You might think the worst thing about the pilot for NBC's new family drama Council of Dads is that the show, premiering Tuesday, literally uses the phrase "council of dads" several times throughout the hour just in case you didn't get the premise of the show. But you'd be wrong. The worst thing about the pilot for Council of Dads is that for 90 percent of the episode, it's a pilot for a different show.
Inspired by Bruce Feiler's book Council of Dads and executive-produced by Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, the series, which NBC clearly hopes will appeal to those This Is Us viewers who haven't yet grown tired of being emotionally manipulated every week, is about a family that loses its patriarch (Tom Everett Scott) to cancer and the three men in his life who step in as surrogate fathers to his five children, who range in age from mid-20s to a newborn.
The council of the title is made up of Scott's longtime best friend, Anthony (Clive Standen); his doctor, Oliver (J. August Richards), who also happens to be the best friend of Scott's wife, Robin (Sarah Wayne Callies); and Larry (Michael O'Neill), his tough-love sponsee from AA. The pilot spends little to no time with these men, though. Rather than reveal anything about them beyond their defining attribute — Anthony's a chef! Oliver's a doctor! Larry is a recovering alcoholic! — the pilot instead focuses on Scott and the year between when he is first diagnosed and when he ultimately dies. We don't even get to know much about his wife and children either, as the show is more concerned with making you feel something for the man who won't ever appear again after this episode.
In theory, this makes sense. Getting to know Scott and understanding why his friends are willing to step into his shoes for a year builds a foundation for the show. But all we really learn about Scott is that he has a blended family of biological and adopted children from two separate relationships, owns a beautiful waterfront property designed to make viewers jealous, and owns a restaurant called the Crab Shack. In the grand scheme of things, that isn't much.
Cancer affects millions of people, and it takes its toll on everyone it touches, but a pilot is a proof of concept, not a log line or a prologue, which is what Council of Dads treats its series premiere as. And as such, by the end of the hour, which concludes with Scott's eldest daughter, Luly (Michele Weaver), marrying Evan (Steven Silver), a man she met at the beginning of the hour in a cancer support group, it's unclear exactly what this show will look like as it continues every week.
More damaging, though, is the fact the show, which is factory-made to trigger an emotional response, actually fails to connect with viewers on an emotional level because it summarizes what could have been an entire season of story in 42 minutes and then asks us to care about people we barely know. When Anthony, Larry, and Oliver each walk Luly one third of the way down the aisle during her wedding three months after her father's death, it's beautiful — the filming location for the show, Savannah, Georgia, is what postcards are made for — but it rings hollow, as if the viewer is a plus-one to a wedding where they only vaguely know their date, let alone the rest of the people in attendance.
And yet despite the show's flaws, there is a version of this series that could exist and connect with an audience — Full House, which features a similar storyline, as Jesse and Joey moved in and helped to raise Danny's three daughters after the death of his wife, ran for several years. But after one episode, which is still all NBC has sent for review (which should tell you something about the rest of the show since it's a spring launch), Council of Dads fails to make viewers care. Perhaps if Scott had survived cancer but his family was still assisted by his friends, or if the series had spread Scott's diagnosis and final year of life across the show's first season while his friends became more integrated into his family, the show would have had a heartwarming story and had a better chance of survival. As it stands, the show is likely as dead as Scott.
TV Guide Rating: 1.5/5
Council of Dads premieres Tuesday, March 24 at 10/9c on NBC. New episodes continue Thursday, April 30 at 8/7c.