Sometimes you come across a show, like NBC's only new mulit-camera comedy Guys with Kids, that seems relatable and funny on paper and in concept but doesn't know what to do with itself. You could have an ideal staff, a good cast and a cute concept, but for some reason the pieces never quite fit; and what you're left with is an uneven and confusing melting pot of wasted talent.
Guys with Kids follows the misadventures of three new fathers and their families. Chris (Jesse Bradford, Outlaw) is recently divorced from his possibly-psychotic ex-wife Sheila (Erinn Hayes, Childrens Hospital), and he's trying to get a bit more leeway in his raising of his son Ernie. Gary (Anthony Anderson, All About the Andersons, Law & Order) is a stay-at-home dad with four rambunctious kids who just needs a break from the craziness of his family. And Nick (Zach Cregger, Whitest Kids U Know) is married to Emily (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, The Sopranos) but refuses to grow up.
Immature thirty-somethings dealing with the sudden adulthood which comes with having kids is a concept that should be ripe with comedic material. Unfortunately the pilot of Guys with Kids didn't find much of it. Writer Charlie Grandy (The Daily Show) writes some chuckle-worthy one-liners, but overall it's just not a funny episode. The jokes are so broad you could drive a mac truck through them, not to mention they're not all that original. For instance, Nick's daughter's school is hosting a fundraiser themed around the Titanic and he asks, "So how does the night end? With you hogging a piece of driftwood that could easily accommodate both of us?" Jokes based on fifteen-year-old films aren't exactly fresh, and that particular joke has been making the rounds for about as long as social media has existed. The remainder of the episode is a mixture of the cringe-worthy, the smile-worthy, and the totally un-worthy. A scene featuring basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabar is the episode's highlight, proving that the creators can be funny. But the whole affair is dragged down by stale gender politics (Ex-wives are crazy! Men are immature!) and a sense of pointlessness, as if we've seen and heard it all before.
The cast is the only thing to really recommend here. Anthony Anderson is always a joy to watch, and he gets the best parts of the pilot. His is the only character that really challenges anything as the show's stay-at-home dad, and he has the best sense of comedic timing (which makes sense considering he is the most seasoned of the show's main cast). Jesse Bradford is appropriately adorable and sympathetic as Chris, whose dilemma of trying to start dating again while raising his son is the focus of the first episode. Zach Cregger is droll and sarcastic, even if his character is the least developed and most stereotypical. The wives are relegated to the background, for the most part, and none are particularly memorable, though a late-episode scene between Anderson and his wife, The Cosby Show's Tempestt Bledsoe, hits the note the rest of the show should aim for: after a long day, the couple locks themselves in the bathroom for a few private moments away from the stresses of raising and providing for a family. It's the best balance of pathos and humor in the entire half-hour; unfortunately, it's a short moment, but one that reminds the audience that Guys with Kids isn't all bad... just uneven and unfocused.
What it all boils down to is that Guys with Kids never really finds its groove. The few moments when it's amusing, it's tolerable and borderline enjoyable. But when it's not, it's a slog to get through. It should be a fun slice of life, a reminder of the character-driven sitcoms of the 90s with an endless array of potential mishaps and funny situations. But instead it's thin, mostly uninteresting, and cliche, choosing to focus on jokes about the Titanic, Goodfellas, lead paint, and J-Date rather than the inherent comedy that comes with having young kids and the subsequent need to mature before you're ready.