In the 1990s, NBC went through Gen X-themed situation comedies like so much hoarded toilet paper, all in an effort to find a followup to its megahit Friends. And here we are now, as NBC premieres Council of Dads, a transparent attempt to find a followup to its megahit This Is Us. The search is a little less desperate this time around, since NBC has been in the multi-culti, feel-good, extended-family space for a long time, with proven shows like Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. Still, those critical and fan favorites never rocked the ratings like This Is Us, and that does make the stakes a bit higher for Council of Dads.
Married showrunners Tony Phelan and Joan Rater (Grey’s Anatomy, Doubt) are at the helm for Jerry Bruckheimer Television. While Bruckheimer is arguably the most dominant producer of crime shows over the past two decades (all the CSIs, Cold Case, Without a Trace), shows about feelings, children, and illness are not the company's specialty. So it’s up to Phelan and Rater — who pitched Council of Dads to the network — to win over the This Is Us crowd. They’ve cast an interesting assemblage of familiar faces and newcomers that we’ll meet below.
The good news for NBC is that it will never have a more captive audience than now, nor is there a more opportune time for a show about connecting with one another. Unfortunately, the network is going ahead with its ill-considered strategy of delaying the second episode of Council of Dads for several weeks. After its debut, following the season finale for This Is Us, the show won’t return on April 30, mimicking an approach NBC took earlier this year with Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. That really seems inappropriate, given the feel-good, people-bonding themes in Council of Dads, which could deeply connect with viewers as they go through a massive and sudden disconnection from their everyday lives.
Keep checking Primetimer for updates, and when Episode 2 does finally roll around, I’ll be back with a Q-and-A with Joan Rater about the unusual twist coming at the end of this week’s pilot episode. Until then, here are the proven TV stars and newcomers appearing on Council of Dads:
Council of Dads is based on The Council of Dads: My Daughter, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be, by Bruce Feiler. He wrote the book to chronicle his decision to recruit male friends to care for his family if his life-threatening illness proved fatal. Workhorse actor Tom Everett Scott is in the Feiler role as Scott Perry. Starting out as a sitcom regular on Grace Under Fire in the 1990s, he soon landed the lead in An American Werewolf in Paris and the Tom Hanks-directed nostalgia movie, That Thing You Do! To a generation of TV viewers, though, he’s been a solid supporting actor in shows like Southland (opposite an ascendant Regina King), the underrated hospital drama Saved, and the obligatory multi-episode arc on Law & Order, where — speaking of good timing — he played the governor of New York.
Scott’s wife and the show’s most visible star, Callies most recently starred in USA’s sci-fi allegory Colony. Before that, she lit up AMC’s The Walking Dead for the first three seasons before being killed off. (Callies said at the time that she thought her character should die, since that’s what happened to her in the book. Think about that when you watch the first episode of Council of Dads.) She also has the distinction of being killed off in a TV show only to be miraculously revived later on. After a contract dispute resulted in her character, Sara Tacrendi, being written out of Fox’s Prison Break, fans were unhappy. So when Fox brought back the show in 2017, the writers found a way to bring her back … as Doctor Sara Tacrendi.
Scott’s best friend Anthony is, as almost everyone named Clive is, a British actor. Continuing our theme of actors who have appeared in dramas about fictional pandemics, he was Colonel Knox in the 2017 film Patient Zero. He’s made a number of indie films, most recently portraying professional swashbuckler Errol Flynn in In Like Flynn. On the TV side, he played a Viking on History’s more-pillaging-less-raping drama series Vikings for four seasons, and in his native UK he appeared in Doctor Who and Robin Hood.
I love Michael O’Neill. He’s like a softer Gerald McRaney. And he’s got a fine role here, as a gruff, mysterious stranger who shows up at the Perry household one day with food and later makes himself invaluable to Robin and the kids. O’Neill, who trained under Will Geer, aka Grandpa Walton, has had about a zillion TV roles, from a Secret Service agent on The West Wing to a senator on Amazon’s Jack Ryan. But the show that stands out for me is Rectify, where he played a prosecutor trying to send Daniel Holden back to prison. Besides his TV work, O’Neill currently plays a chaplain in the criminal-justice film Clemency starring Alfre Woodard.
A friend to both Scott and Robin Perry, Oliver is the tender-hearted counterpart to Michael O’Neill’s Larry. This could be the highest-profile role Richards has had since his breakout role more than 15 years ago as vampire hunter Charles Gunn on Angel. More recently Richards was a cast member of ABC’s Kevin (Probably) Saves the World and Notorious.
The millennial daughter of Scott and Robin Perry is played by Weaver, who had the lead in the OWN series Love Is ___ for one season before the wheels came off that show. Speaking of sudden endings, she’s the sister of Rosario Dawson’s character who gets car-bombed in the opening scene of Briarpatch.
Luly’s boyfriend is played by Silver, the cocky, creepy student-body president on the Netflix teen drama 13 Reasons Why. Council of Dads is only the second major TV role for Silver, who has the title role in the 2019 film The Obituary of Tunde Johnson.
Scott and Robin’s daughter is played by Tran in her first major role in either television or film. She did star in Tiny Feminists, a three-episode YouTube effort from I Ship It creator Yulin Kuang.
Anthony plays the Perrys' sullen adolescent Theo, who just wants to withdraw after learning of Scott’s illness until Larry takes a fatherly interest in him. Though he’s appeared in several films, most-notably as Jon Favreau’s kid in the 2014 comedy Chef, Anthony’s TV resumé is a little thin. It does, however, include an episode in 2012 of Grey’s Anatomy when the showrunners were… Joan Rater and Tony Phelan.
Chapman plays the Perry’s transgender child. Phelan and Rater have a transgender child of their own, and wrote a trans character into their previous series Doubt. Chapman also voices a role on the Amazon series Undone.
Council of Dads airs a special "sneak peek" tonight at 10:00 PM ET on NBC. The series returns with new episodes Tuesday April 30th.
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Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.