To say that I was skeptical when I first heard news that there were plans to turn the hysterically funny Twitter feed @shitmydadsays into a sitcom is probably an understatement. The fact that the network planning to do this was CBS only deepened said skepticism, but when they announced that William Shatner was going to star as the grumpy dad I figured I should at least give it a shot. So I waited until I had a chance to watch the first two episodes and my conclusion is that I was right to be skeptical. It’s a pretty standard sitcom that utterly fails to be as hysterical as the real-life people it’s purportedly based on. It’s not the worst sitcom on TV at the moment, but it’s not very good either and I think there are two reasons why it fails.
Reason #1: It tries to turn what is essentially R-rated source material into PG13 family viewing. Sam Halpern, the seventy-three-year-old dad of Justin Halpern (who does the Twittering), does not mince his words when dispensing the wisdom he has collected over his lifetime. He says what he means and he swears like a sailor while doing so. Take, for example, this bit of advice on not taking your job too seriously:
“Look, we’re basically on earth to shit and fuck. So unless your job’s to help people shit or fuck, it’s not that important, so relax.”
Or how about this nugget on pessimism/optimism:
“No, I’m not a pessimist. At some point the world shits on everybody. Pretending it ain’t shit makes you an idiot, not an optimist.”
How about one more on offensive language:
“They’re offended? Fuck, shit, asshole, shitfuck; they’re just words…Fine. Shitfuck isn’t a word, but you get my point.”
I think you can see why it’s one of my favorite Twitter feeds to follow. Justin doesn’t update it very often, but when he does it’s usually worth the wait.
Now check out some of the lines from the pilot episode:
“If it looks like manure and smells like manure, it’s either Wolf Blitzer or manure.”
Then there’s this:
DMV Clerk: [pointing to an eye chart on the wall] “Can you tell me what the top-most image is?”
Ed: “Two squirrels fornicating.”
I realize that they can’t use the words “shit” and “fucking” on CBS, but it would’ve made both lines a lot funnier and a lot truer to the real person if they had. I suppose if you’re completely unfamiliar with the Twitter feed then it might be amusing, but if you are then it just comes across as amazingly watered down. This is a show that doesn’t belong on CBS and it suffers because of it. The shocking coarseness and honesty of the Twitter feed is scrubbed clean from the TV series.
But even if it were on HBO or Showtime it’s still likely it wouldn’t have worked because of…
Reason #2: It’s a show based on a god-damned Twitter feed! At 140 characters per entry and being only sporadically updated (one post every couple of weeks or so) means that there’s not a lot of source material to work with. Justin did write a memoir with the same name as the Twitter feed that has been selling well, but from what I can tell (I haven’t read it) the sitcom doesn’t use it much at all.
The names of the characters in the show are different from the people they are based on. Justin Halpern has become “Henry Goodson” and his dad, Sam, has become “Ed.” However, the changes go deeper than just the names. The other two primary characters, a dopey brother and his wife, are even more distant from their real-life inspirations based on interviews Justin has given since the show went into production. Justin’s mother appears to have been written out of the sitcom altogether as the implication I got from the pilot is that “Ed’s” wife is dead whereas the real Mrs. Halpern is still alive and putting up with her husband. Part of the problem is that none of the characters ring true and instead they come off as standard sitcom stereotypes that are, at best, pale imitations of their real-life inspirations. There is a brutal honesty and edginess to the Twitter feed which makes it funny and that is totally absent from any of the characters on the show.
Now you might be tempted to blame all of that on the network not understanding the source material, but the fact is that Justin pitched the show to CBS and is heavily involved in its production. He has had a hand in the development of the series from the beginning so presumably all of the changes made met with his approval. There’s been nothing in any of the interviews he’s given that suggests the changes were made to protect the privacy of the people involved. He just thought the changes were in the best interest of the show. I suppose if you just want to make another standard sitcom for CBS then he was probably correct in those choices, but he probably should’ve changed the name of the show while he was at it. Here’s a better title for the show: Just Another Generic Dysfunctional Family Sitcom.
Granted that probably wouldn’t bring in the big ratings, but at least it would be honest.