Carter, Tanya, and Alan Thicke
Robin Thicke might hate these blurred lines, but his father sure doesn't. (Not like that!)
Alan Thicke, the erstwhile patriarch Jason Seaver on Growing Pains, returns to TV on Wednesday on Unusually Thicke (10/9c, TVGN), his reality-sitcom hybrid that's real, but not really. The series follows Thicke, 67, and his self-professed modern family, 16-year-old son Carter from his second marriage, and his third wife Tanya, who is 28 years his junior. It's authentic in that every interaction and piece of dialogue on the show is unscripted, but not totally legit in that they semi-stage the situations the trio finds themselves in.
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"It's real with a nudge and a wink," Thicke tells TVGuide.com. "It's part-reality, part-sitcom. I never was so presumptuous to think that we're interesting enough to be followed around with cameras with no plan and have it at all be entertaining. My insecurity about that was, 'Let's have a story.' We tell our stories, but we'll do it in an embellished kind of way. We're not scripted, but we are plotted."
Take the series premiere. Carter and Tanya accuse the actor of hoarding things, even swag bags — Thicke describes himself as a "sentimentalist" — and Carter suggests that they have a garage sale. (Unsurprisingly, the proud Canuck argues that his hockey gear is off-limits.)
"We start adding the other elements, like, 'Why don't you have a celebrity auction? Bring in Bob Saget,'" Thicke says. "So I knew he was coming, but acted like I didn't. But everything that happens [at the garage sale] is real. We wanted to do something a little different like that — taking family drama but showing the funny side of it. What we're hoping for is we'll find that niche. Most of what we show is our reality, but you have to give that last little punch."
Thicke, of course, knows a thing or two about playing for laughs. Besides Growing Pains, the actor was a game show and talk show host (Thicke of the Night, anyone?) and most recently parlayed his self-deprecating style into a recurring role as himself on How I Met Your Mother. (His take on the polarizing finale: "They didn't sugarcoat anything and give you a happy ending. But it was a sentimental, realistic, appropriate ending.") He hopes viewers will take Unusually Thicke's heightened reality and sitcom-esque tropes at face value. "I think it's more entertaining if you buy into the notion that this is real and is really happening," he says. "We're authentic enough that you can believe it."
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And some people already have. "It was amusing to me to read a very flattering review in Entertainment Weekly last week. ... One of his remarks was, 'The beauty of it all is that Alan Thicke doesn't realize how hilarious he is by not being in touch with new technology and being stuck in the '80s,'" Thicke says. "I'm thinking, 'I'm so glad that he liked it, but of course I know what I'm doing there!' We're presenting a character that is true enough to form. I definitely have that limitation and I'm always trying to explain the '80s to my son and my wife. ... But of course we're completely self-aware when you play those stories or those parts of your personality. Part of my stock in trade has been some sort of deprecation. That includes being techno-stupid. I thought it was hilarious that they thought we didn't know what we were doing. I guess that's a tribute to how real we look occasionally that people are buying that reality. "
So what else can you expect on the "quasi-reality" show?
1. Canada Walk of Fame
Thicke was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame last year and used the opportunity to poke fun at himself for the show. "We have a bunch of great people who did tributes. I sucked up to them to get them to say nice things. In our story, it turns into a roast," he says. "We have Bill Maher, Adam Sandler, John Stamos, Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Saget, the How I Met Your Mother cast and Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Jordan. We got them all to participate and it was great."
2. Bill's balls
Like Saget, Bill Maher is an old pal, who has quite a history with Carter. "[Carter] hit him in the nuts with a pool cue when he was a kid. Bill was playing pool, and Carter, 6 years old, went and jammed him," Thicke says. "Bill doubled over and hasn't been the same since, as you'll see."
3. Baby talk
One story line that is completely unscripted and is still "to be continued" is Tanya's desire to have a baby. Thicke, who has three sons, doesn't want a fourth child. "And yet I can't deprive Tanya of that," he says. "My big concern is ... would I be an adequate parent at this stage in my life? Will I be around long enough? Will I have the energy? I've been a very hands-on dad to this point with my three boys. As corny as it sounds, it really has been my priority in life. I only know one way. I don't know how to do it hands-off, like, 'I'm gonna play golf. You're in charge.' I don't think I can do that. It's an ongoing real-life dilemma."
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4. Speaking of kids...
Yes, his musician son Robin will pop up on the show, and no, it does not bother Thicke if you just know him as "Robin Thicke's dad." "I get all kinds of Robin love and I love that," he says. "Somebody asked me in an interview not too long ago, 'Are you jealous of Robin's musical success?' I said, 'You don't have kids, do you?' Because any parent would understand. It's a great thrill." As for his eldest Brennan, his son's job presents quite the quandary for Thicke when he tries to have the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" talk with Carter. "In real life, Brennan owns a medical marijuana dispensary, a cannabis shop. It's completely legal," he says. "The challenge is the great hypocrisy of how do you support one kid's business while at the same time telling the other one not to smoke weed? We do a whole episode about that."
5. The Thickenator
In real life, Thicke has turned down offers to endorse a male enhancement pill, but naturally mined that for comedy gold and dirty wordplay. "I'm thinking, 'How can I get away with that?'" he says. "On the show ... the name of the pill became The Thickenator. The motto: 'For the stronger, longer you.' We made a whole story about me becoming the face of penises. And the title of our show is Unusually Thicke, remember." Spoiler alert: He also turns down the gig on the show and is replaced by... David Hasselhoff. "You'll have to watch to see how he does it."
6. Show me that smile again
The Seavers are still tight in real life and have get-togethers every now and then. Kirk Cameron bailed on their latest one, which made for the usual Unusually Thicke fodder. "He was on the road, so he sent a video. I took that reality and said, 'OK, now I'll pitch a Growing Pains feature film where we replace Kirk Cameron. Who am I gonna get to replace him and be Mike Seaver?'" Thicke says. "And we cut to John Stamos." Stamos is in — on one condition though. "John says, 'I'll do it, but you gotta drag it into this millennium. I think the Seavers should be a family of vampires — gay vampires! Yeah, that's what we need to be: gay vampires!' That's his pitch for the new Growing Pains," Thicke says. "Maybe [viewers] will be watching and waiting for the movie."
Unusually Thicke premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on TVGN. Watch a sneak peek below.