Justin Halpern’s life must be awful. The former Maxim online writer struck Twitter gold when he began chronicling the cranky sayings of his aging father in the popular Twitter feed Shit My Dad Says. Now, just over a year later and with 1.7 million followers and a book deal under his belt, Halpern has co-written and co-produced a small-screen adaptation of his life in the new CBS sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, with William Shatner starring as the titular father who says shit (CBS amusingly insists on pronouncing the title Bleep My Dad Says). But even with all of the success and millions of fans, if the pained, awkward, hacky dynamic of the show in any way resembles Halpern’s actual life, then the unfortunate mini-blogger deserves nothing but our deepest pity.
$#*! My Dad Says is a dismal show, harboring the worst qualities of every lame, four-camera, laugh-tracked sitcom on television. The jokes are painful, the acting is hammy, the characters are flat, and it simply isn’t funny. Ever.
The main issue with the series stems from its source material. While Halpern’s original Twitter feed is a great resource of blistering wit, it only offers the flimsiest narrative springboard for a television show to exploit. Tweets are largely self-contained thoughts with little opportunity for fluid dialogue or actual storytelling, which makes the challenge of adapting a collection of 140-character jokes into 20 minutes of coherent television an exercise in futility.
The show loosely follows Halpern’s own story. After abruptly losing his job as a magazine writer, Henry Goodson (played by Jonathan Sadowski) reluctantly moves in with his grouchy, mean-spirited father, Ed (Shatner). Most of $#*! My Dad Says is spent with the two bouncing quips off of each other like a poor-man’s Groucho and Chico, until Henry’s half brother and his sister-in-law (MADtv’s Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan) show up and trade a few quips of their own. It’s uncannily like living in a world where people only know how to communicate in 140-character bursts.
The show strings together joke after joke, pausing only occasionally for a forced moment of economic gravitas or strained family drama. Even bad jokes need space to breathe, but $#*! My Dad Says practically drowns the audience in wave after wave of bad puns and slightly-off-color-except-not-really one-liners.
On Twitter, the great thing about Halpern’s acerbic father is the way that he cuts through his son’s seemingly endless stream of bullshit, while in the show Ed comes across more like a defanged Archie Bunker. A gifted comedian under the right circumstances, Shatner is winged by lazy writing and a weak supporting cast. He fails to sell Ed both as a world-weary Luddite and as a crusty curmudgeon, while the rest of the cast mostly spends their screen time mugging along to Shatner’s insults.
For a series with the gumption to suggest a swear word in its title (which has already generated some controversy with parent groups), it has an unfortunate tendency to stop well short of potentially violating good taste, mostly sticking to neutered quips about Bangkok and blown-off ball sacks, the latter of which is alluded to three times in the pilot alone. Since its rise in popularity, many people have suspected that Halpern pads his Twitter feed with jokes of his own, and that his dad doesn’t even say a lot of the shit. But after seeing $#*! My Dad Says, it seems pretty clear that Old Man Halpern is the one who holds the talent in the family. CBS would have probably been better off had they just hired him to write the show.