by Mike Minch
Happy Father’s Day everybody! I figured there is no better way to spend today than by taking an in depth look at some classic TV patriarchs, and examining how the role itself has changed. For those of you who are wildly curious, this title refers to an old 70s cartoon of the same name. I guess the plot was that the kids misbehaved and the mom used that as her threat line. That leaves me to assume Pops came home and beat the shit out of them… ah, the 70s!
Howard Cunningham (Happy Days)
Howard Cunningham, as played by Tom Bosley, was the representation of the typical American father in the 50s. He owned a hardware store, was a member of a lodge, and was obsessed with his shitbox car. He was the head of the Cunningham house, and 90% of his parenting style was blustery yelling. In his defense, one of his kids was a whiny ginger who would go on to be responsible for the Grinch movie. Also, while we’re talking about Richie, every single one of his friends seemed unsavory. I mean, are you really going to trust your daughter in the same house as Ralph Malph? No wonder Mr. C was always high-strung. He had the Alpha Male “What I say is final!” demeanor to him, but his wife Marion would be able to settle him down behind the scenes. It was kind of like she was a member of his small council, only not a eunuch. Still, as decent and caring as Mr. C was as father, you really can’t get past the fact that he let his other son, Chuck, vanish without a trace after season one.
Anytime you revisit Full House as an adult, you come to a shocking realization…
No. I mean yes, but no. I have the theory, and perhaps better people than I have already said this, that the car accident that killed Danny’s wife plunged him into a moderate level OCD. Hence, the cleaning, hence him calling Jessie and Joey for back up, hence Kimmy Gibbler, who was a figment of his imagination. Come to think of it, the Tanners sort of ruled the San Francisco media. Danny and his (sort of) sister-in-law were on Wake Up San Francisco. Jessie and Joey were DJ’s on the Rush Hour Renegades. Joey went on to become Ranger Joe. Hell, the entire family practically farted out an entire telethon in a major US market no less!!!
Oh right, Father’s Day… Back on track, Danny Tanner’s parenting was all response based. He would let the kids screw up and then clean up the mess with a lecture. His parenting skills played right into his OCD. Everyone seemed to turn out okay though, except DJ as she is still Kirk Cameron’s sister.
Carl Winslow (Family Matters)
There’s really no way to have a discussion about Danny Tanner without it leading to Carl Winslow. I noticed this when I was a child; I honestly thought Reginald VelJohnson was playing Carl Winslow in Die Hard. So when he shot the guy at the end, it threw me off, but also gave me hope that he would one day respond to Urkel in the same fashion. In addition to being an officer of the law in Chicago, which I can’t imagine is easy work, he also provided for his wife, kids, sister-in-law, and mother. As if that wasn’t enough, the damn neighbor kid kept coming over and sexually harassing his daughter. As we never got to see Urkel’s parents, Carl became something of a surrogate father to him as well. You know, the type of father that screams at his son get out of the house, then smashes his stick bug, then has to go on American Gladiators to settle the issue. I’m starting to think all of the shows of my childhood were fairly ridiculous, except Dinosaurs. Like Mr. C, Carl inexplicably lost a child. Literally, Judy vanished without anybody saying a thing about it. As a kid, this idea scared me. Could I one day go up stairs to my room and be replaced by the UrkelBot, or Stefon Urkell, or Jaleel White?
Dan Conner (Roseanne)
From 12am to 4am, this show is on a constant loop at my mom’s house. In one way or another, I’ve pieced together the entire series. John Goodman pretty much nails it as Dan Conner. He is a blue-collar worker, rough around the edges, but has a sense of humor and a deep caring for his family. While chaotic, his marriage is a partnership between him and Roseanne. This is likely because they are both big, fat loudmouths. Throughout the series, Dan leads with his heart and loses his temper from time to time. He doesn’t always have the best judgment, but how could he? He was friends with Tom Arnold after all. Also, he had to deal with his sister-in-law, Jackie, hanging around constantly.
Fun Fact, Jackie went on to kill everyone in Scream 2. The second I saw her, I was like, “Oh hey, that’s Jackie from Roseanne. Yeah, she’s the killer.”
Of course all of this got thrown out the window when Dan Conner had his heart attack/left Roseanne/became Vice Dean at Greendale Community College, or whatever the hell wacky nonsense happened during the “Blues Traveler sings the opening theme song days.” Though before Roseanne jumped the shark (visualize that for a moment) Dan Conner was a great TV dad.
The Idiot Dad Era
Something weird happened to the role of the patriarch in the last decade. The father character went from being man of the house to being a village idiot. This began with Everybody Loves Raymond. Ray Romano spent the entire series being persecuted by either his woefully unpleasant wife or his overbearing mother. 90% of the episodes were centered on Ray screwing something up and having to answer to one of these women. There was even an episode where Debra had a running gag with the kids that Ray was an idiot.
Side note, isn’t kind of weird that all three of the kids on that show ended up looking like aliens?
Then it got worse. It wasn’t enough for networks that the dad be an idiot. He had to be a big, fat idiot, with a realistically unattainable hot wife. Show after show was crapped out with this scenario. Still Standing had Mark Addy essentially playing the American suburbanite version of Robert Baratheon. According to Jim had Jim Belushi, and that’s the limit of knowledge I want to retain regarding that show. All of these shows had a patriarch that was a big, blue-collar lunkhead whose hot wives had to bail them out of their weekly episodic idiocy. It was a sad time for TV dads.
The Bluth Men (Arrested Development)
Arrested Development is modern day showcase of bad parenting. In some way each of the Bluth dads are pretty bad at it. While Michael (Jason Bateman) does try the hardest to not suck, he is often very distracted by the rest of his family’s antics, and his son George Michael is left in the lurch.
Side note, Michael Cera was so much easier to take when he was a little fat kid on this show (See pic ———>).
GOB is clearly suffering from neglect as displayed by his interactions with his father’s surrogate, played by Super Dave Osbourne. Ironically enough, the moment GOB finds out he has a son, (Steve Holt!) he’s just as damn neglectful to him. Tobias seems flat out disinterested in his daughter, Maeby, and it took three seasons for Buster to find out his real father was his uncle. Yikes, I stepped into a real sinkhole here. The real question is, how did you people let this show get cancelled?!?!?!? It was brilliant!
Now all of you jerks are coming to me now and saying, “Oh hey I just started watching that Arrested Development on Netflix. You ever see that show, it’s funny, and you’d like it.”
“OF COURSE I SAW IT!! When it first aired! When it mattered for the very existence of the show. Where were you then?”
“But, Minch, it’s coming ba—”
“DON’T YOU SAY IT. Don’t you dare try and sell to me that a small chunk of episodes on Netflix is a comeback, damn you. I don’t even have Netflix!!!!”
…I might have gotten off track here. Moving on.
Louis C.K. (Louie)
The fact that you probably don’t watch this FX show is all the more reason for me to not only include Louie, but for him to be my closer. This is a show that is unlike any currently on television. For all intents and purposes Louis plays himself, a divorced comic raising two kids. In one episode, Louie is trying to get Lady Gaga tickets for his daughter’s birthday. His only connection to someone who could get them is Dane Cook, (who Louie had a very non-fiction dispute with). The interaction between the two was painful and awkward, but very real and interesting.
There are intermittent breaks featuring Louie’s standup, and frankly, every show on television, comedy or drama, need intermittent breaks featuring Louie’s standup. As it always has been, a great deal of his subject matter is about fatherhood, and a brave willingness to refer to his own child as “an asshole.” His story is that of the modern day single father trying to balance a comedy career, dating, and parenting. It often ends in chaos, but like all of us, he’s trying his best.
There you have it. Do Pops a favor today and try reading this to him while he’s asleep in his chair or watching the game. I’m sure his reaction will be priceless. I know, I know, there are a million TV dads that didn’t get mentioned here, (Alan Thicke, Tony Soprano, My Two Dads, Ned Stark, just to name a few), but there’s always next year, assuming we don’t all get clipped by the Mayans, or Zombies, or Zombie Raptors.