I like to imagine the conversation in the NBC boardroom went something like this:
Johnson: Sir, we've been kicking around a few ideas to put our network's comedy lineup back on the map since we're completely abandoning the notion of providing fresh, original content in favor of copying the crap on CBS.
Boss: Brilliant, what do you have?
Johnson: Well, picture this: We get a bunch of guys living in New York and they...
Boss: *Moves to edge of seat*
Johnson: Take care of their children! It'll be like Two and a Half Men meets 2 Broke Girls meets every Adam Sandler movie released the past 10 years!
Boss: Johnson... that's brilliant! You're promoted! I want the script for the pilot on my desk by Monday!
Johnson: Perfect! I jotted down every joke for the first three seasons on the back of napkin during the cab ride over!
Okay, so I might be not giving NBC enough credit for the amount of preparation that went into the creation of their new show Guys with Kids. But I don't think I'm that far off.
The show, which premiered about a month ago, focuses on three "dudes" taking on the responsibilities of fatherhood. Indeed, "whether it's hosing down their babies in the kitchen sink or hitting the bar strapped with 'babybjorns,' these guys are taking on fatherhood in ways no one has ever seen before."
Yes, as hilarious as the idea of hanging out with your newborn in a bar is, I'm afraid NBC is facing a tiny issue with this premise: It's the year 2012.
Dads raising and even *gasp!* staying home with their children isn't whimsical or noteworthy, it's a growing, long-coming reality. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2011, only 18 percent of families have the husband serving as the lone wage-earner. In addition, roughly 29 percent of wives earn more than their husbands, a number that has steadily increased almost every year since 1987. As the New York Times recently reported, in the last decade, "the number of men who have left the work force entirely to raise children has more than doubled."
But perhaps it's unfair to blame NBC for dipping into a familiar well in the hopes of finding a hit. It seems like America has long found entertainment in the zany idea that a man could possibly be capable of raising a child. Most of us remember the '80s classic Three Men and a Baby starring the hilarious Ted Danson, the charming Steve Guttenberg and the incomparable Tom Selleck's mustache. The movie focused on three bachelors attempting to, you guessed it, raise a baby -- with wacky results (SPOILER: The baby lives despite being raised by men)! The movie grossed $167 million domestically. Although Three Men and a Baby played off of what was even by then a tired concept -- in 1957, I Love Lucy had an episode titled "Ricky Minds the Baby" -- I'd still argue its existence was passable given the prevailing social norms at the time. But almost 30 years later, it's safe to say that if a ghost were to mysteriously appear in the background of a shot of Guys with Kids -- as weird Internet rumors and video indicate occurred in Three Men and a Baby -- it's likely the spirit would merely be shrugging its shoulders while lamenting, "This shit again?"
Granted, Guys with Kids isn't the only show currently guilty of relying on the passé "men aren't meant to deal with children" plot line. NBC's Up All Night stars Will Arnett as a stay-at-home dad but mostly uses clever writing to generate laughs as opposed to poking fun at the idea of his situation. CBS's Two and a Half Men also relies on inept guys taking care of a kid, but that's probably the 15th or 16th biggest problem I have with that show.
Ultimately, the underlying message dictating that there's something bizarre about a man capably and willingly taking care of his child is at best a dumb commentary and at worst a harmful one. There are now more women receiving a college education than men, and this trend is likely only going to increase in coming years. Given the demographics, it's senseless and ignorant to suggest that despite achieving higher than their male counterparts education-wise, it should be a natural given that women should be the ones forced to put their careers on hold to in order to raise children. From a sheer economics standpoint, we should want to encourage the more educated segment of our society to contribute as much time to their jobs as possible. And thus, it's long past time we fully retired this notion in the entertainment industry that dictates that male characters are meant to be providers and female characters are meant to be nurturers -- and anything deviating from this is somehow a "hilarious" happenstance.
But then again, more than 10 million people watched Survivor last week, so maybe we aren't quite ready for our entertainment to be representative of this decade.