BEST AND WORST TV DADS
Dads on television come in all shapes and sizes. The box options for dad's to check on resumes is vast. Many are the brunt end of the jokes for wives, kids, in-laws, neighbors, family and the world at large. As a tribute to Fathers Day we are celebrating the best and worst in dads. We never see the guys in a mundane world, there is always something happening. Pitfalls to get around and worlds to save. There are very few days when these guys can just be dads, but they do their best, or worst, week after week for as long as you find what they are doing interesting
TV dads represent a little bit of many people. They are pieces of the many, coming together to make the whole. They are champions and sometimes they are an embarrassment. They do right, they do wrong, They make mistakes and the come off like heroes. They are dads.
Frank Gallagher - (William H. Macy) - Shameless - Not only is Frank Gallagher the WORST TV dad ever, he may be the worst TV person, period. On the show Shameless he is a drunk, narcissist and overall despicable human being and those are his good traits. He games the system for a living and occasionally hangs with his pseudo girlfriend Shiela who also collects disability. Gallagher is the occasional "dad" to six children on the show who have pretty much resigned themselves to the fact that they don't really have a "dad." On a particular show he hooks up with a barfly who is awaiting a heart transplant and has a large life insurance policy. He weasels his way into becoming the beneficiary and while she's in the shower a hospital calls with news of a possible heart for her. He tells the hospital she's dead already...'nuf said.
Andy Taylor - (Andy Griffith) - The Andy Griffith Show - Hands down, no argument, the BEST television dad in history was Sheriff Andy Taylor. The show was part "To Kill a Mockingbird" part "Little Rascals" and 100% rural Americana. All the planets were aligned for The Andy Griffith Show and it brought together the genius of Griffith, Don Knotts, Frances Bavier and Ron Howard, who at the age of 6, already showed signs veteran chops as an actor. Opie grew up in front of America's eyes from age 6 to age 14 and America learned most every valuable lesson about life, love, sharing, giving and growing and laughed their asses off while doing it. Ernest T. Bass, Floyd the barber, Emmit's Fix-It-Shop, Gomer Pyle, Goober Pyle, The Darlings, Jubal Foster...we could go on and on.
Dr. John Robinson - (Guy Williams) - Lost in Space - A cheesy spin on the Swiss Family Robinson story by Johan Wyss, Lost in Space was a story of Dr. John Robinson, an astrophysicist, who took a round airstream trailer with less dashboard controls than a '62 Volkswagon into space with a family of 5, a fellow astrophysicist who is hot for his oldest daughter, a stowaway sociopath named Dr. Smith and a clunky robot, called, well...robot. The rest is television magic as Dr. Robinson guides the fam through adolescence, growing pains, love interests, giant alien monsters and Dr. Smith's repeated attempts to get them all killed...no wonder they call the 60's the golden age of television.
Fred Flintstone - (voice of Alan Reed) - The Flintstones - It would take decades and The Simpsons to unseat The Flintstones as the most successful animated series in history but The Flintstones was still the first "prime time" animated series in history. The show was a dead ringer take off of the successful Honeymooners series of Jackie Gleason. Fred didn't actually become a dad until late in the show's third season and parenthood did nothing to slow down his penchant for trouble, get rich schemes or other stone age mayhem. He does have some great friends including Anne Margrock, Mick Jadestone and the Rolling Boulders, The Beau Brummelstones which makes him a cool dad by any standard. Truth be told, The Flintstones 'jumped the shark' when Pebbles and Bamm Bamm entered the picture.
Archie Bunker - (Carroll O'Connor) - All in the Family - The man who said the things that too many Americans were thinking and had the common sense, class and decency to keep it to themselves. Gloria, you're dad was a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, blue collar narcissist and one of the funniest bastards to ever grace the small screen. It was television. Yeah it bit a little close to home for most liberal thinkers but if you get past that aspect he was a decent guy who just existed as a victim of his times. Years later the character of Archie Bunker would re-appear as the entire Rebublican leadership in the country with white collars instead.
Tony Soprano - (James Gandolfini) - The Sopranos - He was the dad on the best television series in the history of television and a good chunk of his character development over the course of the six seasons that the show ran was his relationship to his wife and kids. He was a shit-bum for a husband but as a dad, well, he provided for his family by running the North Jersey mafia, hanging out in a strip club full of silicon implanted "Snookies," and killing people. That was cool until daughter Meadow and son Anthony Jr. found out...fatherhood was pretty much downhill from there. Despite their existential issues with the source, the kids never stopped taking and Tony never stopped "providing."
Ward Cleaver - (Hugh Beaumont) - Leave it to Beaver - Being father to Wally and "the Beav" was no easy task and took patience and several trips to the den each evening to drink it off. Looking back, Leave it to Beaver was simultaneously every parent's nightmare and every parent's dream circa. 1960's America. The Beaver was lily white America's version of juvenile delinquency with peanut butter and jelly stains and a milk mustache. He got into all kinds of trouble that kids got into for generations and Ward would teach the lessons while the boys sat in matching pajamas and shared the same fully stocked bedroom. Ahhh the visions of our youth!
Gomez Addams - (John Astin) - The Addams Family - Alright here's one of the 'cult classic' dads in television history. I've recently re-visited The Addams Family which, to my delight, has gotten better as I age. The hidden innuendo was far ahead of it's time and the macabre has had a resurgence of sorts. Gomez, father of Pugsley and Wednesday, is eccentric, wealthy, aloof and a damn lot of fun. Who hasn't wanted an exploding train set their entire life? As a dad, well, look at Wednesday who raised killer spiders and carried around a Marie Antoinette doll post guillotine and Pugsley who actually guillotined it! These are well adjusted children who would be at home in any household post "Glee," "Friday Night Lights," and "American Idol" America.
Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill), Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) - Modern Family- Four fathers make up the Modern Family Dads. Ed O’Neill saves his good dad rating as patriarch Jay Pritchett. He also tops the dad list for the hottest wife for his second marital choice. Jay’s son-in-law, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) wants to be one of the guys, even for his two teenage daughters. He is a big lovable lug that means well. Phil is passive and steps aside to let his wife bulldoze her way through the family affairs. Jay’s son, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and his partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet) have adopted a Chinese daughter. They make their way through fatherhood but as their daughter ages, you get the impression she will be running the household soon. We would have named them the first gay dad household but just could not buy the whole ‘live-in man’ scenario with Uncle Bill (Brian Keith) and Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot) on Family Affair.
Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) - Boardwalk Empire - Nucky Thompson is an adopted father on Boardwalk Empire. Sure, he had the birth father killed and dumped in the Atlantic but he loves those kids. Nucky has multiple affairs on wife Margaret, who is no slouch in the extramarital rutting department. Nucky runs the Jersey shore for the purchase or procurement of anything illegal. Nucky Thompson is more comfortable with giving orders to feed more bodies to the fish then he is spending ten minutes as a dad. He can buy love and impress oldest boy, Teddy, and pay for any medical procedures needed by youngest daughter Emily. The parental side of Nucky stops there.
Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) – Bonanza - A single father on the lone prairie, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) raised three sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. The family ranch, The Ponderosa, was a 600,000 acre ranch along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. At 937 square miles, The Ponderosa was the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. The west was tough on the women in Ben's life and the Cartwright wives dropped after spawning a son each. Ben was dad to kids that went in all directions emotionally, personally and morally, with English, Swedish and French Creole bloodlines running in their veins. Through the magic of television, Bonanza chronicled the American west between 1861 and 1867 in its fourteen year series run, from September, 1958 through January 1973.
James Evans, Sr. - (John Amos) - Good Times - James Evans, Sr. became a father quickly on Good Times. The show was one of the many spin off children of All in the Family. Good Times descended from Maude but when the producers decided to give Maude housekeeper Florida her own show they changed her firefighter husband Henry to struggling husband James, making no mention of Maude and moving the couple from Tuckahoe, New York to inner-city Chicago projects….other than that, not a lot of changes. James Evans was a black, working class dad in an inner-city project, a new concept on television. Mr. Evans Sr. was a pretty straightforward, no nonsense guy. Nothing to challenge or portray an angry black man. All black community politics were handled by eleven year old son Michael (the militant midget) and the carefree, loving living on welfare attitude that much of the audience expected was handled by older teen J.J. “Dy-no-mite” Evans. (James Jr.).
Maurice - (Maurice Evans) – Bewitched - There were no last names for the witch/warlock contingent on Bewitched. Samantha’s dad was Maurice (Maurice Evans). Maurice treated every scene and set like an Elizabethan stage. Sweeping Shakespearean gestures and dialogue were taken for granted by daughter Samantha and Endora, who referred to Maurice as ‘my daughter’s father’ and thought of their marriage as ‘informal’. His relationship with son-in-law Darrin (Duncan? Durwood? Dustbin?) was strained. Maurice was a warlock, with hundreds of years under his cape, no need to tolerate fools or mortals.
Jed Clampett - (Buddy Ebsen) - Beverly Hillbillies - What a dad! He not only discovers oil (black gold, texas tea) in the backyard while huntin’ possum but decides to move the family from the hills they called home to the hills called Beverly….movie stars and cement ponds. Jed Clampett was the wise man for family matters and the practical voice of reason for the questionable banking practices Mr. Drysdale threw at him weekly. Jed threatened a lot of ‘tan your hide’ or ‘to get a whoopin’’ but never through with threats. His shock meter never registered more than a ‘well doggies’ as admonishments for daughter Ellie May and nephew Jethro. Jed tried to live with the cash but you can take the dad out of the backwoods but never take backwoods out of the dad. He wore the same clothes in every show proving clothes shopping is an unnecessary evil.
Porter Ricks - (Brian Kelly) – Flipper - Porter Ricks was a single dad with two sons to raise and a park/marine preserve somewhere in the Florida Keys to maintain. Given the heavy work load and family responsibilities, it is no surprise that Porter’s companion became the show’s star and namesake, Flipper. The aquatic Lassie took things space age for the 60’s. Whether the dog wagged the tail or the tail wagged the dog did not matter. Flipper could ride on his (her) tail….backward, and make a lot more noise, both above and below water. Take that pooch. Porter Ricks may have been a dream dad for a lot of youngsters….kids living on the water, riding dolphins and with not a lot of parental supervision... and it was always summer, Forget Neverland and Oz, take me to the Keys!
Homer Simpson - The Simpsons - Homer Jay Simpson lived a Hollywood dream. He went from a bit role on three episodes of the Tracy Ullman show to debuting as head of The Simpson household in December 1989. Homer's character seems mild compared to future toon dad Family Guy’s Peter Griffin. Homer was an everyman dad and factory worker. He was overweight, maybe a little clumsy and landed just this side of inappropriate but dude could hold a burp and get his lips to shake like jello on the fault line. Homer played support dad to son Bart for a few seasons, letting his skateboarding first born get all the attention and the great lines….”eat my shorts”, really, Bart, that coulda been your dad’s catch phrase? Homer played the quiet dad, letting his kid get the cred but started taking a stance for lazy, heavy drinking dads across the land. Homer got away with the stuff that was only a dream to many of us.
Alan Harper - (Jon Cryer) - Two and 1/2 Men - You can point fingers and deride Alan Harper for personal choices and severe lack of parental guidance. Alan is the “because-I-said-so” kind of Dad. Alan has a lot of shortcomings but it was his couch surfing at the home of brother Charlie that landed he and his kid, Jake, a Malibu address. Alan does very little, as a house guest, as a contributing member of the household and as a dad. He is available if needed, I guess. Alan is probably the least involved dad on television. It is difficult to put him on the worst or best side, there are very few dad things Alan does that can be measured to decide on his role of a father. He is a dad just because, you know.
Walter White - (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad - Walter White is there for his son if he can be. Walter's son, Walter, Jr., has cerebral palsy. Big medical issues seems to gallop at a full clip through the White household. Walter, Sr. was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Teaching science at his high school day gig took a backseat to the ‘second job” he took to pay the mounting bills. Walter White became a meth maker, then dealer, then major supplier, getting meaner and colder as each minute and deal passed. Walter does his best as a dad but each day his moral compass spins faster and faster, never pointing in any one direction. His job as a dad suffers the same fate as every other aspect of Walter’s life as he transitions from a sympathetic to an extremely unlikable character on Breaking Bad. Forget about judging him as a dad, you might want to take a look at who you are pulling for.
George Jefferson - (Sherman Helmsley) - The Jeffersons - George Jefferson (Sherman Helmsley) successfully moved his family up to the East Side, way uptown. He spent two years en route as a Queens neighbor of Archie Bunker. I am sure a ‘deluxe apartment in the sky’ was more appealing but two years with Archie’s biting words nipping at you could probably bring a little nostalgia even for the ‘hood. George had opinions but he was a good dad. His bark was way louder than his bite, but dad George did have one bad ass strut. George Jefferson spent twelve years as a tv dad, ruling over the family and appearing in all 253 episodes of The Jeffersons. He was a self-made man and an American success story, a small business owner that started and managed a string of dry cleaning stores. George shared more than a street address with neighbor Archie Bunker. The two had the same way of dealing with the world, though George had more street smarts and his schemes for taking care of his family were at the heart of each episode.
Al Bundy - (Ed O'Neill) - Married With Children - Al Bundy got married because he got drunk and asked Peg to marry him. He had children because he got married, Married With Children is where Al was in life when we met him in 1987 and where he stayed for the show’s eleven year run. Things never got better for Al in his life. Wife Peg has a if-it-moves-mount-it attitude, as does daughter Kelly. Son Bud, who proud dad Al named after a beer, would love to be a slut to take care of his perpetual horniness, but can’t ‘cause he’s kind of a geek. The Bundy bunch were a laugh-a –minute, step-by-step guide on what not to do. As a family, they ways to yank the fun out of dysfunctional.