'Modern Dads'? More like warmed-over stereotypes

'Modern Dads'

"Modern Dads" premiers Wednesday, August 21 on A&E. (HANDOUT / June 12, 2013)

I keep encountering a T-shirt that reads "Cool story, babe. Now go make me a sandwich."

Not just at a mall kiosk, but on actual people. I saw it on a guy outside Lollapalooza and a guy walking the bike path and another one riding the Blue Line.

By the third sighting, I began to develop a sort of affinity for it, mostly as a public-service announcement. Won't have to worry about these guys procreating, I figured. The shirt may as well say "Keep walking, ladies."

Then I saw "Modern Dads," a reality show about four stay-at-home dads. It debuts Wednesday on the A&E Network.

"A good day at the office for them is just keeping their kids, and their manhood, alive," reads the show description.

Way to keep the bar low.

I watched three preview episodes available for the press, and I was struck by how hard this show strains to remind us that these dads are, above all, dudes.

"There's a lot about monogamy that's great," Sean, 38, tells us at one point. "If I could think of any of it, I'd mention it."

The four are friends living in suburban Texas and raising kids age 10 and younger. They meet at the park and discuss poop (their own) and sex, which is mostly being had by Stone, the 41-year-old single dad who says in the season opener, "Raising a 5-year-old is a lot like dating. The puppy dog eyes. The mixed messages. And I pay for everything."

The guys try to persuade Stone to get a vasectomy.

"I know a guy that does vasectomy and teeth-whitening," Sean tells him.

They help Rick, 42, decide on a theme for his twin daughters' first birthday party.

"I just thought the Godzilla idea was pretty cool because these kids have basically done to my sex life what Godzilla did to Tokyo," Rick says. "But the princess thing is pretty cool."

His wife, Meghan, warns him, "I don't want magic brownies at this party. I don't want a keg."

I get it. Barely Domesticated Guy — dragged into adulthood, disdainful of responsibility — plays well with audiences. Judd Apatow's oeuvre banks on his likability — from "Knocked Up" to "This Is 40." Charlie Sheen turned him into sitcom gold on "Two and a Half Men."

He's just getting old.

"This isn't 'Leave It to Beaver,'" Nate says.

No, but it's not much fresher.

We did men-changing-diapers-is-inherently-funny in 1983 ("Mr. Mom"). And babies-mess-with-your-sex-life in 1987 ("Three Men and a Baby"). And dads-clown-at-birthday-parties in 1989 ("Parenthood").

Why call a show "Modern Dads," built on the idea that parenting doesn't look like it used to, and then saddle us with the same thing we've seen for decades? Why not find dads who are less interested in proving their manhood and more interested in proving their humanity?

They're hiding in plain sight. They don't need their wives to remind them not to bring pot-laced treats to a birthday party. They don't bemoan monogamy. And they don't compare their 5-year-old daughters to women they've dated.

Maybe the show will find its groove — and its heart — in a few episodes. Maybe the dads will read to their kids and resolve sibling conflicts and press pause on the vasectomy talk long enough to impart fatherly wisdom.

Maybe. I won't be watching to find out, though, mostly because of this: After the twins' princess party, Rick pats himself on the back for a job well done.

"We made that party our b----," he grins.

Which is a little worse than "Cool story, babe. Now make me a sandwich." Because these guys actually did procreate. And while they don't expect women to stay locked in the kitchen, they're just a little too quick to remind us that, at the end of the day, they think dudes dominate.

And that's not modern. Or reality.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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