Fox has declined an Asian-American group's request to reshoot the pilot for the upcoming Seth MacFarlane fall comedy, "Dads," despite brewing backlash over what many critics have called insensitive and even racist jokes.
The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) had asked the network to alter scenes featuring Brenda Song's character dressing up in a sexy schoolgirl costume to please Chinese businessmen during a meeting with her bosses (Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green). They objected to the "racial and sexual stereotypes."
Watch the "Dads" trailer:
Though Fox turned down the suggestion, the network promised that Song's character will eventually be seen as "a strong, intelligent, empowered young woman who basically runs the company, and who almost always gets the upper hand."
At last month's Television Critics Association press tour, many media outlets called out "Dads" for relying on racially-tinged jokes:
There are casually racist shows and then there's #Dads, which takes that to a whole new level!
— Jace Lacob (@televisionary) August 1, 2013
— Kate Aurthur (@KateAurthur) August 1, 2013
During the panel, "Dads" executive producer Alec Sulkin acknowledged there were some issues with the pilot. "If we missed the mark in the pilot, we're trying to hit it better in upcoming shows," he said.
Despite continued questioning about potentially-offensive jokes, though, Sulkin tried to respond with a joke in return. "I think that having Brenda dress up in that outfit is as important as our anti-Vietnam stance," he said.
Co-star Peter Riegert, who plays one of the fathers, pointed out, "I've never done anything in 43 years that somebody was not offended by … I don't think we signed on to be cruel and insensitive. But we want to make it funny."
Song herself defended "Dads" by noting that she'd been part of more racist material during her time on the Disney Channel.
"I feel like if you can't laugh at yourself, you can't laugh at all," she said. "It's comedy."
In a letter responding to MANAA, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly wrote that "Dads" was intended to toe the line, much like MacFarlane's other shows, "Family Guy" and "American Dad." At TCA, both series' raunchy, edgy humor was invoked as a model for "Dads." MacFarlane himself has not commented on the "Dads" controversy.
"This is a show that will be evocative and will poke fun at stereotypes and bigotries — sometimes through over-the-top, ridiculous situations," Reilly wrote in the letter.
But he added, "We do recognize comedy is subjective, and we may not be able to please everyone, all the time."
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While most viewers, unlike critics, haven't seen the "Dads" pilot, many are already making snap judgements based on promos. And unlike critics, they're more divided on the show's humor.
That new Dads sitcom on Fox looks awful...
— Moses (@ohmoses) August 20, 2013
Can't wait for Giovanni's "Dads" this fall on Fox. One of the most under rated actor and can be strangely funny; one of my favorite actor!
— Denny Yang (@dennys_parade) August 20, 2013
I know at least one person who will not be watching 'Dads' on Fox.
— Bill San Antonio (@Bill_SanAntonio) August 19, 2013
Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi in a show together? Count me in! #dads
— Gavi (@Linkisemo) August 18, 2013