Going back to the days of “In Living Color,” Jamie Foxx has been a national treasure of an entertainer — so when we heard the Oscar-winning actor was returning to his comedic TV roots with the Netflix sitcom “Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!,” how could we not feel a sense of hope?
Sometimes hope floats. Sometimes not. In this instance, the floundering begins with the opening scene of the pilot episode, with Foxx’s Brian and his 15-year-old daughter Sasha (Kyla-Drew) in a therapy session.
“I read my notes on you two and it seems like you’ve been living together for a little while,” says the therapist. “I’m here to ensure that when you two lovebirds leave here today, you’ll be singing in perfect harmony, just like Whitney and Bobby!”
Oh man. Forget the ridiculous — even for a sitcom — premise that a therapist could have “read notes” and not known she was talking to a father and daughter, not a couple. If that’s not bad enough, in what universe is the “Whitney and Bobby” joke funny — or even a joke?
Loosely based on Foxx’s relationship with his eldest daughter Corinne (an executive producer on the show), “Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!” has a sunny and light tone (albeit with some politically incorrect humor) and features a tremendously likable cast, but it comes across as a hackneyed and surprisingly uninspired effort given the level of talent involved. Each would-be joke is punctuated by a canned laugh track dusted off from a 1980s sitcom, and the gimmick of having Foxx’s Brian break the fourth wall and address the camera directly dates all the way back to “The George Burns and Grace Allen Show” from the 1950s and has been done to death on shows such as “Moonlighting,” “Saved by the Bell” and “House of Cards.”
When a twentysomething model for Brian’s cosmetics company tries to seduce him, Brian turns to us and says, “Back in the day, I would have knocked all of the spice off that jerk chicken. But I gotta be responsible; she works for me, for God’s sake!” A moment later, he turns to us again and growls in a Michael Corleone voice, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” What next, a “Say hello to my little friend!” reference?
“Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!” follows the long, long line of sitcoms about single-parent families. Teenager Sasha is moving to Atlanta to live with her father Brian after the death of her mother, which means big changes are in store for everyone. Cue the series of scenes in which Brian wears skinny jeans, dances in public, sings karaoke, intimidates potential suitors for Sasha, etc., etc., while Sasha rolls her eyes and says variations on the line, “Dad, stop embarrassing me!”
The supporting cast includes Foxx’s fellow “In Living Color” alum, the wonderful David Alan Grier, as his pops, called Pops; Skokie native Jonathan Kite (“Two Broke Girls”) as Johnny, a cop and longtime friend of Brian, and Porscha Coleman as Brian’s sister, Chelsea. They all do their best to give life and dimension to mostly tired, punchline-oriented dialogue, and there are moments of quick humor and even some emotionally impactful scenes, as when the group sings “Take Me to the King” as a tribute to Sasha’s mom at church — but there’s also a steady stream of unfunny lines of bad taste, e.g., when Johnny the cop hears a ping from his phone and says, “Another Amber Alert? I thought I blocked those stupid things.” Really?
Foxx also plays a number of guest characters, including the flamboyant Rev. Sweet Tee, who tells his congregation there’s a video of him at a strip club, but he was there for the chicken wings; Cadillac Calvin, a pot-bellied old-timer who is Pops’ brother and rival at the annual family barbecue competition, and Rusty, a barkeep with yellow locks and a leopard coat who believes Trump won the election and specializes in making elaborate drinks. One minute we’re in a relatively standard sitcom — the next, it feels more like a comedy sketch show. Foxx also rolls out his impressions of Dave Chappelle, the Rock, Obama and Floyd Mayweather, which are as entertaining as you’d expect but further dilute any efforts to deliver an involving storyline about a widowed father trying to connect with his teenage daughter.
Also, when someone enters a scene carrying a pumpkin pie topped with loads of whipped cream, they might as well announce, “This pumpkin cream pie is going in someone’s face in the next two minutes.”