Among the dregs of last year's new television programming was a series of sitcoms that addressed the so-called "mancession" by showcasing male characters struggling to maintain their masculinity in a world where gender roles are continuing to blur. The trend didn't quite stick, with ABC's uncomfortably chauvinistic Last Man Standing the only one of the bunch that survived cancellation. Guys With Kids seems to take a different approach, exhibiting male protagonists who are able to balance the nurturing aspects of parenthood with that need to hang with the guys at the bar. Unfortunately, those intentions are about the only thing in Guys With Kids that are actually good, as the show falls victim to the old sitcom stereotypes of the bumbling husband and the shrewish or whiny women who married them.
A trio of old friends who live in the same high-rise apartment building, the men of Guys with Kids have varied domestic situations. Nick (Zach Cregger) is the most together of the three. He gives out sensible parenting advice, in addition to coaching their single friend on his love life. He does, however, fail to understand the plight of his homemaker wife, Emily (Jamie-Lynn Sigler). Gary (Anthony Anderson) is a stay-at-home dad with four tyrannical children who are making him and his wife insane and poor. Chris (Jesse Bradford) is recently divorced but still suffers from the tyrannical rule of his ex-wife Sheila (Erinn Hayes), who uses their child to control his life.
Guys With Kids never really succeeds at being particularly funny, but had it not focused so heavily on Chris and Sheila's dysfunctional relationship, it might have avoided being actively offensive. When Cregger's Nick isn't failing at communication with his wife, he's actually quite charming and Anderson's Gary is a bit over-the-top but can still be endearing. The central plot of the pilot episode, however, follows Chris's attempt to go on a date while his ex-wife refuses to watch their son or allow him to hire babysitter. Sheila is a painfully unforgiving character who punctuates every fight about their son with the argumentative A-bomb, "He grew inside of me." And yet, despite her awfulness, Chris's weak-willed nature makes him remarkably unsympathetic.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of Guys With Kids is how how little we get of the latter. The opening installment of the show is predominantly about how these men relate to the women in their lives. Obviously, the presence of children has greatly impacted these relationship, but the actual kids in Guys With Kids are little more than props. They could easily be swapped out for new child actors without notice. In the case of Chris and Sheila's 9-month-old son (who receives the most screen time of any of the children), this makes a little bit of sense, but both Nick and Gary have slightly older kids, in addition to infants, who do little more than run around the apartment and destroy things. Outside of the challenge of finding a babysitter, the parental experience of these three men is talked of but not really shown—it's a lost opportunity for a show that could really use the help.
Guys With Kids premieres tonight at 9pm on NBC. It will air regularly Wednesday nights at 7:30pm.