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TV REVIEWS

'Bad Dads' Attempts Father's Day Therapy

June 15, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER

Leave it to the Fox network to christen its Father's Day special "Bad Dads" and then decide to have George Foreman--he of quickly fading boxing glory and multiple sons named George--as host.

Surprisingly, "Bad Dads" isn't your standard tabloid clown show. The copy available for review lacked the sight of George I, so we can't say how much his presence mars an otherwise serious look at how fathers behind bars can reform their lives.

As part of their court-ordered rehabilitation, juvenile criminals, themselves fatherless, are taken to Lewisburg (Pa.) Federal Penitentiary Prison Camp to have sessions with convicted drug-dealers who also happen to be fathers. The sessions are led by family counselor Dominic Herbst, who favors psychodramas as a therapy technique. The prisoners are confronted, made to listen to the visiting kids play-acting their real-life kids, and told to write apology letters to those they have hurt the most.

The techniques are clearly effective: In two of the three cases shown here, the father-prisoners display contrition and changed hearts. Doug, for one, is released, and reunites with his once-shattered family.

The techniques, however, do not come across on television. Just as TV visually flattens anything presented onstage, it tends to render phony the kind of staged, group-encounter methods employed by Herbst. In the case of street-tough Anthony, the jump-cut filming muddles the session's flow and makes Anthony's softening of heart a case of speeding to the commercial break.

Herbst is another problem. Commenting to the camera between sessions, he makes some valuable points to dads ("Kids need your undivided attention"), but he can be condescending during the sessions (to one boy, he says, "You're really grieving, aren't you?").

"Bad Dads" traces some victories and failures, and how kids can and cannot forgive their straying fathers, but it also promotes the notion that life's problems can be solved in therapy. If only they could.

* "Bad Dads" airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on Fox (Channel 11).

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