Fatherly Failures: 5 of Televisions Most Terrible Dads

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The typical TV dad is an archetype so ingrained in Western culture that we need not dissect the character writ large. Picture a sweater, occasional exasperation and a pat on the back; there you have it. Another “œTV dad”meme existing alongside this My Three Sons type of paternal model is “œthe bad father,”to use the simplest terms. The bad TV dad is usually an oafish lout fueled by a mix of alcohol and self-centered eccentricities. Depending on the quality of the writing (for example, see The Simpsons, seasons 3 ““ 11), these characters can be amusing and even charming, despite the fact that they are actually terrible fathers. Rather than reach for the low hanging-fruit of your Peter Griffins or Archie Bunkers, we decided to go a bit deeper on this list: were these fathers not actor portrayals, they would be less laugh-inducing and more horridly depressing.

5 Robert Crawley

Downton Abbey’s ostensible protagonist, Lord Grantham, is more concerned with maintaining his palatial house and hundreds of acres of land he inherited than he is in raising his own children. He thinks that by acting the perfect upper-class gentleman he can create a model for others, while failing to see that the times have changed on him. One of his daughters elopes to escape his oppressive yolk; another shrivels slowly from a lack of love and attention, heading toward the life of a lonely spinster; the third daughter does exactly what Grantham wants, which is getting pregnant by her own cousin so the estate will have a proper heir. Grantham cares more about his royal name and his home’s legacy, not about the real people that live in that home and share that name.

4 Herman Munster

First off, newsflash: Herman Munster, your family is not normal””stop trying to pretend they are and embrace the strange. And what kind of freak show are you running, Munster? Just look at that house, the place needed to be condemned a century ago! Mr. Munster had his family, from young children to an aging grandfather, living in decrepit squalor: cobwebs and dust fill every corner of the home, and the fixtures and furniture that weren’t already in ruin were frequently destroyed by one of Mr. Munster’s monstrous outbursts or his clumsy stumbling.

3 Frank Costanza

Jerry Stiller created one of television’s most iconic fathers in the role of Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. He was a loud-mouthed, opinionated eccentric who never missed a chance to point out the foibles and foolishness of others. What made Frank Costanza so funny on the show is exactly what would have made him such a terrible person in real life: the man was incapable of self-reflection and without compassion for others. He eviscerated his adult son, George, at every turn. He always made us laugh, but he also made a broken manchild of poor ol’ Georgie.

2 Jed Clampett

OK, we get it: the shtick is that having a bunch of yokels living alongside the rich and famous in Beverly Hills is funny. But now imagine if Jed Clampett and family had been real people. Why the hell would they leave the land and lifestyle they loved just because of newfound wealth? We would have understood building a beautiful home and maybe putting in a lovely above ground pool on your property, but why drag your family across the country to become the laughingstock of elite society? Are you so vain and shallow, Jed, that you simply must throw your filthy oil money around just to prove you have it?

1 Al Bundy

Al Bundy from the classic sitcom Married with Children is, we admit, an extremely obvious choice for this list. But he so embodies the meme herein discussed that his exclusion is out of the question. While beer-swilling, crotch-scratching, sarcastic ol’ Al gave us plenty of chuckles over the years, if he had been a real father, he would have been a psychologically crippling monster of a man. Bundy never missed a chance to point out the failures and shortcomings of his children (and wife), insulting everything from their clothing to their grades to their physical appearances. The years of counseling and therapy Bud and Kelly would have needed after getting the hell out of that household is astounding.

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