You’ve come a long way, baby, but we haven’t. Female movie and TV characters have busted every stereotype — we have women lawyers, doctors, presidents and so many female hit persons that we’ve actually had to start surgically converting men, as in DirecTV’s recent series Hit and Miss.
But the bottom-line platitude about men — that they have a chromosomal inability to deal with children on their own — lives gloriously on. It made its Hollywood debut in 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer at the moment when the newly single Dustin Hoffman, told by his young son that they needed more cereal, blankly asked: “What color?”
Four decades later, the novelty may be gone, but the concept, executed well, is as hilarious as ever. And (pardon the expression) boy, does Guys With Kids execute it well.
The guys in question aren’t, technically speaking, single dads. Newly divorced Chris (Jesse Bradford, The West Wing) shares custody with his imperious ex, Sheila, (Errin Hayes, Children’s Hospital). Gary (Anthony Anderson, Law & Order) is a stay-at-home dad. And Nick (Zach Cregger, Friends with Benefits) has some kind of New Age-y deal for a 50-50 split of childcare duties with wife Emily (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, The Sopranos).
Nonetheless, Guys With Kids still has a Custer’s Last Stand feel to it, with endless hordes of savage kids — there are seven of them — circling the doomed fathers, waiting for their ammo to run out.
“Í haven’t slept in six years,” the terrorized Gary pleads with his four banshee children. “I’m tired. This morning I tried to put a shirt on my legs for five minutes. I love you kids, but you’re making daddy stupid.”
Kids get misplaced in bars. Kids throw things and break stuff. Kids besiege their parents, whose sex lives are reduced to encounters in locked bathrooms.
Further complicating things for Chris is his prickly relationship with his ex-wife, who makes no secret of her heartfelt certainty that he’s an idiot, even demanding to know the exact chemical composition of the new paint in his apartment. “It’s lead-only,” he wearily replies. “I ordered it from the ’50s.”
Created by Jimmy Fallon and a pair of colleagues from his various late-night adventures, Charlie Grandy and Amy Ozols, Guys With Kids is a perfect confection of witty dialogue and slapstick action. The latter is enhanced by splitting the seven kids’ roles among 14 child actors, all of whom seem to prepare for each scene by eating their weight in Chocolate-Covered Sugar Bombs and washing it down with thermoses espresso.
One of the tangential pleasures of Guys With Kids is watching the scene-stealing baby (babies?) who plays Chris’ infant son. He’s constantly crawling off in some random direction, producing what look like authentic grimaces of confusion, exasperation and homicidal inclination from the rest of the cast. Does NBC have access to some kind of Groundlings troupe of baby improv comedians?