Tuesday, March 24, 2020

REVIEW: 'Council of Dads' - Scott Worries About the Strength and Support of His Family After He Dies in 'Pilot'

NBC's Council of Dads - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

The Perry family comes together to deal with dad Scott Perry's health crisis. Scott reveals he has a plan to create a "Council of Dads" that would be there for the family if anything should happen to him.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of NBC's Council of Dads.

"Pilot" was written by Joan Rater & Tony Phelan and directed by James Strong

This premiere sets out to tell a very specific story. It doesn't necessarily set up how the show will function on an episode to episode basis. It establishes the need for the Perry family to have a "Council of Dads." That feels like a premise that various networks have toyed around with for years. As such, there was probably a million different ways to tell this story. This show opts to depict an entire year in the span of this first hour. Scott Perry gets his cancer and experiences several ups and downs alongside his family as he tries his best to survive. He doesn't. He dies three fourths of the way through this premiere. That is just an inherently odd structure. The storytelling absolutely has to prioritize him because he is the man who sets this premise into motion for the future. However, he isn't going to remain the central focus of the series. He will just be the person who brought all of these characters together. He is gone through an extremely earnest and cloying plot mechanism meant to manipulate the audience's emotions. That isn't inherently bad. Stories should fundamentally move people and get the viewer to feel some strong things. However, the story of this premiere could have been stretched out to cover the entire first season. There is that much plot that happens here. Or the story could have started at Scott's funeral as exposition catches the audience up to everything that happened in his life while better introducing the Council of Dads. The new father figures are essentially playing supporting roles to the Perry family. This is Scott's dying wish basically. He wants to know that his five children will be guided by his perspective and life lessons even if he doesn't survive this cancer. He doesn't. That's the tragedy of this story. But again, it spends a lot of time with a character hoping to create a sentimental connection with him so that it matters when everyone wonders how he would react moving forward. It's awkward and doesn't necessarily do a good job in proving how this show will function. Larry helping Theo learn how to drive and release his anger shows that. Oliver helping Charlotte get out of the closet to attend her father's funeral does that. Anthony speaking up in support of JJ against traditional gender norms does that. These are the few fleeting moments that showcase how the basic series will function. And yet, Scott's eldest daughter, Luly, is seemingly positioned as the actual lead of the show. She is the one whose voiceover opens and closes the episode. She delays her plans of moving to New York in order to be close to her family during this year of crisis. She finds love during that time as well. It's a whirlwind journey that is condensed to such a small time frame. It's built almost entirely on the chemistry that Michele Weaver and Steven Silver have. The actors have to sell the emotion and the exposition. Tom Everett Scott has to carry a lot of this premiere too. The show won't have the same luxury in the next episode and the ones that follow. The focus will have to be directly on the Perry family or the Council of Dads continuing to step up for the family. Both options run the risk of being too earnest and saccharine. There is a way to tell stories without being too outwardly manipulative with the viewer's emotions. Right now, the show feels like the latest NBC experiment to recreate the success of This Is Us. That formula remains elusive. The network may never find it. It has to discover the unique pieces that stand on their own and work as a result of that careful attention. This show presents a new take on blended family and the love and support necessary to thrive no matter what the world throws at you. That can be a powerful and uplifting message. This remains a messy premiere where the execution and success of the core premise will be determined based on whatever the show decides to do next. That's awkward and makes it hard to offer a strong critique over what the show is and isn't. Nothing is glaringly awful. However, nothing is especially notable or compelling either.