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Somewhere inside Dads is a heartfelt, clever and occasionally even subtle show about two men with disappointing fathers who want to get past the anger they’ve internalized over the years. It would probably air on Showtime without a laugh track and routinely be listed among the year’s Emmy snubs. Somewhere else inside Dads is a wacky and aggressively watchable show about two generations of men who get up to goofy shit and sling zingers at one another. It would probably air opposite Men At Work on TBS with a laugh track and boast a strong contingent of casual fans who put the show on Season Pass and watch a couple every few weeks.

Unfortunately, the entirety of Dads is an occasionally heartfelt, rarely clever, never subtle, always wacky and only semi-watchable show. It follows two buddies, one single and one married, who let their broke fathers move in, creating awkward and outlandish living situations. It contains a laugh track, airs on FOX and needs to be retooled immediately so as not to die a slow death in this torturous middle ground. For a show to contain real emotion, it needs to let its characters always behave like real people. For a show to be a joke machine, it needs to fire bunches of laughers every minute. This current incarnation of Dads doesn’t do either of those things. It manipulates its characters for cheap laughs just enough so they’re not relatable, and yet, it doesn’t offer enough jokes to not need honest emotion.

If it sounds like I’m mad, it’s because I am, and that’s actually a good thing for Dads. If the program was DOA, I would simply move on with my life and advise you not to watch, but executive producer Seth MacFarlane and creators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild actually do a fair amount right here. Most importantly, the characters they’ve created and the situations they’ve put them in have the potential to be funny. Take for example the second episode, “Heckuva Job, Brownie”. In it, our main thirty-something best friends/ video game designers Eli (Seth Green) and Warner (Giovanni Ribisi) decide to drug their overbearing fathers David (Peter Riegert) and Crawford (Martin Mull) with pot brownies so they’ll actually be in good moods for once. The plot is tight. A lot of the jokes hit the mark, and it’s in no way preachy. Unfortunately, Warner’s relationship with his wife Camilla (Vanessa Lachey) is so buffoonish, and the titular dads are so recklessly unlikeable that when a genuine heart-to-heart conversation takes place, it feels woefully out of place.

One of two things can happen moving forward. Either the show can bite the bullet, shift its basic approach about thirty percent in one direction and get a whole lot better, or it can stick with this format and be nothing more than a what-if. Considering how talented the primary cast members are and how funny the show is during its better moments, I sincerely hope the creators choose the former.

Dads airs on Tuesday nights at 8:00 EST on FOX.

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