Scene from the pilot episode of NBC's "Guys With Kids." (Vivian Zink/NBC )
Jimmy Fallon had a vision: Three men stood at a bar, as men often do, but then they turned around and lo, it was revealed that each wore a Baby Bjorn, with an actual baby. He would call it “Guys With Kids,” which airs a sneak preview Wednesday.
It’s not much to build a comedy on, as the pilot for “Guys With Kids” makes abundantly clear. But perhaps Fallon can be forgiven for viewing the fact that some men take care of their own children as earthshaking news because we keep treating it as such.
For generations, documenting the feelings aroused by parenthood was, like parenthood itself, mostly women’s work (although Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did manage to make a lot of hay out of the “pause in the day's occupations” during which he checked in with his brood.)
Then things happened, like the Industrial Revolution, the modern women’s movement, Alan Alda and the discovery of what Arlie Hochschild called “the second shift.” Women got tired of being tired and men responded—they quickly realized that if they extended “The Children’s Hour” to, say, an hour forty-five, then they could write books and columns about the wonders of parenthood too.
It was a trap, of course, because before you could say, “Could someone please invent a diaper bag that looks like a backpack?” a new generation of men emerge who actually did take care of their sons and daughters. Except, of course, they were men, and even if they had long ago beaten their swords into smartphones, no one seemed prepared to admit that a man was capable of understanding the complexities of, say, fastening a onesie.
And so comedy came to have a new genre: Poor dumb daddy. Or “Guys With Kids.”
The show revolves around three “guys” (heretofore defined as males over 30 who still think not shaving is creative) who are the primary caregivers of their young children: Gary (Anthony Anderson), husband of Marny (Tempestt Bledsoe) and stay-at-home father of four; Nick (Zach Cregger), husband of Emily (Jamie Lynn Sigler) and stay-at-home-father of two; and Chris (Jesse Bradford), who shares custody of his son with his controlling ex-wife.
They’re all trying to remain cool under the pressures of fatherhood, and by cool I mean they still hang out in bars and avoid boring things like finding a real baby sitter or going to school fundraisers. This inevitably leads to tension with the women in their lives, who feel, correctly, that the fathers are trying to have their diaper bags and ditch them too.
Modern guys may have all manner of hilarious, disturbing and conflicting feelings about their children and the role of caregiver, but none of them make it into the pilot. Only Gary, exhausted and overwhelmed, seems to be experiencing life with an actual child, which is why he gets all the best lines. All the other dialogue is about the dynamic between men and women which, as any new parent will tell you, is the first thing to go.
The problem with “Guys With Kids” is the same one voiced by the famous New Yorker cartoon in which one woman laments to another that though she thought she wanted a baby, it turns out she just wanted baby clothes. The show wants men in Baby Bjorns but that’s not the same thing as wanting fathers.