In the opening of The War at Home’s pilot, Michael Rapaport — as suburban family man Dave — calls Mary Tyler Moore a bitch and decries the women’s rights movement. I was mmediately…intrigued. With so many bland sitcom hubbies around, a fellow who loves his wife but suffers from light misogyny isn’t necessarily unwelcome. At least it’s a point of view.
Unfortunately, then came the homophobia (Dave fears one of his sons is gay), the racism (Dave freaks when his daughter brings home an African-American boyfriend), and the super-hetero yukkiness (Dave praises Lindsay Lohan’s ”nice balloons”). The objectionable thing about The War at Home isn’t that its lead character has wildly unattractive traits — shows from All in the Family to Rescue Me have proved this can make for good, riling story lines. It’s War’s pointless meanness that’s foul. Whether it’s a slight against gay men or a snide remark about a girl in a wheelchair, the jokes have a scattershot, drive-by quality. These one-liners are wrapped in a bullying so-what? swagger — as if it’s brave to be politically incorrect, when for a decade it’s actually been in vogue. ”Political correctness,” snaps Dave, in one of his monologue rants, ”what retard, excuse me, what mentally challenged moron thought up that idea?” Hey, War at Home writers — 1994 called. It wants its joke back.
The entire series, in fact, feels 10 years stale — given Fox’s proclivities for profane comedy, it very well could be — yet deluded about its currency. Watching War is like being cruised by an old guy with a ponytail who thinks you’ll be dazzled by his IROC — and that overpowering laff track is the boatload of Drakkar Noir emanating from him. Worse than its datedness, War doesn’t have the strength of its nasty convictions. The show wants to shock, but it refuses any culpability. In an ongoing — and going and going — story line, Dave once again believes his son Larry (Kyle Sullivan) is gay. Despite his grumbling and insults, he ultimately supports the kid (see, Dave’s really an okay guy). In a more daring, interesting show, Larry would actually be gay, forcing Dave to confront his prejudices. But that’s not War at Home. This is the kind of series in which Dave and his wife, Vicky (Anita Barone), invite the parents of their daughter’s African-American boyfriend to a barbecue, only to have Dave bash affirmative action and defiantly serve ribs, damn the implications! Dave is immediately let off the hook when it’s revealed that the boyfriend’s dad, Omar (Richard Whiten), has his own race issues — he’d prefer his son not date a white girl. In an even more self-serving twist, Dave is victimized when Omar must explain to him that, sorry, his golf club doesn’t allow Jewish members. That’s right, Dave is oppressed, people, so everything… is…okay. It’s one limp comedy that pretends to be frank and daring about race, gender, and sexual orientation — and instead is glib, tired, and slippery. Now, there’s something to rant about.