Reviews

March 25, 2020

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Council of Dads”

 

COUNCIL OF DADS – Regular episodes begin airing April 30 on NBC

NBC isn’t trying to fool anyone with its hopes for COUNCIL OF DADS.  The network aired a “preview” of its pilot more than a month before the actual series premiere in order to pair it with the season finale of This Is Us.  (From a ratings point of view, the results weren’t promising, as by its last segment, Council had lost about 60% of its lead-in.)  It’s not hard to see what the network was thinking, as both shows are sentimental family dramas that attempt to deal with heavy issues in mostly uplifting ways.  Comparing the two shows back-to-back, though, does Council no favors.

The opening hour of Council of Dads, written by series creators Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, and directed by James Strong, provides a handy definition of the industry term “premise pilot”.  Its action, which takes place over the course of an entire year, exists to set up what the narrative of the actual series is going to be.  The show presents us with amiable (and very well-off) patriarch Scott (Tom Everett Scott), whose family is so blended as to seemingly tick off every network box:  his eldest daughter is the biracial Luly (Michele Weaver), and then with his wife Robin (Sarah Wayne Callies), he has moody son Theo (Emjay Anthony), adopted Asian daughter Charlotte (Thalia Tran), trans son JJ (Blue Chapman)–and before the episode is very old, a new baby on the way.  Scott has also been diagnosed with cancer, and although the tumor in his leg is removed early in the pilot, careful viewers will have noted that Tom Everett Scott is credited as a Special Guest Star, and won’t be surprised by his prognosis.

Council of Dads, which is loosely inspired by a true story, is really about the idea that dying Scott, concerned about how his children will fare without a father, engages a trio of family friends to watch over the clan:  chef and old buddy Anthony (Clive Standen), gay oncologist and Robin’s BFF Oliver (J. August Richards), and Larry (Michael O’Neill), a flinty older man for whom Scott served as AA sponsor.  It’s 3 Men and a Baby, except the baby is a family of 5.

In fairness to Council of Dads, the limitation of a premise pilot is that one can’t completely tell how the series will play out, because the pilot ends more or less when the real story will begin.  But the signs are that Rater and Phelan have little interest in subtlety.  Scott and Robin’s baby is not only born literally on the day that Dr. Oliver discloses that the cancer has recurred, but she’s named “Hope”.  (Also the name of the baby born in the This Is Us finale, which is hopefully a coincidence and not the sign of a Marvel-type shared universe.)  The pilot pushes past Scott’s death to Luly’s wedding, so that we can oh-so-literally get the visual of Anthony, Oliver and Larry each taking a turn walking Luly part of the way down the aisle, because apparently no one in the family thought of Robin letting someone else hold the baby for a couple of minutes so she could walk with her daughter.  (Luly also provides the “My family, oh boy” narration.)

The cast is earnest, and O’Neill is a pro at allowing tiny bits of emotion to barely squeeze past his impassive exterior.  But on first glance, Council of Dads isn’t just inferior to This Is Us, it’s not even up to the level of ABC’s contribution to the after-the-funeral soap subgenre A Million Little Pieces, which at least has a sense of humor and a feel for rom-com tropes.  Perhaps the series will find its footing now that all of its preliminary exposition is out of the way, and it certainly may benefit in the ratings from the likelihood that much of network TV will start running out of fresh episodes by the official premiere date.  This Council, though, seems less gripping than the real-life government bodies that are currently providing us with real-life storylines every day.

 

 



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on screened.com and the-burg.com. In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."




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