Like ABC's The Goldbergs, Fox's Surviving Jack is one of those Wonder Years-style comic-of-age nostalgia-coms about a romantic boy hero (Connor Buckley) with a colorful combative family, full of period pop flourish and overexplainy, emotion-coaching narration. But Surviving Jack based on Justin Halpern's memoir I Suck at Girls distinguishes itself with a terrific turn by Christopher Meloni as the father and a refreshing treatment of gender roles. The premise hinges on mom Joanne's (Rachael Harris) decision to go back to law school. Time for a nanny? No, time for Dad, a.k.a. Jack (Meloni), a military-grade hard-ass, a successful doctor, and a husband so awesome he'll catch a grenade for you or at least put a pin in his career. He not only backs his wife's pursuit of self-fulfillment, he downshifts to part-time so their kids can have the at-home parent they need. ''You've had my back for years,'' Jack says. ''Now it's my turn.''
Jack represents a new take on television's stay-at-home-dad archetype. He has nothing in common with the emasculated, incompetent fathers of, say, NBC's Guys With Kids or A&E's reality series Modern Dads. Older, wiser, and hilariously unsentimental about his children, Jack is a throwback to midcentury Mad Men masculinity, albeit reconstructed with some feminist enlightenment. You keep waiting for Surviving Jack to turn on Jack and judge him for his shock tactics and tough-love measures, but it doesn't. He connects best with son Frankie (Buckley), coaching him on love or the ethics of ambition and friendship. Daughter Rachel (Claudia Lee), all blossoming sexuality, blows Jack's fuses. It'll be interesting to see if the show has an imagination for that relationship, or if Jack will defer to his wife, as he does in episode 2. B+