With Father’s Day falling outside of the traditional TV season (which ends each year in May), the holiday doesn’t really get the “Very Special Episode” TV treatment that other holidays get.
And that’s too bad, because if there’s anything consistent about prime-time television throughout its history, it’s the role of fathers on countless shows. It’s the sheer variety of them that impresses us, ranging from the traditional (“Father Knows Best,” “Leave It To Beaver,” “Make Room for Daddy”) to the dysfunctional (“The Simpsons,” “Married With Children”).
In fact, at a newspaper where I once worked, readers chose harried, put-upon Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) of “Married With Children” as the best TV dad of all time in a survey we published one Father’s Day. Perhaps he reflected a “reality” about fatherhood that the readers didn’t see in the more ideal fathers of those classic 1950s series.
Ed O’Neill, of course, is still playing a father on TV — the patriarch on “Modern Family” who’s married to Sofia Vergara. And no discussion of fatherhood on modern-day TV would be complete without acknowledging “Modern Family,” whose other dads include Ty Burrell as Phil, and gay parents Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
“Modern Family” is a great place to start when you’re talking about TV fathers. It’s one of the highest-rated comedies on TV, and probably its most acclaimed too. But it’s just one of the many shows we have here on this site in which dads take centerstage — at least sometimes.
So, just in time for Father’s Day, here’s a sampling of classic TV dads through the ages:
1) Homer Simpson: No such list would be complete without Homer Simpson, who easily rivals Al Bundy or any of TV’s other dysfunctional fathers for dubious achievements in neglectful parenting. (Among other things, Homer is famous for practically strangling his son almost to death on numerous occasions.)
2) Ben Cartwright: The patriarch of the Ponderosa (played by Lorne Greene) in “Bonanza” is such a towering figure of TV fatherhood that we wouldn’t think of passing up this opportunity to offer you an episode of this classic TV western series in which Ben is father to three grown sons.
3) Chris Brinkley: Will Arnett plays him on NBC’s “Up All Night” — a father figure who’s more in the tradition of Al Bundy than Ben Cartwright. We’re including him here for several reasons: One is, we happen to have some “Up All Night” episodes for you to watch, but more than that, Arnett’s Brinkley represents a very timely contemporary take on dysfunctional fatherhood. And the show’s been renewed for a second season too.
4) Mike Baxter: From TV’s freshman class of the season that just ended comes this manly father figure played by Tim Allen in ABC’s “Last Man Standing.” He’s another contemporary take on fatherhood, the traditionalist who worries that manhood is in danger of extinction. This series also earned a second season, starting this fall.
5) Jim Anderson: Does father really know best? In real life and modern-day sitcoms, that’s not necessarily the case. But in “Father Knows Best,” dad Jim Anderson (Robert Young) always knew best. In the process, he became one of the best-known and best-loved dads in the history of television, and a cultural symbol of a prospering, suburban America in the 1950s. No TV fan can afford to be unfamiliar with this iconic, classic TV show.
Happy Father’s Day!