BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The new Fox sitcom “Dads” — co-produced by Seth MacFarlane — seems pretty straightforward: two 30-something Peter Pan-types (Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green) must cope with the challenges of having their sometimes pain-in-the-neck fathers (Martin Mull and Peter Riegert) reenter their lives in a significant way. Hilarity ensues.
Except some critics who’ve seen the pilot aren’t laughing. When the stars and some of the show’s producers — including “Simpsons” alum Mike Scully and “Family Guy” producer Alec Sulkin — met with reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, they fielded questions focused on jokes in the pilot about race and gender. Here are excerpts from the discussion.
Q. Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly asked critics to be patient with “Dads,” saying the humor was not completely calibrated yet. Do you anticipate it will change?
SULKIN: Yes, in the pilot we all noticed some things that we’d like to change or tweak moving forward. We ideally want to keep it insulting and irreverent, but the most important thing is that it’s funny. And if we missed the mark a few times in the pilot, I think we’re shooting to hit it better in upcoming shows.
GREEN: Also, historically, television has been a provocative medium. It’s a medium we look at to observe ourselves. And all of the best and successful shows that really prompted any kind of change in cultural thinking were provocative and offensive, shows that I grew up loving, like “All in the Family” or “The Jeffersons,” that explored issues of race relations or opposition to war or things that weren’t considered all that politically correct. This is the opportunity for characters to have that discussion in a way that most normal people can’t.
Q. So you feel you are being socially provocative or politically incorrect with things like the anime jokes in the pilot?
GREEN: I think that we’ve become a really careful culture and as soon as people started suing each other over hurt feelings, people started getting more and more afraid to speak their mind or even point at something. And I’ve gotten into the weirdest conversations with people about what they think is racist, and it always speaks to their own personal, cultural sensitivity and them not wanting to be considered personally offensive.
SCULLY: We don’t want the show to be the racial insult comedy show. That’s not the idea. It’s a comedy about fathers and sons, and you want to strike that relatable thing in people where they’re telling stories about their dads and the inappropriate things they do, but also how that kind of slips out through you.