John Force should have never had kids. Winner of numerous drag-racing trophies and owner of his own multi-million dollar race team, he’s just not wired for child-rearing. Send him down the speedway at 300 mph and he’ll stare death down. But place him in a room with daughters Courtney (17 years old), Brittany (19), and Ashley (23), and he falls to pieces. His lack of coping skills may have to do with the fact that John is all machismo and manic energy. Or it could be the fact that Laurie, his wife of almost three decades, kicked him out of the house seven years ago.
Since then, John has lived in a boathouse on his own property, while the ladies stay in the mansion high up on the hill. This unusual arrangement is the basis of A&E’s Driving Force, a pseudo-reality-sitcom that pits a demanding dad against his spoiled offspring, with occasional judgments handed down by Mom (also known as Laurie), who sees her spouse as a monster and her children as darlings.
Naturally, all their arguments focus on the family business. Ashley has been driving for a few years, earning a reputation and a championship in the process. The other gals have also dabbled in racing, but are far more interested in boys, fashion, and defining themselves outside their father’s field. Of course this drives John insane, since he can’t understand why his kids don’t want to follow in his footsteps. As a matter of fact, he can’t figure out why, after decades of doing what he can to give them everything they ever wanted, they don’t ever take a moment to consider his feelings.
When the show stays centered in the interpersonal dynamic between Dad and daughters, it’s hard not to get caught up in the melodrama. He wants to keep close with his baby girls; they think his money is an entitlement, not a privilege. They tend to pout whenever Force tries to confront them on issues of responsibility and consideration, which means they’re beyond his control, reflections of their materialistic mother. When John calls a “family meeting” to discuss their problems, all four women sit like statues, their faces suggesting their detachment. In the Force home, it’s a battle between male and females.
He tries to make up for being outnumbered in bluster, ranting over the daughters’ boyfriend choices, career goals, and fickleness. For all their misbehavior, the show is set up so we sympathize with John: he’s achieved so much in his life, pursued his dream so aggressively since he 17, that the girls appear ungrateful — particularly in their on-camera “confessionals” — for what he provides, namely, a huge home, designer clothes, and a luxury tour bus.
To its credit, Driving Force doesn’t pretend that the ins and outs of the racing trade can be conveyed in the course of a half-hour TV series. Yet its handling of the race scenes is all MTV-like flash, excitement without insight or rationale. During Ashley’s first race of the new circuit year, a near fatal mishap provides plenty of anxiety, as the show keeps the suspense going for a good five minutes, as to which driver is actually involved in the accident. This cliffhanger trick is a little too noticeable to make viewers concerned about Ashley’s fate; instead, it’s off-putting.
We see Ashley race twice in the pilot episode. Her sisters, on the other hand, never take the wheel in the two installments previewed, though we see them decked out in protective suits and helmets during the opening credits. Driving Force juxtaposes the high tension world of drag racing and the ongoing meltdown in the Force family. During a particular prickly moment, John confronts Ashley, asking her to “quit crying for no reason.” She retorts, “I can’t help it, that’s the way I am.” The day these pampered princesses realize their dad is entitled to be “who he is” as well, will be the moment they learn to appreciate him beyond the bank account.