In the very first episode of Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!—Jamie Foxx’s new Netflix sitcom—there’s a scene that tells you everything you need to know about the show’s weaknesses and strengths. Brian Dixon (Foxx), single father and cosmetics heir (he inherited his mother’s company BAY Cosmetics), is struggling to reconnect with his daughter Sasha (Kyla-Drew) after her mother’s death. Just when he thinks he has a handle on proceedings at home, he walks in on his sister Chelsea (Porscha Coleman) and his best friend, a white cop named Johnny (Jonathan Kite, playing the token white dude here) making out. Johnny’s pants are inconveniently responding to the pull of gravity, Chelsea looks like she just saw a ghost and Brian, well, Brian is confused and angry and hapless and hopped-up all at once (his response to most crises is adrenaline-driven).
It’s not the worst setup in the world.
The strengths: Jamie Foxx. The man is as brilliant as he was in Ray or Collateral or Django Unchained. As cricket commentators like to say, form is temporary but class is permanent. Even in such a thinly written role, Foxx shines. In the scene, he does an excellent job of being a big ol’ softie who’s trying his hardest to intimidate or to otherwise communicate his disapproval of the situation. His eyes sing. His hands talk. This is an accomplished actor who barely breaks a sweat in scenes like this one.
The weaknesses: Literally every single line of writing in this show. The supposed zinger that cues up the canned laughter here is a stammering Johnny claiming that what Brian saw was just some harmless play-acting. With a straight face, he says, “She was just about to de-pants the police!”
De-pants the police? Seriously, Jamie Foxx? I would say this was the worst month he could possibly have picked to run this joke, but really, it’s been the worst month for several decades now in America, at least in this particular context—and Foxx knows it, too. Not that the rest of the show works much better. Overall, Dad You’re Embarrassing Me hits a little too close to its title—the show really does feel like a parental figure embarrassing you despite a hundred and one cautionary notes from your side. And not in the ‘adorable senior moment’ way, mind. More like the ‘Dad, stop hitting on my Principal NOW’ way.
What I found doubly surprising was the fact that Dad You’re Embarrassing Me was made by a team that Foxx has worked with before, with much better results. The show is executive produced by Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx, along with The Jamie Foxx Show creator Bentley Kyle Evans, and director Ken Whittingham. Foxx and Corinne based the outline of the show on their own relationship. And yet, the Dixon family dynamic falls flat. I can’t remember a single funny moment that did not involve physical humour or toilet jokes. Dixon’s dad is the stereotypical absent-minded grandpa who smokes pot and talks funny afterwards (“I don’t know why they call it UberPool, there ain’t no water in it!”). Dixon’s wannabe girlfriend cannot stop making creepy ‘yes Daddy’ jokes once she learns about his changed circumstances.
Basically, these jokes and these tropes are so dated that it beggars belief. This is a late 90s/early 2000s sitcom at heart. Even its idea of innovation is dated—you can’t have classic sitcom white-lighting and also The Office-style Jim-glances at the camera. It just does not work that way; even I know this much, and I’ve set foot on a grand total of three film sets in my life. Foxx takes it even further: not content with breaking the fourth wall, he then delivers a mini-monologue addressed to the camera every time he breaks it. Even Jim Halpert wouldn’t get away with this (and he got away with a lot in The Office, believe you me).
And yet, because this is Foxx, there are saving graces. His Obama impersonations (there are a fair few) are not only spot on, they are vastly preferable to watching the actual Obama. There’s a competently executed gag about Dixon using his Obama-voice to fool white investors into thinking he is related to the former president. At the end of the first episode, there’s a heartwarming father-daughter moment when Foxx dresses up and dances like Sasha’s favorite artist, the Colombian reggaeton artist J Balvin. Foxx sings and dances in this scene with the energy of a man half his age. It’s a whole-hearted acting effort, undeniably so. If only some of that energy had been diverted to the writers’ room as well.
Feature image courtesy: SAEED ADYANI/NETFLIX