases with the 22 individual episodes synopses printed on the back covers. The first disc allows the trailers (for other sitcoms, such as Blossom) to be skipped, which is welcome because too many of these sitcom sets force you to sit through all the ads every time the disc plays. The main menus and episodes are simple and well-planned, with the obligatory “Play All” or “Episodes” options, but also featuring chapter stops within each episode.
There is only one bonus feature for the first season, an all-new and current featurette called A Look Back at My Two Dads with lively and genuinely entertaining interview comments from Staci Keanan and Greg Evigan talking about their experiences on and co-stars. Watching the interview, more than 20 years after the show’s debut, it becomes apparent that it has actually held up fairly well, especially in light of what passes for DVD-worthy family comedy more recently(According to Jim, I’m looking at you.). Formulas aside, My Two Dadsis still pleasant, if slightly bland, family fare.