The unbearable monotony of S*** My Dad Says
A new Twitter-based sitcom will need more than an aged William Shatner spouting s*** to sustain a whole series.
There’s no doubt about it: Twitter is big. A couple of years ago, it was just a bunch of geeks and consultants holding forth on the quality of espresso they were drinking. Now Twitter is still mostly people tweeting about ephemera (which is why Lady Gaga is the most followed tweeter of them all), but it has also (mostly absurdly) been held responsible for the Arab uprisings and (more accurately) for enabling virtual mobs to engage in ‘twitch-hunts’ whenever some commentator or other says something that is deemed to be unacceptable.
Now we have the Twitter spinoff TV series. S*** My Dad Says, a sitcom starring William Shatner, has just reached this side of the pond via Five. (Given Shatner’s rotund figure these days, S*** My Dad Eats would have been just as appropriate.) The series is based on a Twitter feed called Shit My Dad Says by comedy writer Justin Halpern.
A sitcom based on a Twitter feed might have sounded ridiculous if it weren’t for the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean is on to a fourth movie, based on a theme-park ride. Admittedly, Pirates’ success is really based on Johnny Depp dusting off his Keith Richards impersonation, but that hasn’t stopped the series from grossing megabucks.
The situation in this situation comedy is this: Halpern was struggling to make ends meet and moved back home with his dad, Sam, a retired army doctor who had served in Vietnam. Sam, it seems, is the kind of guy who doesn’t suffer fools, and is quite prepared to say so in a bluntly comic way. The Twitter feed now has over two million followers and you can see why: Halpern’s dad comes out with some gems.
‘Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn’t invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that.’
‘No. I want the salad… Live a little? I’m ordering lunch. I don’t have a choice between salad or fucking skydiving.’
‘Look, we’re basically on earth to shit and fuck. So unless your job’s to help people shit or fuck, it’s not that important, so relax.’
‘It’s Los Angeles, son. It’s the epicenter of the asshole earthquake. They’d fuck you twice if they had another dick.’
So, does the sitcom, with names and jobs changed to protect the innocent, actually work? Well, the answer is ‘kind of’. On the one hand, the cantankerous old guy spouting forth in an inappropriate but funny manner is a staple of TV comedy, from Alf Garnett (or Archie Bunker, his American alterego) through to Homer Simpson. On the other hand, Till Death Us Do Part has dated horribly, partly because a sitcom needs a bit more to drive it than a cantankerous old man spouting forth.
On the limited evidence so far, S*** My Dad Says suffers from much the same problem. Some of the individual lines that Shatner delivers are funny. So in the pilot episode, his character tells his son to calm down about cleaning up. ‘Son, sit down. We didn’t accidentally kill a hooker. We had brunch.’ But there is, to say the least, a lack of character development. The characters around Shatner are merely cardboard cutouts that provide a target for his barbs.
It doesn’t help that Shatner’s comedic track record is built on sending up his most famous role, as Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek. Sometimes that’s been by playing Kirk for laughs, as in Star Trek IV, or playing a spoof version of Kirk, as in Airplane 2. (We’ll forget the curious cover versions of songs like Pulp’s ‘Common People’.) But he’s not a great natural comedian.
Compare that to The Simpsons. Every single central character is fantastically well thought through, so that any one of them can carry an episode. The writers were also talented enough to realise that while the terror-child Bart provides much wonderful comedy, the real humour lay with Homer. And in any event, there is so much else packed into every episode that a great comic idea can be floated in the first 30 seconds then dropped because there are even bigger laughs to be had elsewhere.
The best sitcoms are the ones that are able to grow way beyond their initial premise, to develop characters and relationships through which new material can flow. S*** My Dad Says, at the moment, looks like a Twitter feed with a pulse.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked and blogs about food at Panic on a Plate.
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