Who’s Your Daddy: Television’s Best Dads

Good fathers are a common trope on television, possibly because there are so few of them in the real world. Which makes it a challenge to narrow them down to just a few of our favorites. What follows is our top twelve, and we salute them, as well as the also-rans like Eric Taylor, Tony Micelli, Michael Bluth, Howard Cunningham, Mike Brady, Stephen Keaton, Henry Spencer, and James Evans. Happy Father’s Day, and thanks for making our real dads seem so inferior!

1. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby), The Cosby Show
Let’s be honest: Bill Cosby was everyone’s dream dad in the ’80s. When he wasn’t making us laugh with his wholesome comedy routines, telling stories of Fat Albert and the gang, or extolling the virtues of pudding pops, he was delighting us all as Heathcliff Huxtable: obstetrician, jazz aficionado, husband, and father of five. Cliff was silly, kind-hearted, competitive, embarrassing, available to help whenever one of his kids had a problem, and usually clad in a fluffy sweater that just begged to be hugged. He was even chosen as America’s top TV dad in a Harris Interactive poll, the favorite among respondents of all races, ages, and political affiliations. Take that, Ward Cleaver.

2. Dan Conner (John Goodman), Roseanne
If Cliff Huxtable was the dream dad of the ’80s, Dan Conner was the reality. This beer-drinking, blue-collar everyman worried about money, fought with his wife, yelled at his kids and suffered through the recession along with the rest of us. But through it all he was the emotional center of a ground-breaking show that wasn’t afraid to give us an imperfect, realistic take on the American family. You never for a second doubted that Dan would do anything for his kids, and his triumphs were all the more meaningful because he had to work so hard for them. It’s possible he even helped us understand and appreciate our own over-worked, imperfect dads a little better.

3. Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), Castle
Best-selling novelist Richard Castle is something of a playboy, a bit irresponsible, and frankly kind of self-centered. Except when it comes to his teenage daughter Alexis, whom he’s raised without any help from Alexis’ even-more irresponsible mother. He’s pretty much the ideal dad, to be honest. He has fun hanging out with Alexis (they have laser tag tournaments in their tony Manhattan apartment!), but he’s not afraid to set limits when he needs to. He trusts her, because he’s raised her to be trustworthy. He values her opinions and takes her advice as often as he offers his own fatherly guidance. In fact, the wonderfully heartfelt interactions between this father and daughter are one of the things that sets Castle apart from the other crime procedurals crowding the TV landscape.

4. Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), The West Wing
As we learned in the fifth season episode, “Abu el Banat,” to be a father of daughters is to be a man deserving of sympathy, and Jed Bartlet is the father of three very headstrong women. He may not always know how to relate to them, and he may not always approve of the choices they make or the men they marry, but he makes damn sure they know he’s always in their corner, like when he tells his middle daughter, Ellie: “The only thing you ever had to do to make me happy was come home at the end of the day.” *wibble* And on top of that he somehow manages to run the country AND co-parent his loyal inner circle of staffers (with a little help from Leo, of course).

5. Mitchell Pritchett & Cameron Tucker (Jesse Tyler Ferguson & Eric Stonestreet), Modern Family
Like any first time parents, Mitch and Cam have suffered their share of mishaps, like the time they accidentally locked baby Lily in the car (pshaw! Let me tell you about the time my two-year-old locked her babysitter out of the house). But on a show that’s all about the push and pull of family, these two dads are the perfect yin and yang. Between the two of them they’ve got all the bases covered—they’re smart, affectionate, serious, fun-loving, responsible, spontaneous, athletic, and artistic—ensuring that Lily (and any other children they might adopt in the future) will never want for anything.

6. Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), Veronica Mars
While we sometimes wished that Keith had kept a shorter leash on Veronica, you can’t deny that his example is the reason she grew up to be the clever, strong, fiercely independent champion of the underdog that we know and love. And the fact that the touching bond between this father and daughter was able to transcend the skeletons they each kept tucked in their respective closets is nothing short of miraculous. Even when it seems like the rest of the world is against them, Keith and Veronica always have each others’ backs. And dessert for dinner to ease some of the pain.

7. Howard “Bunny” Colvin (Robert Wisdom), The Wire
On a show with nary a good parent to be found (even the so-called good guys weren’t exactly model parents), Maj. Colvin stands out, not only as a father-figure to the officers who served under him and the neighborhood he wanted to protect with his Hamsterdam experiment, but to the corner kids he tried to help after he was pushed off the force. Even when his middle-school program was terminated, he did the one thing he could do—he pulled Namond out the thug life his mother was pushing him towards by convincing the incarcerated Wee-Bey to let the Colvins take in Namond and raise him away from the streets of West Baltimore. Namond’s out there somewhere right now, getting ready to go off to college thanks to his foster-father, Bunny Colvin.

8. Charles “Pa” Ingalls (Michael Landon), Little House on the Prairie
Charles Ingalls did all the things you’d expect of a frontier-based SuperDad–protecting his offspring from wolves and rogues, carrying them across frozen rivers, keeping the fires stoked during bouts of fever and ague. He even welcomed prairie orphans into the family and put his own dreams of farm life on hold to work in the city during drought so no one would starve to death. But what makes Charles most memorable is his ability to put the 1800s behind him and rock the 1970s sensitive man fathering. Whether gently chastising his Half-Pint to set aside her selfishness or mourning the loss of his son, Charles Ingalls’ mix of stoicism, emotion, and gentleness makes him a pioneer in masculinity as well as the wide prairie.

9. Julius (Terry Crews), Everybody Hates Chris
Julius might be best remembered for his penny-pinching–heaven help you if you try to use an eletrical appliance–but he comes by it honestly. He works himself to the bone at multiple jobs to try to provide for his family in the big city. Julius is a lovable combination of big softy and unwilling disciplinarian (with a belt for every crime) who is a good example of making the best out of the little he has. He labors to make Thanksgiving and Christmas memorable for his kids, but his idea of the perfect Father’s Day is spending the day alone (or having the kids paying the bills). And as one of the hardest working dads on our list, he’s earned it.

10. Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
No, technically Giles wasn’t a father. But Joss Whedon’s shows are all about constructed families and there’s no denying that Giles was a father to not only Buffy (filling the gap left by her deadbeat dad), but also to the rest of the Scoobies, most of whom didn’t fare very well in the parental lottery. Teaching Buffy to kill vampires was the easy part–it was teaching her to survive the rest of the world that turned out to be hard. Without the benefit of biology or the even the advantage of similar temperaments, Giles forged a bond with his Slayer that was far stronger than most “real” dads ever manage to achieve, and was the glue that held the rest of Buffy’s “family” together to boot.

11. Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley), Glee
As soon as you see that Burt’s only reaction to his son’s football-by-way-of-Beyonce exploits is to worry that Kurt is too little for the game, you know the truth: this baseball cap-wearing, Deadliest Catch-watching dad adores his kid, regardless of his sexuality or skin care routines. It’s pretty clear that Burt often doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s going on in Kurt’s head, but that doesn’t stop him from being by turns insistent on better behavior, a safe place to land during scary times, and fiercely protective (bullies beware: we hear he’s got a flamethrower). Contrary to his reputation, Burt’s not perfect–he’s a man of his generation and is still more likely to wish his kid would tone it down than demand that the world deal with Kurt dialed to 11–but this widower works hard at parenting and has good results to show for it, both with Kurt and with his new stepson Finn. Even with some gender fail, Burt’s version of The Sex Talk will likely be a great model for real-life parents for years to come.

12. Walter Bishop (John Noble), Fringe
While it seems unlikely that Walter’s own son, Peter, would nominate him for this list, our affection for this shattered genius is such that we can’t help including him. Okay, yeah, he’s got all of the ego and bad temper you’d expect from a mad savant, his childlike (and childish) mentality is often a trial for poor Peter, and, okay, he did sort of conduct unethical experiments on children and steal Peter from his real dad. But STILL. His love for his son was strong enough to literally tear a hole in the universe. And his intentions in doing so were unselfish and pure, even if he might have inadvertently destroyed two worlds in the process. And can you really blame Walter for loving his wife too much to watch her lose Peter twice? I know I can’t, and neither could Peter, even if he’s the one who has to go on all the two a.m. strawberry milkshake runs.


Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Andre Braugher on the two-hour season premiere of House tonight. If you’re mourning the overlooking of Generation Kill a bit today, you’re probably already familiar with Braugher’s Emmy-winning role in David Simon’s previous work (with Paul Attanasio and Tom Fontana, of course), Homicide: Life on the Street. If you’re not familiar with said work, get thee to the DVD-rental service of your choice immediately, because Braugher’s Frank Pembleton is one of the greatest TV performances of all time. You may also have seen Braugher in the recent miniseries Thief, the short-lived Practice spinoff Gideon’s Crossing, doscudramas like The Tuskegee Airmen, Soldier’s Girl, and 10,000 Black Men Named George, and shows like Hack and, of course, Law and Order. You could watch Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars; or the season premieres of Heroes, Castle, the CBS comedy block, or CSI: Honey Barbecue; or the kickoff of Accidentally On Purpose (unintended pregnancy–always hilarious!)–but why would you when Andre Braugher will be on your screen? While I’ve been a leetle less enchanted with House lately, Braugher is an irresistable force–putting him up against immovable object House (and to-date still-Emmyless Hugh Laurie)? Can’t. Wait. House, longer than usual and hopefully with less Thirteen, tonight on Fox at 8pm Eastern.

CASTLE Could Use Some LIFE Lessons


Three weeks in, Castle has settled in to a predictable pattern typical of crime procedurals. The good guys are called to a grim murder scene; red herrings take said good guys down some dead-end paths; good guys crack the case and cleverly wring a confession out of a worthy foe. It’s the state of the television union these days.

And that’s the problem–Castle brings little new to the table beyond Nathan Fillion. Hey, we think he’s fab, but we find ourselves tapping our toes impatiently through the minutia of the investigative scenes waiting for more of the droll-yet-tender interactions between Castle and his teenage daughter, or more fun with Castle’s phone. Castle’s background as a best-selling author has yet to be truly exploited (he may as well be a wise-cracking cop back from probation)–even Temperance Brennan’s literary exploits have been better woven into Bones‘ storylines, and she’s usually busy playing with femurs and fungus. Fillion’s a gem, but he can’t make plots used ten years ago on Law & Order seem fresh.

Maybe Castle‘s makers should take some lessons from Life.

They’re both crime procedurals. They’ve both had obligatory episodes with creepy flower imagery and overly convoluted symbolic clues. Both shows include wacky distractions at home for the heroes. Both quirky crime-fighting protagonists are paired with by-the-book female cops who grudgingly come to respect their partners, quirks and all, while maintaining a friendly antagonism. The major difference between the two is that Life has a dark streak half a mile wide. Life‘s mysteries, in addition to feeling fresher, dig into the twisted and sad lives of victims and perps alike (the music on Life is fresher, too). Dani Reese’s eyerolling at her partner is tempered by the fact that she’s a recovering addict, the daughter of a dirty cop, and probably shouldn’t be dating her boss (said boss’s and partner’s bemusement at termporary Dani fill-in and mayor-to-be Jane Seever’s lack of a dark side brings a tart amusement). Rick Castle has been married a couple of times. Charlie Crews learned all kinds of deadly skills in prison after being framed for murder–he just tries to find his Zen place so he doesn’t use those skills.

At the same time, Life doesn’t give up on life. It never goes to the bleak extremes of the CSIs of the world (which, to be perfectly fair, get many, many more viewers). While the second season has been more diffuse in lining up suspects in the framing mystery, it has also more neatly underlined the fight between redemption and vengenace that still rages in Charlie. Most other crime procedurals just don’t take on the issues of trust, growth, and failure in their leads that Life manages to balance with every mystery of the week (even the aforementioned and charming Bones places the emphasis on its regulars’ lives on romance instead of redemption). Life isn’t perfect (this week’s crying jag between Ted and his long-lost daughter was embarrassing, and that’s hard to do to Adam Arkin), but it has something to say–one of Castle‘s problems is that it’s glib, but it’s not saying much. Come over to the dark side, Rick Castle. You can bring your phone and your kid.

Have Fun Storming the CASTLE Premiere Tonight


Look, we are fond of Nathan Fillion. There’s no getting around that. I don’t cotton well to horror movies, including (especially?) those with lots of cheap latex effects, and I sat through White Noise 2 for Nathan Fillion. I sat through SlitherSlither, people–for Nathan Fillion.

So what are the chances I can sit through a derivative dramedy procedural for Nathan Fillion? Very high indeed. Pilots are what they are, so we’d like to see Castle get some time to unfold to discover whether it can take full advantage of Fillion’s charms. Given that it’s airing in the plum slot after Dancing with the Stars (sigh), there’s a good chance we’ll get to see that unfolding. And you know, given that such a plum slot decreases the chances of Nathan Fillion slipping off our TV screens again, here’s to the hoofers. Premiere tonight on ABC at 10 Eastern and Pacific.

ABC Orders Five Pilots to Series

Mid-season is going to be a busy time on the ABC schedule–the network has picked up three new dramas and two comedies, including Rob Thomas’ Cupid and the police procedural Castle, starring Nathan Fillion.

Development has been delayed this year due of the writers strike, and ABC has only one new scripted series on the schedule this fall (Life on Mars). The five newcomers will join returning series Lost and Scrubs (making the jump from NBC to ABC) and new animated half-hour The Goode Family at mid-season.

Castle stars Fillion (formerly of the quickly-canceled Fox series Drive and Firefly) as a novelist who helps the NYPD solve murders. (No, really, that’s what it about.) Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Susan Sullivan and Stana Katic co-star in this “comedic procedural” from exec producers Armyan Bernstein, Rob Bowman and Laurie Zaks. The word comedic in there gives me some hope, since a little dash of comedy is often just the thing to make an otherwise dull procedural zing (see House, Life), and Fillion’s comedic talents are nothing short of exceptional. Let’s hope he has better luck at the Mouse House than he’s had on Fox.

Cupid is a reinvention of exec producer Rob Thomas’ (Veronica Mars) 1998 romantic comedy about a man who claims to be Cupid (as in the actual Roman god of love) and the therapist assigned to suss out if he’s crazy. Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson will step into the roles originated by Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall. The original Cupid was outstanding, so let’s hope Thomas can recreate the magic.

The Unusuals is another comedy-tinged drama set inside the NYPD, but this one’s an ensemble about a quirky police precinct. Harold Perrineau (guess we won’t be seeing much more of Michael on Lost), Amber Tamblyn, Jeremy Renner, Adam Goldberg, Kai Lennox and Terry Kinney star in this series from Noah Hawley and Peter Tolan.

Half-hour comedy Better Off Ted stars Jay Harrington as an office worker attempting to move up the corporate ladder. Portia de Rossi and Andrea Anders also star in this series from Victor Fresco (of the late, lamented Andy Richter Controls The Universe).

And finally there’s Single With Parents, another half-hour starring Alyssa Milano as a woman juggling her career with family and friends (played by Annie Potts, Beau Bridges and Amanda Detmer). Eh.

ABC has a few other projects in the works that may yet see the light of day as well. The buzzworthy Prince of Motor City and Captain Cook’s Extraordinary Atlas are both rumored to be still in the running for pick-up.