You’ve probably already heard about FOX’s new sitcom Dads, which premiered tonight and the flak it’s been getting for allegedly being racist, sexist and not funny. And yes, a chunk of the show’s
attempted humor is directed at Asians. But now that the first episode has actually aired and the American audience has had the chance to watch it, is it as offensive as we’ve heard? Chinky or not chinky?
For those who can’t bring themselves to actually sit through the show, the series centers around two friends/colleagues (played by Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) and their comically dysfunctional relationships with their eccentric fathers. We are also introduced to their co-worker played by Brenda Song.
In the pilot, we learn that in order to win over a group of Chinese investors, Green and Ribisi convince Song to dress up like “a sexy Asian schoolgirl” and, of course, all the while, the Asian jokes fly quick and fast from the boys’ first reaction to seeing Song in the schoolgirl outfit (“Hello Kitty”) to the difference between white and Asian parents (“My dad beat me with a math book until I was 16.”).
The meeting with the Chinese investors does not go well, but Song’s character is able to save the day when she threatens to blackmail the Chinese translator who has texted her a photo of his “tiny penis.” The episode ends as everyone gathers to gawk at the picture while making comments such as “I see an inchworm in a little tiny fireman’s hat.”
So, yes, in case Asian men felt left out, the producers decided to throw in the small Asian penis jokes (in the script, it’s referred to as a “tiny Chinese penis” but obviously someone felt that was taking it too far and cut out the “Chinese” part).
According to Buzzfeed, the version we saw tonight cut out some other Asian jokes as well:
It could have been worse: In the original script, Veronica had sex with the translator. “Let’s just say I wrecked him in the bedroom like a panda wrecks bamboo if a panda was having crazy sex with bamboo,” she reports to her bosses at their place of work. Eli says: “Nice! Gross. But nice.”
Veronica: “No big deal. It was China penis, so it was like wrecking a furious baby’s toe.”
Even though I had been hearing bad things about the show before its premiere, I wanted to give it a fair look before making any personal pronouncements. And now that I’ve seen it, do I think it’s bad? Yes, yes, I do, but not necessarily for the reasons others may have.
I believe that humor is subjective and while there is a line that usually shouldn’t be crossed—where that line resides is itself subjective. What may offend you, may not offend me and, in general, I do like my humor edgy. I like my humor to go right up to that line and spit across it and sometimes even cross it if it’s done with wit and, well, genuine humor. I’ll forgive a lot if that’s the approach.
And therein lies Dads’ problem. At least from the pilot, it’s as bad as the advance buzz would have you believe. It’s just not funny. Frankly, I would have had less issues with the Asian jokes if the show itself wasn’t so devoid of humor and had an overall air of laziness (I dearly hope the talented cast did this one for the money and not the art). As comedians like Richard Pryor and Margaret Cho have shown us, you’re more likely to get away with potentially offensive material if you can actually make the audience laugh. So if you’re going to make jokes about Asians as the model minority or Asian women as exotic fetish tools or Chinese guys with small penises–at least try to make them subversive or not-so-obvious or how about just funny! Maybe I’d still find it offensive but at least I could respect the effort.
And one other point that I haven’t seen anyone else make yet—if you’re going to try to influence Asian businessmen with sex, the last thing you want to do is go the sexy Asian schoolgirl route. Why? Because they already get plenty of that at home. In case, you weren’t aware of this, Asia has the highest concentration of sexy Asian women—in schoolgirl outfits or not—so why would these Chinese guys get so excited about something they can get anytime they want? No, if you want to effectively use sex in this context, three words: exotic, blond, cheerleader.
Stupid, gwai lo…
So now to you, our readers—did you watch the show? If so, what did you think—funny? Stupid? Offensive? Misunderstood? Chinky or not chinky?