One day last week I wrote in this space about my dad, the "demon golfer." There were many replies to that column, some complimentary, others outright abusive. A few made the inevitable point that I will never be the man my father is. I agree. He's 86, easygoing and a very nice fella. If I were to achieve half his equanimity and generosity, I'd be doing well.
Men and their fathers. Now there's a topic to send a lot of men running for cover. Son-father relationships vary across countries and cultures, but emotional tension tends to be ubiquitous. In the Irish culture from which I emerged, the dad, or "da" is often a disturbing figure - distant, limiting, unknowable. In one of the central works in the Irish literary canon, The Playboy of the Western World, the main figure, Christy Mahon, is on the lam and telling everyone he's just after killing his da. Everyone he meets is impressed.
But across the cultures, wherever the grass grows, most sons are eventually impressed by their father. Some imitate them. Others celebrate them. Men, at a certain age, realize that dad, having seen and experienced a lot, is no fool. In fact he tends to speak the truth while others talk nonsense. Thus it was, I suspect, with Justin Halpern, a magazine writer who was obliged to move in with his seventysomething dad, Sam. Halpern started a Twitter account, ShitMyDadSays, and devoted it to unleashing his dad's blunt remarks to the world.
It was a huge Internet hit. The dad's remarks, often full of swear words, struck a chord. They sounded like the truth in a world full of marketing bafflegab and fake sound-bite sincerity. Some were merely blunt: "I didn't say you were ugly. I said your girlfriend is better looking than you, and standing next to her, you look ugly." Halpern followed with a book of the same title and it too was a hit. The book dealt with Halpern's eventual understanding of his dad. He admits that when he was little he was "mostly terrified" of him. Later as an adult he came to understand that few people he had dealings with in life actually said what they were thinking. His dad always did.
The key to the Twitter and book's success was the dad's bluntness. The unvarnished, explicit forthrightness.
$#*! My Dad Says (Thursday, CBS, 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, CTV, 8 p.m.) is the phenomenon distilled to a network sitcom, and it stinks. A stream of amusing Tweets diluted into dull TV, a hilarious book boiled down to a formulaic sitcom with added treacle. It's an instance of how network TV can ruin anything.
To some, the idea of scoring William Shatner as the dad seemed inspired. Over the years, Shatner has honed a persona that is so pompous-wacky that it is simultaneously hilarious and repulsive. But the dad delivered by Halpern is never pompous. He's the complete opposite - an individual who is utterly unselfconscious about speaking his mind. He's never contrived. He uses swear words with some genius, not merely to shock. Shatner is always arch, on the verge of giggling at his own pumped-up presence.
The show might have had some possibility of success on cable, where the swearing could remain intact. But on CBS all the usual stratagems for comedy are at work. There's the set-up and the punch line. There's the moment when sentimentality raises its sugar-coated head. In the pilot (an improved version of the even more hokey pilot CBS showed to critics this summer), the son says to his dad, "I'm your son. You're supposed to build me up, not tear me down." Dear heavens, that's so untrue to the source material. On the TV version, the shockingly, gloriously blunt dad has been reduced to a crusty-but-lovable codger. Those are a dime a dozen on network TV.
$#*! My Dad Says is an insult to all dads, the nice, the stern and the unknowable.
Also airing tonight
Bones (Fox, Global 8 p.m.) opens season six with a way-complicated storyline. The team members are scattered. Booth is being brave in Afghanistan. "Bones" Brennan is in the jungle somewhere doing research. Everybody must reunite to solve a perplexing case of an unidentified young boy. In a sharp plot twist, Booth has a new girlfriend, Hannah (Katheryn Winnick). Brennan doesn't seem bothered. And, my oh my, she looks fetching beating up a guy in the jungle with the help of a shovel.
The Mentalist (CBS, CTV 10 p.m.) also returns and it seems is headed straight for the Red John serial killer storyline. Here's the gist: "When the CBI investigates the kidnapping of a prominent lawyer and state house lobbyist, the CBI Director wants Jane on the case, but he is uncertain of his future with the unit after his encounter with Red John."