Here's a way to get kids today to watch old-fashioned TV – feature young people mocking older people.
There's a lot of this going on.
Let's start with Dads which arrives tonight (Fox, City 8 p.m.). It already has a rep for being the new season's show to garner the most contempt from critics. That's because the pilot episode sent to critics this summer featured some obnoxious jokes. As one of the more mildly outraged writers put it to the cast and producers at a press session in L.A., "The tone of the humour in the show struck some of us as maybe a little racist."
See, on the show (a couple of twentysomething guys, best friends, joke about how gross their respective dads are and then their dads move in with their respective boys) there's some pithy joshing. One dad sees his son watching a boxing video game and cracks that it should be called "Punch the Puerto Rican." In the workplace, the two sons employ an Asian female staffer, a woman who is asked to dress up as a sexy Asian schoolgirl (pigtails, miniskirt, cleavage) to please Chinese investors at a meeting, and she does.
What you'll see tonight, if you choose, is exactly the same. Although changes were anticipated, the show hasn't been tweaked to tone down the crude humour. And the second episode, now made available for review, is just as rude and raw.
But here's the thing – Dads isn't just about dumb, ethnic-stereotyping jokes. That is there, but what's actually unfolding is ceaseless mockery of the old guys. The boys (played by Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) see their dads (Peter Riegert and Martin Mull) as dumb, annoying, gross, cheap and totally out of touch. Almost every joke is aimed at highlighting how uncool the dads are. In the second episode, a piece of utterly unoriginal whimsy, the dads accidentally eat hash brownies and, well, if your taste runs to the hilarity of imagining a 70-year-old (Mull) and a 66-year-old (Riegert) being stoned, you'll find it side-splittingly funny.
Then there's the matter of the so-called "vulgarity gap." It has become a cliché to posit that millennials/Generation Y have an ease with crudeness that distinguishes them from their parents' generation. And in comedy they use it deliberately to alienate the older audience. That's one way to look at Dads – the point is to nail down a young audience and knowingly turn off anyone over 40. Dads is a creation of Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad!) and Alec Sulkin (Family Guy) both wizards of coarseness in animation and they've brought that gift for youth-appeal rudeness to a live-action sitcom.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, City 8:30) also arrives tonight and while it's funnier than Dads and not as jarringly juvenile, the centre of the show is intergenerational conflict. It's a cop show set in a Brooklyn precinct house and the comedy hinges on the gap between a young doofus detective (Andy Samberg from Saturday Night Live) and the new by-the-book captain (Andre Braugher).
Here, the Samberg character hasn't grown up, but is good at his job. It's the captain's task to understand this – a person can be childlike, puerile in his humour but still a good employee. Old folks gotta grasp that, you see. It's their loss if they don't.
Similar themes can be found in other new sitcoms arriving this season. CBS's Mom is about Christy (Anna Faris), a newly sober mom, but in truth it's about her clashes with her own mom, an acerbic, careless older woman who is essentially to blame for Christy's problems. The Millers, also on CBS, is about a recently divorced news reporter (Will Arnett) whose grating mother (Margo Martindale) moves in with him after separating from his father (Beau Bridges) and you-don't-understand-me-and-my-life comedy ensues.
We have a trend – young people mocking older people. It might bring in younger viewers and, hey, it beats the trend of mocking women and anyone with an education.
Also airing tonight
New Girl (Fox, City, 9 p.m.) returns. Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) are now officially a couple. Which is fine as long as Schmidt (Max Greenfield) gets to be demented.