Council of Dads. NBC. Tuesday, March 10, 10 p.m.
You can say this for network programmers: They may occasionally, accidentally comprehend what makes a television show work, but once aware of their lapse into coherence, they keep bravely and tirelessly trying until they get it wrong. In 2016, NBC debuted This Is Us, a well-written, well-acted soap about a family wracked by the death of a dynamic young father that was a smash with both viewers and critics. In 2018, ABC followed with the wildly derivative but finely crafted soap A Million Little Things, about a concentric ring of family and friends shattered by the suicide of the magnetic but cuckolded young husband at the center. It was adored by critics even if viewers were a bit standoffish.
Encouraged, apparently by the negative ratings response, the programmers returned to their lair to mull over their work. Their inevitable conclusion was that success of these shows had nothing to do with the excellence of their casts and scripts. What viewers really want, they concluded, is dead dads. So now we've got NBC's Council of Dads, the latest and feeblest member of the This Is Us/A Million Little Things bloodline: hacky and hammy, lacking a single coherent thought in its politically correct head—but with a dad (do I really need to say spoiler alert here) who's deader than a doornail. Let the Nielsen points begin racing to the cliff!
If your TV remote breaks and tunes in Council of Dads, and then you accidentally tie yourself to the couch, and your prankish cat clothespins your eyes open—the only set of circumstances under which I can remotely imagine anybody watching this show—do not collapse in disappointment to find that the dad in question, restauranteur Scott Perry (Tom Everett Scott, That Thing You Do) is still metabolically active for the first 45 minutes or so. That cancer in his leg that he learns about in the opening scene is gonna get him, sooner rather than later, and he'll be Deady McDeaderson—much deader than the dads in This Is Us or A Million Little Things, because—novelty alert—Council of Dads has no flashbacks. The only way you'll see Tom Everett Scott again is if the long-awaited sequel That Thing You Do: The Thrash Metal Years finally gets made.
The reason Scott's demise is so eminently foreseeable is that the whole time his cancer is in remission, he talks incessantly of appointing a blue-ribbon commission of men—though Council of Dads sounds much nicer, right?—to take his place if he doesn't make it. They'll impart values to his kids, a task his wife Robin is apparently not up to. (That sounds sort of, I dunno, patriarchal, but Robin is played by Sarah Wayne Callies, plotting to withhold food from undocumented aliens in Colony, so maybe she's not the best role model. And just because the aliens were from Mars and the food was us doesn't excuse it.)
The kids in question are uber-diverse. One, from an earlier marriage, is half-black. One, adopted, is Asian. (And maybe Jewish? She's currently living in her closet in solidarity with Anne Frank, whose diary she read in school.) One is the token white guy and naturally prone to temper tantrums and screaming jags. And the fourth, a first-grader—well, you'll see. Let's just say he checks all the remaining diversity boxes.
The dads appointed to make sure the kids retain their values, including a propensity to break out into cheers for Ruth Bader Ginsburg at random moments (seriously: "RBG! RBG!"), are equally diverse. In fact, the senior member, Scott's cancer surgeon Dr. Oliver Post (J. August Richards, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is practically a one-man diversity committee: black, gay, but not so gay that he didn't try to pork Robin when they were in med school together, raising the possibility of bisexual diversity points in the future. He's joined by crusty 12-step fascist Larry Malvern (Michael O'Neill, Rectify) and Scott's oldest friend, hail-fellow-well-tattooed Anthony Lavelle (Clive Standen, Taken), each of them a veritable 21st-century Dear Abby when it comes to racial sensitivity, grief counseling, transgender creationism and all the other stuff modern families crave.
If Council of Dads sounds more like a classroom exercise in social engineering than a television drama, that's because it absolutely is. The dialogue is little more than a recitation of ethnic and gender quotas, the plot points a collection of algorithmic hot flashes: Of course Scott gets the news his cancer has returned at the exact moment his new baby is born. The baby, by the way, is named Hope. "That is a little cheesy," concedes Scott. "But we're cheesy." Where are the rats when you really need them?