Interview: Seth Green talks ‘Dads’ controversy

On the surface, “Dads” (premieres Tues. Sept. 17 at 8:00 p.m. on FOX) probably seemed like a basic, even family-friendly, sitcom. Best friends and video game company co-owners Warner (Seth Green) and Eli (Giovanni Ribisi) find their lives derailed when their respective fathers David (Peter Riegert) and Crawford (Martin Mull) move in with them. A home run, right? Not exactly. 

Given that Seth McFarlane is the brains behind the operation, it makes sense that buttons would be pushed. What might be more surprising is how unfunny the pilot is. While I wasn’t laughing over the small penis jokes and cliched cracks about Asians and Puerto Ricans, nothing else struck me as particularly funny, either — and apparently I’m not alone in yawning, as plenty of critics have given the show a firm thumbs-down. Still, no one can fault the talented cast doing their best with subpar material — including Green. I spoke to Green after a heated panel at TCAs, and found his defense of the show more engaging than the show itself. Here’s what he had to say about FOX traditions, “All in the Family” and why he thinks the naysayers just don’t get it. 

HitFix: Were you expecting such an angry reaction from the crowd?

Seth Green: I didn’t really think it was angry but it was definitely, definitely challenging.  And, you know, it’s just to be expected.  I remember when ‘Married with Children’ came on the air.  I remember when all of the shows that Fox is famous for pioneering [debuted].  Even things like ‘The Simpsons,’ initially those are always met with a little bit about of outrage, a little bit of disorientation. It’s not easy for us as a culture to have our own bad behavior as sort of a magnified and put right in front of us. But that’s always been television’s role is to provocatively challenge an audience to evolve.  And I think comedy is one of their greatest and simplest ways to make people think in a way that’s nonthreatening.

HitFix: Do you think this is a generational thing? That younger people define racism differently?

Green:  I absolutely do.  And I just had this conversation downstairs.  The communication has evolved to such a degree that kids under 25 can connect to each other so quickly and so immediately that they really don’t have the patience or understanding for, you know, for inherited rhetoric.  They don’t need to listen to the old wives’ tales and the general bullshit of their parents of the previous generation because they’ve experienced something in their own life that contradicts it.  And so, you know, it’s evolving even more quickly.  And you think about the generational gap between us and our grandparents that’s not as wide as the gap between us and our children.  Because the kids are born into this pure informational technology age where before they can even speak their operating touch screens, you know what I mean? And so they communicate with each other and they just don’t believe in all of the inherited like racist or incorrect points of view. They just don’t believe it.

HitFix: So they listen to their peers, not their family, when it comes to this kind of material?

Green:  They have a direct line of communication to their peers around the world.  It’s not just in their town.  It’s not just in their neighborhood.  It’s not just in their house or their family.  It’s around the world.  And so you got a wider, you know, marketplace to have your comparative analysis.

HitFix: Why are you doing a TV show?  We know you have your own little empire with ‘Robot Chicken.’ There’s so much going on for you.

Green:  I love acting.  Acting’s always been my first love.  I grew up watching multi-camera television shows.  Shows like ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘Family Ties’ and ‘The Golden Girls.’  Shows were about real people living real life that was hilariously funny because it was socially and culturally provocative.  And so, you know, the conversation I had with Seth McFarlane and Alec [Sulkin] and Wellesley [Wild] was that’s the show we all grew up on, that’s the show they wanted to make. And I thought I would absolutely be in for that.

HitFix: Even with those traditions as a reference, do you think Seth McFarlane is trying to change what we expect from television? Push the envelope?

Green:  I can’t speak to anyone else’s expectations but, you know, he and I have talked about this. We’re weirdly in the position to make the kind of shows that we want to. And so you take that responsibility seriously and try and make good things that solve the same questions or answer the same desires as the stuff that we watched.  We all complain oh, the TV shows not like what it used to be. It’s not because culture has evolved. And so the question is can you ask the same kind of questions? Can you create the same kind of conversations amongst the audience because we as a culture haven’t evolved all that much, you know what I mean?

HitFix: We haven’t evolved as a culture? That’s depressing.

Green:  It’s just the way it is.  I’m sure it feels very sad when we look at it in the microcosm of our lifetime.  But if you really look at culture over the existence of culture we’ve come really far.

HitFix: I was talking to someone recently who said that, if you don’t think racism exists, hello, Trayvon Martin. So, have we taken big steps? Is the discussion changing?

Green:  I think we have evolved significantly [but] I think we still have exactly the same issues. If you watch any footage or listen to any recordings or even read any of the transcriptions of the political speeches over the last 200 if not 400 years, they’re all the same thing.  Same thing.  You can sub in the villain or the problem.  We’re all still talking about economics; we’re all still talking about the bulk of government; we’re all still talking about the freedoms of the people.

HitFix: A lot of you on the panel today mentioned ‘All in the Family.’ Do you think we need to return to how that show addressed issues?   

Green:  Remember how that show was perceived.  What we all thought was that we’d solved the problem.  We Clearly, we haven’t.

HitFix: I think ‘All in the Family’ became a reference for the panelists because it’s such a classic. Is the thinking that time will prove the show is just ahead of the curve? 

Green:  I don’t know. I don’t know, I haven’t really — being in that room was the first time that I heard people say that we had a pressure to perform.  We’re all just concentrating on making a great show.  And we hope the audience will discover it in their own time.

HitFix: What’s up for ‘Robot Chicken’?

Green:  We are in pre-production on our seventh season right now.  And we’re working on our Christmas special at the same time that I’m directing our follow-up to our DC comics special.

HitFix:  So how are you balancing all this?  You have a lot of balls in the air.

Green:  I’m a good juggler.

HitFix: Well, good luck. And hopefully the rest of the day will be easier. 

Green:  We’ll see, we’ll see how it goes.  I appreciate people’s questions.  I love a good debate.

HitFix: One more thing. Since you started in television, what do you think has been the biggest shift up until today? 

Green:  Well, the biggest change is the Internet.  When I was on ‘Buffy [the Vampire Slayer’] we had posting boards and people could leave a message for you and then responded to the message that was left.  There was no real-time communication.  There weren’t entire industries set up so that a viewer could watch television the same time that they’re on three or four different forms of social media.  So the volume of content available to the viewer has increased exponentially.  And so the amount of promotion and publicity that you need to do to even attract people to your thing is, it’s incomparable.  That’s the biggest thing that’s changed for me.  Well, and also the ratings don’t really matter because the viewers are going to find your content, they’ll find it wherever they want it.

HitFix: Do TV critics matter? I don’t mean that as a trick question, by the way.

Green: I think people always appreciate somebody else’s informed educated opinion.  To the degree that anybody with a computer can offer a journalistic point of view whether or not they have a degree, it sort of alters the validity of you have to place on anyone’s individual comment.