Before he was an Oscar-winning actor and Grammy Award-winning performer, Jamie Foxx had already leveraged his work as a featured player on the groundbreaking sketch comedy show In Living Color into his own self-titled series. The Jamie Foxx Show, which Foxx created and produced with Bentley Kyle Evans, was a genial if unremarkable sitcom that lasted for five seasons on The WB. But the series proved to be a launch pad for Foxx, who went on to garner acclaim for his dramatic roles in Collateral, Dreamgirls, and Just Mercy, as well as his Academy Award-winning turn as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray.
Foxx attempts to harness his multi-hyphenate abilities in his return to sitcoms, but no amount of musical interludes or outlandish characters can punch up the generic comedy of Bentley Kyle Evans’ Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!. The Netflix series stars Foxx as Brian Dixon, a single dad trying to reconnect with his 15-year-old daughter while also keeping his mother’s cosmetics company and his own dating life afloat. Kyla-Drew stars as Brian’s daughter Sasha, who is also carrying a heavy load. She’s grieving the recent death of her mother, adjusting to life in Atlanta, and, most pressingly for the show, enumerating the many ways her father embarrasses her.
Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! begins in medias res, as Brian and Sasha meet with a therapist (Luenell) who thinks they’re a couple rather than father and daughter. The confusion is played for laughs, but it does speak to the central conflict of the show. Brian and Sasha don’t really know each other; for the last 15 years, she’s spent three weeks of every summer and the odd weekend with her dad, but he might as well be a family friend. The series occasionally wrestles with this uncomfortable truth, but more often prefers to put Brian in ridiculous situations that all but require Sasha to regularly utter some variation on the title.
That tendency towards the ludicrous is frequently at odds with the show’s bids at earnestness, an incongruity that extends to the strange layout of Brian’s Atlanta home. The foyer/living area is styled like a bachelor pad, complete with pool table and limited furniture, while the TV and the sofa are in the kitchen-dining room combination. It feels anything but homey, recalling the staged rentals in reality series more than abodes in similar family sitcom. We could view the haphazard setup as a reflection of this merged household, which includes Brian’s dad Fox (David Alan Grier), thrice-divorced sister Chelsea (Porscha Coleman), and mooching cop friend Johnny (Jonathan Kite). But Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! doesn’t incorporate that notion into its story any more smoothly than it does the financial realities of trying to raise a teenager while your business is struggling. These are all elements that are shared via bluntly expository dialogue, rather than making up the foundation of a multigenerational family comedy.
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Like the Dixon home, what Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! lacks is character. The series dabbles in everything from issues-based humor, to warmhearted comedy, to farce without ever finding a groove. The shifts in tone and subject matter are telegraphed; the second episode, “Godastamaste,” announces Sasha’s conflicting feelings about religion so plainly that it might as well be called “Crisis Of Faith.” Similarly, Foxx dons multiple wigs and bald caps to flex his sketch comedy muscles once more, but doesn’t really create anything memorable. The series isn’t entirely without its charms; Foxx and Grier are game for whatever the roulette wheel of premises calls for at any given moment. Nickelodeon TV alum Kyla-Drew is a bit more self-conscious, but she does manage to capture the teenage combination of naiveté and world weariness. The Brian-Sasha dynamic is reminiscent of the central relationship in UPN’s One On One, which ran from 2001 to 2006, which is also the time period from which Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! appears to be drawing its humor.
Despite debuting just six months after it was ordered to series, Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! already feels incredibly dated. There’s a joke about skinny jeans in the premiere that’s as lackluster as it is tenacious, which is the case for a lot of the recurring bits on the show. The majority of characters break the fourth wall, occasionally even encroaching on each other’s direct-to-camera moments. At one point, Sasha literally spells out the homophone (“thot”/“thought”) that’s causing all kinds of tension in what turns out to be a couple’s therapy session. And virtually everyone does impressions, sometimes while breaking the fourth wall.
It’s both too much and not enough, just like Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! is ultimately both too self-aware and oblivious. The series doesn’t trust its laugh track to flag the jokes for viewers; it extends the gags or finds some other way to double down. Likewise, what social commentary can be found in Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! is underscored but ultimately inadequate. The season finale takes on police overreach and racial profiling, when just a few episodes prior, one of the jokes involved Johnny abusing his power. A silly dad whose misguided efforts to win over his daughter occasionally embarrass her is the least of this series’ problems.