Cute, cuddly and carnivorous, the cartoon characters in the new NBC sitcom "Father of the Pride" (8 p.m. Tuesday, WMAQ-Ch. 5), are, in appearance, an animation treasure trove from DreamWorks, the folks behind "Shrek."
But appearances can be monstrously deceiving. In an apparent effort to rival the adult wit of "The Simpsons" and even the anarchy of "South Park," the premiere episode is drenched in tasteless sex jokes and dirty-minded innuendoes. The producers, including creator Jeffrey Katzenberg, don't pretend they want kids to watch. They want the 18-to-49 crowd, and thus the sitcom's sort-of later time slot.
The story tells of a nuclear family of lions living not in the jungle but in Las Vegas as part of Siegfried and Roy's performance menagerie. (The series was planned and continues to be set before the famous mauling of Roy Horn last October; more on that reality problem later.) Larry (voiced by John Goodman) is essentially a big-cat stand-in for today's put-upon dad. He's definitely more NASCAR than BMW. Tuesday's episode partly turns on his efforts to take advantage of his wife's, ahem, "heat."
He bursts into the living room in the first few minutes and growls wickedly, "It may be 9 o'clock in New York, but it's mountin' time here."
That sort of double entendre, fueled by even more direct sexual banter, sets the tone for this episode, which also recounts the woes of Fu Linn, an aging panda and overweight spinster frustrated by her own romantic inadequacies and the dearth of eligible panda mates.
That premise itself is mildly amusing, converting a species rarity (and renowned sexual shyness) into a human paradigm. But the blunt, crass script evokes grimaces, not giggles. When her sibling, a Panda with child, shows up on TV, Fu Linn says, "Yeah, that's my slutty sister."
Or, after she whines about her spinsterly fate, Larry's father-in-law (voiced by Carl Reiner) answers, "I'll tell you what's wrong with you. Your ovaries are turning into concrete."
Siegfried and Roy appear as characters, and they're offstage executive producers as well. Because "Father of the Pride" has been in the works for three years, and perhaps because even the creators here realized allusions to Roy's mauling would be just too tasteless, the duo appear as Vegas stars back in their healthy mode. Maybe they should have scratched the team altogether.
Some observers may not mind that unsettling, outdated detail, but it's hard to stomach what's intended as a light cartoon when you know of the actual, horrible fate one of the characters met in real life.
And in this opening episode, Siegfried and Roy seem mostly present for a spoof of their accents. As they prepare to launch into space (don't ask), one explains, "Ja, we're giving Saturn a new ring."
Oddly, the second episode offers a funnier use of Siegfried and Roy. There is an unnecessary bit involving lesbian chipmunks, apparently a tweak at Britney Spears and Madonna pseudo-chic. But Siegfried and Roy's disdainful encounters with "Today Show" star Matt Lauer are pleasingly droll. Resentful of Lauer's tendency to interrupt Katie Couric and "Today Show" guests, Siegfried asserts, "Where in the world is Matt Lauer? I wish someday they would not find him."
Then again, before Larry goes on nationwide TV, his father-in-law warns, "Stay away from heavy foods and sauces. You don't want to make doo-doo before millions of people."
The various creators behind this series would do well to follow their own advice.
`Father of the Pride' too risque for kids, too dumb for adults
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