The Saturday Evening Post’s “TV’s Greatest” series is an ongoing look at the greatest characters, songs, and moments in the history of TV. Also see “Best “Best Friends,”“Supernatural Detectives,””Spin-Offs,” “Lawyers,” “Doctors,” and “Best and Worst Moms.”
With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to celebrate the best dads from TV history. Of course, not all dads are great, and for that reason, it’s also time to take a look at the worst ones, too. Here’s your 10 Best and 5 Worst. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
TV’s 10 BEST DADS
10. Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal with stunt doubles Lateef Crowder and Brendon Wayne)
The Mandalorian (2019-present); The Book of Boba Fett (2021-present)
From the moment that Mandalorian bounty hunter Din Djarin finds the child who we would later learn is named Grogu, he is a great dad in the making. Djarin quickly puts Grogu above himself, taking him back from the Imperial Remnant and going on the run. Though he entrusts Luke Skywalker to train Grogu in the Force for a time, their bond is too strong for them to be separated. After Djarin and his people retake their homeworld of Mandalore, he makes official what we had known all along and adopts Grogu as his own.
9. Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith)
That ’70s Show (1998-2006); That ’90s Show (2023-present)
Red Forman is the apotheosis of the tough-love dad. As a veteran of both World War II and Korea, he approaches parenting with an old-school, no-nonsense style. Though he does frequently call his son Eric (and Eric’s friends, and well, most people) “dumbass,” he still cares and tries to impart some wisdom and common sense on kids. And while Red’s hard-nosed nature is a frequent source of laughs and an ongoing high point of the series, it helps make serious emotional moments stronger. In the current spin-off series, Red hasn’t changed much; he’s a little easier on his granddaughter, but he’s still convinced that pretty much everyone is a dumbass.
8. Dan Conner (John Goodman)
Roseanne (1988-1997, 2018); The Conners (2019-present)
The avatar of blue collar fathers everywhere, Dan Conner has represented the hard-working “fun dad” for more than 30 years. As the easy-going foil to the abrasive Roseanne (Roseanne Barr), Dan frequently has the softer touch with the kids (particularly Darlene, whom he never discouraged from being a tombody early on). However, that good nature doesn’t stop him from laying a beatdown on the abusive boyfriend of his sister-in-law, Jackie. As the character of Roseanne gets more over-the-top over time, Dan provides the grounding for the series. After ABC fired Barr following offensive tweets, the revived Roseanne was renamed The Conners and centers itself more squarely on Dan.
7. Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell)
Modern Family (2009-2020)
The clueless dad has been a fairly standard comic archetype for a while, but Ty Burrell’s take on Phil Dunphy is so good that it makes it seem like he invented it. Phil stands out as a dad that takes active note of things that his kids are interested in and tries to refer to them on their level, even if it does make the kids roll their eyes. He also comes across as an incredibly well-meaning guy; though he is competitive, he sets an example by just being nice. He occasionally clashes with his daughter Haley over her choices, but it comes from a place of being honestly protective and devoted to his kids.
6. Mike Brady (Robert Reed)
The Brady Bunch (1969-1974); The Brady Bunch Hour (1976-1977); The Brady Girls Get Married/The Brady Brides (1981); A Very Brady Christmas (1988); The Bradys (1990)
Mike Brady is the widowed father of three boys who instantly gains three stepdaughters when he marries Carol Martin (Florence Henderson). As the patriarch of a blended family, Mike has to negotiate integrating his parenting style with Carol’s while also learning how to parent young women. In his favor, Marcia once gets him recognized as “Father of the Year” by the local paper after writing an essay about him. Mike’s demeanor is almost always level-headed as he tries to give the kids advice that would help them solve their own problems.
5. Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson)
Perfect Strangers (1989); Family Matters (1989-1997)
This may be up for debate, because how good of a 1) dad and 2) policeman are you if one of your kids just vanishes, never to be seen again? (While the fourth-season removal of younger daughter Judy Winslow was never explained, she probably lives a nice life in the Chuck Cunningham Home for Disappeared Sitcom Kids.) Nevertheless, while Carl Winslow is part of a tradition of frequently befuddled sitcom dads, his heart is in the right place. Interestingly enough, some of the character’s best paternal moments come when he is nice to annoying neighbor Steve Urkel. Urkel tests Carl’s patience, but he learns to tolerate, and even mentor, the eccentric genius.
4. Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon)
Little House on the Prairie (TV movie pilot, 1974; series, 1974-1982); Little House: A New Beginning, (1982-1983); three additional Little House TV movies (1983-1984)
We know that Laura Ingalls Wilder had a lot of great things to say about her father in the series of books that she wrote about her life. Michael Landon took that starting point and built an enduring picture of a good friend and great dad who isn’t afraid to take in other kids as the need arises. Across a pilot film, eight seasons of the original series, one spin-off season, and three further TV movies, Landon played Ingalls with wisdom, understanding, and humor. With the occasional wicked fiddle solo thrown in, of course.
3. Philip Banks (James Avery)
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
An incredibly accomplished character actor, James Avery’s legacy would have been cemented for ’90s kids as the voice behind Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, it was his turn as the occasionally imperious but always wise Philip Banks that made him a TV dad legend. Avery often played the stiff foil as the rich uncle to the hip, young Will Smith, but his flair for mining both comedic moments and emotional depth shined through. In what is possibly the greatest moment in the series, Will had an explosive outburst when he realizes his absentee father is ditching him again; as Will breaks down in tears, Uncle Phil wraps him in a fierce hug, letting Will (and the audience) know that he is all the dad he needs.
2. Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley)
Happy Days (1974-1984); Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-1983)
Howard Cunningham is always an understanding father to Richie and Joanie, even if he doesn’t seem to notice that Chuck vanished (presumably to found the Chuck Cunningham Home for Disappeared Sitcom Kids). He also plays surrogate dad for Potsie, Ralph, and even The Fonz. He also taught by example, like the time that he hustled a group of kids that took Richie’s money at poker; Mr. C. pretended to be an amateur, won Richie’s cash back for him, and then gave him an extra weekend of work at the hardware store to reinforce the lesson. As the show goes on, Howard and Marion (Marion Ross) opened their home to even more relatives and friends of their kids. Though he can get comically frustrated, Mr. C. is generally an even-keeled guy and often has a kind or wise word for everybody.
1. Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith)
The Danny Thomas Show (1960); The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968); Mayberry RFD (1968-1971); Return to Mayberry (1986)
Sherriff Andy Taylor is the kind of dad everybody wants. He’s kind, thoughtful, good-humored, helpful, and willing to dispense advice. More than anything, he’s tolerant of the faults in others (as evinced by his friendship with Barney and his willingness to let Otis keep a courthouse key so that he can lock himself up when he gets drunk). Taylor also has the distinction of being a rare single dad on 1960s television, and as such sets a template that many others can emulate, even if they never quite equal it. During the spin-off series, Mayberry RFD, Andy marries his long-time love, Helen, and they have a son named Andy, Jr. Curiously, Andy, Jr. is neither seen nor mentioned in Return to Mayberry, presumably having moved into, you guessed it, the Chuck Cunningham Home for Disappeared Sitcom Kids. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see that Andy Taylor is TV’s Greatest Dad.
TV’s Five Worst Dads
5. Ted Wheeler (Joe Chrest)
Stranger Things (2016-present)
Whatever great qualities that dads like Howard Cunningham have, Ted Wheeler lacks. Bothered by his children, intolerant of their friends, inattentive to his wife, and given to sleeping through life-or-death crises, Ted regularly demonstrates that he is the worst. An internet theory speculates that Ted is secretly a CIA agent keeping tabs on the weirdness in Hawkins, Indiana, but that would clearly give Ted too much credit.
4. Walter White (Bryan Cranston)
Breaking Bad (2008-2013); Better Call Saul (2015-2022)
At one point, Walter White means well. Suffering from cancer, the chemistry teacher seeks to build a nest egg for his family by making and dealing drugs. However, Walter’s obsession soon becomes his own power and identity, and not doing what’s best for the family. He is dismissive to his son and even kidnaps his own daughter. We guess he got what he deserved, because Walter White will be remembered as a bad dad.
3. Arlo Givens (Raymond Barry)
A lifelong criminal, Arlo Givens is the father of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). He is abusive to both his wife and Raylan, and actually has contempt for his son pursuing law enforcement. Arlo also aligns himself with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who was an old friend of Raylan’s but also a career criminal. During the first season, Arlo even conspires to turn Raylan over to another bad dad, Bo Crowder. Fortunately, Raylan foils the plot; unfortunately, Arlo is still his father.
2. Every Dad on Game of Thrones (except Ned Stark and Davos Seaworth)
Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
When we say that nearly every father on Game of Thrones was terrible, it’s because it’s true. Ned Stark cared deeply for his children, both his five with his wife, Catelyn, and two boys he raised: Theon Greyjoy and Jon Snow. Ned tried to impart honor and worth to his kids. Davos Seaworth tried to be a good father, but lost his four oldest sons in one fell swoop at the Battle of the Blackwater. Past that, essentially every other father from Robert Baratheon (who had no real interest in his kids) to Tywin Lannister (who treated Tyrion like a monster for the “crime” of being a dwarf) to Roose Bolton (an abusive traitor) ran from terrible to monstrous.
1. Logan Roy (Brian Cox)
When you essentially set up a process that will cause your children to openly feud against one another for control of a company that you know is already $3 billion in debt, you might’ve already won the title of TV’s Worst Dad.
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