As an industry, television grew up liking fatherhood. From “Father Knows Best,” to “The Waltons,” to “Bachelor Father,” “Bonanza,” “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” and on and on, fathers were culture’s ever-wise good guys for years.
Then something happened: The TV tables turned on fatherhood, and dads became either comically stupid (“The Simpsons,” “The Jeffersons,” “All in the Family,” “Home Improvement”), or villainous (“Dallas”) as our culture became more cynical.
In recent years, the industry has been trying to create shows that reflect the changing roles of fathers. A few have worked, like “Last Man Standing,” but others have been watery takes on “Three Men and a Baby”— NBC’s late and unlamented “Guys With Kids,” ABC Family’s innocuous “Baby Daddy.”
Dads are largely an afterthought on reality TV, notwithstanding Bruce Jenner on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” or the hirsute paterfamilias on “Duck Dynasty,” but A&E is making a valiant effort to rehabilitate fatherhood with “Modern Dads” (10:30 p.m. Wednesday, A&E), a half-hour reality series premiering Wednesday night.
The show is likable, and so are the “Modern Dads” themselves. In fact, the whole enterprise is so likable, it’s probably doomed from the get-go.
Rick is a stay-at-home dad married to an executive at Dell. Nathan’s wife, Truly, is also the primary breadwinner in the family: She works as a medical director who works long hours. Nathan has put his own career on hold to care for their year-old son, Cormac. Sean lives with his girlfriend, Rachel, and has become a loving step-dad to her two daughters.
Stone is an attentive single dad to his daughter, Danica, but he also leads a very active social life: He’s a player, much to the occasional envy of the other three modern dads.
What’s missing from the show are the very things that make so many reality shows intolerable and, sadly, make them hits as well. No one’s nuts, no one is a raging alcoholic or a jealous maniac, the dads don’t get into fistfights and the only misbehaving you’ll see on the show can be fixed with a simple diaper change.
Still, in the hope that TV viewers have had their fill of maniacal dance moms and hand-fishin’ hillbillies, “Modern Dads” deserves a chance. The dads are real, believable and accurately reflect how fatherhood has evolved in modern times.