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Television Review

In ‘My Dad,’ only the title is fresh

Father-son sitcom tries too hard to be brash

From left: Will Sasso, William Shatner, and Nicole Sullivan in the CBS sitcom “$#*! My Dad Says.’’ From left: Will Sasso, William Shatner, and Nicole Sullivan in the CBS sitcom “$#*! My Dad Says.’’ (Ron P. Jaffe/CBS)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 23, 2010

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If volume meant quality, “$#*! My Dad Says’’ would be a comedy gem. The actors, led by star William Shatner, shout their punch lines like infomercial pitchmen, and the laugh track makes your ears wish they could blink.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that “$#*! My Dad Says,’’ which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 4, has its roots in Twitter — it’s based on Justin Halpern’s popular feed. Whatever. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld have made brilliant comedy careers out of less — out of nothing.

But I do have a problem with the way “$#*! My Dad Says’’ is so blandly traditional, so predictably brash, and so lazy. Even though Twitter is in the show’s DNA, executive producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick (from “Will & Grace’’) haven’t added anything fresh to the mix. “Will & Grace’’ had an old-school sitcom vibe, but the material was ahead of its time. “$#*! My Dad Says’’ has the multi-camera vaudeville-based style but then sticks stubbornly to a far too-well-trod odd-couple path.

Shatner plays Ed, the dad who says crazy and mean things. Like so many grumpy men in family sitcoms, he’s Archie Bunker without the satirical spin, and without the overt prejudices that made Archie so edgy. When his son Henry (Jonathan Sadowski) loses his magazine job and comes back home, conflict ensues, peppered with non-sequitur exchanges such as when Dad says about his garden, “You should see my zucchini’’ and Henry responds, “I think I did last night when you answered the door in your jammies.’’

Ed doesn’t want to pamper Henry, even while Henry is longing for a few warm bonding gestures. But, this being a retro sitcom, a number of “aww’’ moments pop up in the premiere. Of course, deep down Ed is actually hoping to connect with his son, but he’s too proud to be overt about it. Divorced, unsocial, and irritable, Ed is secretly afraid of being alone.

Septuagenarian Shatner is one of the older TV stars, like Betty White, who’s still working regularly, and who has found an unexpected place in our youth culture. He’s fine in “$#*! My Dad Says,’’ although I find a little of him goes a long way, especially when he’s hamming it up without the benefit of the clever scripting of “Boston Legal.’’ All of his punch lines end up sounding the same.

Sadowski is neither a minus nor a plus, although he makes Henry a little too gratingly whiney to be entirely likable. As Henry’s half-brother, Will Sasso is the calm center, especially when he’s with Nicole Sullivan, who plays his high-strung wife. I like Sullivan, but she’s overly amped-up on this show, putting a little too much oomph and eye emphasis into each of her lines. Like so much in the formulaic and disappointing “$#*! My Dad Says,’’ she’s all hollow emphasis.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

$#*! MY DAD SAYS

Starring: William Shatner, Jonathan Sadowski, Will Sasso, Nicole Sullivan

On: CBS, Channel 4

Time: Tonight, 8:30-9