In ‘Council of Dads,’ perfect characters are the problem

Monday, March 30, 2020 - 2:40pm

NOSELL

NBC

On the surface, a council of dads isn’t a bad idea. Reconciling with his terminal diagnosis, loving father Scott Perry decides to form a council to guide and support his family after he’s gone. The series premiere serves as a prologue for the rest of the show. “Council of Dads” is a familial tear-jerker in the same vein as “This is Us,” but where the latter succeeded in being a genuinely gripping emotional rollercoaster, the former can’t even get off the ground. What’s wrong with “Council of Dads” is precisely what works so well in “This is Us.” The characters. Namely, the characters in “Council of Dads” are just perfect, so perfect in fact, that they are unrelatable.

Take for example, Robin (Sarah Wayne Callies, “Prison Bream”), the matriarch of the family. She’s hardworking and self-reliant. Even at her husband Scott’s (Tom Everett Scott, “The Healing Powers of Dude”) funeral, she’s bossing people around. Her issue is, in the words of her husband, she “doesn’t know how to ask for help.” Even her flaws sound like strengths. Another example is Luly (Michelle Weaver, “Portals”), the narrator of the first episode. Her main conflict centers around dealing with her dad’s illness while engaging in a (boring) will-they-won’t-they relationship with her old crush (shocker: they do). At the end of the episode, just months after her father’s passing, she marries him. Any sort of tension which the episode painfully drew out was simply obliterated in the last few moments of the premiere. It also doesn’t help that the show itself is set in the absolutely gorgeous city of Savannah, Georgia, or that the family owns a picturesque beachfront home. Or that all the friends of the Perry’s are successful entrepreneurs or doctors. 

The world of “Council of Dads” and the people who live in it are perfect, but perfection isn’t relatable. Shoehorning a cancer diagnosis into a family isn’t going to do the dirty work of making them real people. The show creates these characters whose virtues are endless, whose flaws are too good to be true, whose dilemmas are resolved in an instant and then politely asks the audience to see themselves in these characters. By making these characters’ lives and virtues so lofty, it’s hard to see how anyone in the U.S. can honestly keep watching the show without hating themselves. Not only do the perfect characters make the show completely disengaging, it also begs the question: Where does the show go from here?

The final scene of the premiere is the entire Perry family, as well as the “Council of Dads,” dancing after Luly’s wedding. In many ways, this scene doesn’t feel like the bright beginning of a new story. It feels like watching the last scene of a series without watching the rest of the previous episodes. People are dancing, laughing, smiling, but the names, faces, desires, are all a mystery. The series premiere of “Council of Dads” feels like a finale. And why wouldn’t it be? All the growth, conflict, tribulation has already been resolved in 45 minutes. It’s hard to see where the show will go from here because it seems like everything that needed to be said has already been said. 

The only exception to this plethora of perfect characters is Larry Mills (Michael O’Neill, “Jack Ryan”), the third member of the council. Larry is notably the only character who isn’t successful by traditional standards. He’s a strange, kind man who spends the episode giving Scott’s middle son Theo driving lessons. Larry is a gruff oddball, but he takes the angsty Theo under his wing with an immense amount of patience. If the show could capture the spirit of a character like Larry, the show wouldn’t just be more relatable, it might actually be emotional. 

Unfortunately, Larry is the exception to the rule. “Council of Dads” seems destined to be remembered as a caricature of “This is Us,” with totally unrelatable characters who have no flaws or need for growth. And without conflicts, it’s difficult to see where the show will actually go, or why it needs to at all.