Tuesday, February 1, 2011

$#*!, it's another hair joke!

Not long ago, we examined an interesting triple entendre hair joke contained in the fourth episode (called "Code Ed") of the new Bill Shatner sitcom $#*! My Dad Says. It was subtle: the dialog was spoken by fictional son Vince (Will Sasso) and all that was required from Bill Shatner was a knowing glance - but he knew, and we knew he knew!

Flash forward a mere eleven episodes to the latest installment called "Ed Goes to Court" - and we have another reference to Bill Shatner's hair (or lack thereof, obviously)! And this time, it's even more direct, even more impossible to overlook and the dialog is spoken by Bill Shatner himself. Did we see this sort of thing in Star Trek or TJ Hooker or Boston Legal? - we think not. The times are certainly changing...

The episode opens with Ed's bald son Vince (Will Sasso) shocking the family by wearing a mustache. He explains that he has a rash above his top lip and couldn't shave this morning.

"I just can't believe how fast it grows in," says his wife Bonnie (Nicole Sullivan), noting the mustache's relative thickness.

"Yeah, it's a family trait. We all grow mustaches really fast," replies Vince.

Bonnie turns to Ed (William Shatner): "Ed, I've never seen you with a mustache."

"No, that hair thing is from his mother's side...more specifically his mother."

The first part of Bill Shatner's response makes no sense unless it's a joke about the actor's own lack of hair. For Ed, just like Kirk, TJ Hooker and Denny Crane, has a suspiciously thick full head of hair in the fictional world of the show.

Bill Shatner looks a little unsettled as he delivers the line, but deliver the line he does. Did he suggest the joke or was it suggested to him? Did he resist or embrace the opportunity to further ease up on his former toupological denials? So many questions...

The "...more specifically his mother" line that follows tempers the former as it suggests that Vince's mother was really hairy - that's the joke. But to those in the know, the first part is a clear and remarkably direct reference to one of the worst kept secrets in showbiz - that Bill Shatner has very little real hair and wears a toupee.

Here's the clip:

At the end of the episode, concluding a brotherly competition about who can grow the thickest mustache, younger son Henry (Jonathan Sadowski) enters the kitchen, revealing the results of his efforts:

But Ed, again perhaps referencing Bill Shatner's expertise regarding unreal hair, smells a rat (if you'll pardon the pun).

No-one fools (or outshines) Bill Shatner with hairpieces, even ones not on the head.

So, rather amazingly, he rips the fake tash off his son's upper lip with all the energy the 79-year old can muster.

He then holds the thing in his hand, studying it knowingly. Too small for Bill Shatner to make use of...

If we reference current events in Egypt, there are no doubt times when we simply don't believe particular moments will ever happen - and then they do, just like that. Back in the days of Bill Shatner's absolute toupee denials, such jokes would have been unthinkable. In both cases, the key word now being used is "transition".

Perhaps, in some strange way, this is Bill Shatner's own message to the world - using the unmistakable power of his own toupee: if I can make subtle jokes about having no hair, then anything is possible! You only have to believe! We understand that a recent statement by President Mubarak that: "William Shatner's hair is entirely real and there will be no more discussions" may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for people in Egypt. People around the world clearly will no longer have their freedoms to discuss William Shatner's toupee suppressed!

And what of $#*! My Dad Says itself? When we referenced the last hair joke, we couldn't help but use the opportunity to express our concerns over the show's weaknesses. It's improving, we wrote, but the series is still deeply flawed. Do some stunt casting, we argued (check, more please!), change the way Vince and Bonnie are used (they've since moved in with Ed)...

But, serious problems remain. At best, $#*! My Dad Says is frequently average, occasionally terrible, sometimes good but rarely brilliant. Why? One of the biggest issues, we think, is that the characters are not clearly defined. Let's examine two of the (arguably) great sitcoms:

: until Shelley Long departed, the character tension was remarkably easy to define - a highly strung intellectual snob (Diane) and an anti-intellectual hedonistic jock (Sam, alias Ted Danson) thrust together. If only either of them would give a little ground, be a little less of the character extreme that they are, then we could realistically hope that they could get together. And there were plenty of clues to give the audience hope: Sam was done drinking and chose to hang around with a bunch of introspective losers rather than his former jock friends; Diane was working in a bar, her intellectual hopes dashed by her own multiple neuroses. That was the tension. That was the promise of change and evolution. Two opposites drawn together. Dynamite.

In the British sitcom Fawlty Towers, once again a series of extreme contrasts were forced to interact: Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), incompetent and borderline insane; his wife Sybil, orderly but cold; Manuel, servile, chaotic; Polly, orderly, sane, young to the wife's old. A multitude of contrasts.

Star Trek also underlines how great drama (including comedy) stems from taking a single sane human consciousness, splitting it into constituent contradictory parts and forcing these deficient components to interact, hoping that gradually they will coalesce and fill out each other's inadequacies.

Kirk (decision), Spock (reason), McCoy (emotion). One whole divided, yet inseparable. Tension. Will Spock show emotion; will McCoy ever acknowledge Spock's logic; which option will Kirk choose? The perpetual promise of evolution.

Very little of this is evident in $#*! My Dad Says. Its characters are a cluttered mess of ill-defined and often shifting attributes. Add them together and you have no complete human whole. As a result, little evolution of character is promised and little tension - other than of the contrived kind - is offered.

Before the second season begins (if there is one), we urge the producers to have a wholesale re-think of the show. We continue to believe (with the greatest of respect to the actors' talents) that the characters of Vince and Bonnie should be dropped. They offer little prospect of evolution and they offer few if any inter-character tension dynamics - simply put, they appear to serve no purpose. A more viable alternative is an interesting ensemble of semi-regular external characters (the neighbor, the cleaner etc.)

So then you have a focus on a crazy father and regular son living together. Define the extreme traits that each of them possesses and run with it. Make Ed more charming, more Shatner - less of an asshole. More lovably grumpy and strangely wise like Walter Matthau in I'm Not Rappaport (based on a play, a very distinctive old man refuses to grow old gracefully causing tensions with his daughter, trailer here).

I'm Not Rappaport

And seriously figure out how Sadowski's character (still woefully ill-defined) can interact with Ed.

We'll end by referencing a scene from the end of Back to the Future (1985). Marty is about to return to 1985 - but what's the point as the Doc will still be dead, having been shot as his young friend escaped to 1955. But Marty is thinking two-dimensionally. Suddenly it dawns on him - he's sitting in a time machine, he can go anywhere he wants (to before the Doc was shot)! The producers of $#*! My Dad Says would benefit from such a moment. They have Shatner, they have a sitcom - they can do anything they want! Be bolder, be more daring, more unconventional, but also define the basic humanity of your characters and never, ever cheapen that - and maybe, just maybe, this series will succeed.


  1. As a Shatner junkie, I watch the show out of obligation more than anything else, but I think the fundamental premise is unsalvageable. In order for the show to survive, both sons have to remain losers so they can continue living with their crazy dad. Given the strength of Shatner's personality, perpetual loser sons will never be the foils necessary to sustain anything interesting.

    The problem is that Shatner has been shoehorned into an unworkable premise, when the premise ought to have been built around the unique and astounding talents of the Mighty Shat. The structure of the show - joke/punchline/joke/punchline, supplemented by a docile studio audience that feels like a laugh track - has been around since I Love Lucy, or perhaps even vaudeville. It's been done. To death.

    I'd love to see a real Shatnerian sitcom. This ain't it, and tinkering around the edges won't change that.

  2. It'd be nice if they had one of the books in the bookcase that's in the background of the living room with a spine that had Wigs, Toupees or Extreme Hair Care written on it for the audience to see.

  3. Watching TJ Hooker on Sleuth. Have you commented on the promo for the series. A chest shot of a cop getting ready for his shift, then slapping on the Hooker name tag. Then his arm reaches into the locker and pulls out a grey toupee which he puts on his scalp. We never see a face of course, but how come Shatner let this one go through?

  4. To me, the quintessential Shatnerian sitcom would be him as a recently retired Navy Admiral or captian whose two divorced daughters have moved back in with him ... along with their bratty kids... including a troublesome teenage daughter and son. Would've been a riot!

  5. Okay, I have to admit that I never liked Cheers that much. Anyway, they don't really compare.
    But when it comes to a father, two sons, and a dog, I think Frasier worked much better.

  6. one of the worst shows in TV history.

  7. Ratty Lost Years PieceFebruary 4, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    This show should take a page from the Cheers playbook and have Shatner remove the toupee during a live episode.