The humor is driven mostly by a relentless slapstick vulgarity, particularly concerning the flatulence and sex habits of parents. If you’ve got a high tolerance for those sorts of jokes, it is funny indeed. If not, write to CBS and demand compliance with a suggestion offered in one of the “news you can use” segments broadcast by Arnett’s airhead-TV-newsman character: “The next time your kid blurts out a naughty word, instead of reaching for the soap, maybe send him outside for a little public humiliation.”
NBC’s Sean Saves the World is a variant on another TV staple, the bachelor dad. But Toto, we’re not in My Three Sons territory anymore. Sean Hayes of Will & Grace fame plays a gay man suddenly charged with raising a daughter he fathered 14 years ago during a trying-to-go-straight marriage.
Devoid of homemaking skills, confounded by a precocious teenager who asks such questions as “If you’re gay, how did you and mom have sex?” and exasperated by the survivalist advice (“fish have it right, just drop ‘em and go”) of his own pushy mother (Linda Lavin, Alice), Hayes is a study in domestic dysfunction. And things aren’t going so well at work, either, where he’s confronted by a prissily fascist boss whose approach to life is summed up in his approving remark about a new chair: “It’s like sitting on a pile of baby seals.”
Sean Saves the World is like a comedy cruise to self-discovery, with both Sean and his daughter learning of strengths and weaknesses they didn’t know they had, the process punctuated with keenly funny dialogue and precision timing. It is also an indelible mark of how far the television portrayal of gay characters has come in the past 15 years.
In Will & Grace, Hayes’ character was a prancing burlesque stereotype, the gay equivalent of blackface. In Sean Saves the World, he’s identifiably gay, yet a normal human being. The fact that nobody’s calling this show a milestone is the best evidence that it really is.