Seth Green's 'Dads' Has More Than a Race Issue: It's Got a Lady Problem, Too
Since its first trailer debuted at the Fox Upfront, Dads has been plagued with claims that it depends too heavily on racist stereotypes and offensive jokes. The multi-camera sitcom, which stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi, follows two men who run a video game company as they attempt to deal with their fathers moving into their homes. The racist jokes are basically the show's bread and butter, playing off of the notion that their old fogie dads can't keep their Baby Boomer racism at bay. Hilarious. But the issue that has been missed in all the hubbub over these often offensive jokes is the lack of respect for its women characters.
The series is admittedly built "for dudes." Eli (Green) and Warner (Ribisi) are at the center of series, running their male-skewing video game company while Warner's wife runs his home and their programmer Veronica keeps them in line at the office. While the series definitely feels like something out of the mind of a Spike TV enthusiast, that doesn't mean it can't have viable women characters. And to the writers' credit, they try. They just don't manage to succeed.
In lieu of writing in full characters with motivations and actual personalities, the series delivers cardboard cutouts of how "strong women" behave. Warner's wife Camilla (Vanessa Lachey) is a former party girl, tamed by the nerdy and success-driven video game entrepreneur so that she can stay at home, nag him mildly for the house being in disarray, and tempt him with aggressive sex. She's basically a walking male fantasy: a sex-crazed woman caged by marriage.
The aggressive villain shtick comes in whenever Warner does anything fun or exciting, almost as an attempt to balance out her Weird Science characteristics on the other side. It's clear Camilla's supposed to be drawn as the one running the show at home and at work, as if that's all that's needed to create a rich, wonderful female character, but the flat writing simply paints her as a sex maniac with control issues. Sure, that's "strong," but last time I checked, strength was a rampant misnomer for the traits of a complete female character.
Brenda Song's Veronica is a huge victim of the assumption that strength makes for a well-drawn character — especially because she doesn't actually walk the walk. In the first episode, as we've seen in the previews, the guys have her dress up as a Sailor-Moon-esque sexy school girl so she can entice Chinese investors to give Eli money to build "Kill Hitler 2." (Never mind the part where Sailor Moon is actually a character from Japanese Manga and not Chinese culture.)
After telling the guys hell no, she offers to do the deed in exchange for a title increase. Later, she secures more success for the company after receiving lewd text messages from a potential business partner. Is this the so-called strength of a woman in charge? I certainly hope not.
While Veronica uses her bravado to keep her coworkers in line, her skills are never upheld as valuable. She secures her success through her physical appeal, and not through skills of her own. And yes, the character is aware of how disappointing these developments are, but she does it anyway. True, there are women who behave that way, but Veronica is not presented as a flawed character, but rather, she appears as a sort of flag being waved in attempt to convince viewers that the series isn't sexist. "See? She's in charge of the office, and she's a sexy woman! Isn't that crazy and progressive?"
No. It's not.
This is the world of television, where writers have the freedom to create. They have the ability to create a world wherein "strong" women don't need to use their bodies to earn success in a male-dominated workplace. They have the ability to go beyond gender stereotypes or half-baked notions of success, but Dads' writers aren't up to the challenge.
Of course, all this should come with a grain of salt. While the female characters are drawn with all the precision of a scented Mr. Sketch marker, the men aren't doing so hot either. Martin Mull and Paul Reigart's father figures are hapless and bumbling. Ribisi is high-strung, whiny, and incapable of asserting himself. Green is a hopelessly cool womanizing stoner who can't remember whether the girl he's sleeping with is his girlfriend.
Suffice to say, on Dads, no one wins.