Grading Some Of TV’s Best (And Worst) Dads

·13 min read
Father’s Day, the holiday that caps several weeks of screaming,

Father’s Day, the holiday that caps several weeks of screaming, "What the hell should I buy my dad?" into the void, is nearly here. And this has me thinking about some of the most important father figures in my own life: the dads from the TV shows I’ve had on rotation this year. No offense to my actual father, who does dutifully text me every single day (about the Wordle), but as a streaming writer and avid TV watcher, there’s no denying that Jim Hopper and I are just spending more time together these days!

So what makes an amazing (or awful) TV dad? You could certainly judge them on their onscreen actions, or on vibes alone. You could discount both entirely and grade strictly on the curve of hotness, or you could look at the bigger picture and evaluate them on more than just the sum of their frequently subpar parts, like I’ve decided to do here. So, in honor of Father’s Day, here’s my ranking of the best (and worst) TV dads in my life at the moment.

Photo-illustration: Brooke Greenberg/BuzzFeed; Skip Bolen/Peacock / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; HBO, Everett Collection: Chris Haston / NBC, Colin Hutton /Apple TV+, Kelsey McNeal / ABC

15.Cal Jacobs (Eric Dane) — Euphoria

Cal Jacobs

Grade: F

Do I even need to explain my reasoning here? In the words of Marsha Jacobs, “Put your penis away.”

Watch Euphoria on HBO Max.

HBO Max

14.Ted Wheeler (Joe Chrest) — Stranger Things

Ted in Stranger things

Grade: D+

Ted Wheeler, aka the dad from Stranger Things who just straight-up sucks, has become an actual character for the first time in Season 4, and it turns out, when given more than one line per episode (which is a generous guesstimate), he sucks even more.

*Sort of spoiler alert for Stranger Things Season 4*

Beyond questioning the presence of the best Stranger Things kid (yes, Dustin IS the best one, I will not be taking questions at this time) in “his” house and then suggesting that it’s plausible for Mike and his friends to be sacrificing innocent teens in Hawkins, Ted Wheeler is emotionally absent trash. Poor Karen… I mean, on the one hand, it’s good she didn’t wind up leaving Ted for Billy, on the other… At least Nancy, Mike, and the seemingly unnamed third Wheeler sibling seem thoroughly unfazed by their dad’s unabashed lack of effort.

Watch Stranger Things on Netflix.

Netflix

13.Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) — Friends

Ross and his son, Ben

Grade: C

Some of these fathers appear repeatedly on round-ups of great (or terrible) TV dads across many a publication, and how could they not? A lot of the dads on this list are such Dads™, it’s nearly impossible NOT to think of them when you think of memorable men with children on TV. Such is not the case with Ross Geller. When you think of Ross Geller’s most notable moments across 10 seasons of Friends, where are his children? When he’s making a pro and con list for the so-called love of his life? When he’s lying to her about sleeping with someone directly following that incident? When he’s dating that student that’s 12 years younger than him? With Ben, Ross had a slight bit of slack because he’s one of three co-parents, but with Emma, it’s just him and Rachel, and yet it still seems like Rachel’s doing pretty much all the parenting. And when Rachel’s considering moving to Paris with Emma, is Ross’ main concern being an ocean away from his daughter? Nope, it’s losing Rachel. Not to be controversial here, but…Ted Lasso vibes. Plus, remember how weird he got about Ben playing with a Barbie doll? And how against Emma’s male nanny he was? Ick.

Watch Friends on HBO Max.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

12.Doug Gardner (Michael Rapaport) — Atypical

Doug and his wife in Atypical

Grade: C+

When I started writing this, I had Doug Gardner ranked a LOT higher, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he kind of sucks. And not in the typical TV absentee dad way (although he did literally abandon his family for a year to “process” his son’s autism diagnosis). A lot of Doug’s parenting choices are truly terrible ones, and yet he always has the audacity to criticize his co-parent (who, admittedly, is also flawed) over the littlest misstep. Also, anyone who is anti-Casey and Izzie is a personal enemy of mine. He gets points for making some effort when he does finally come around, and a few more points for eventually trekking all the way to Antarctica with Sam, but, man, has he fallen from grace since I started thinking about his character’s journey... What a sad revelation.

Watch Atypical on Netflix.

Beth Dubber / Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

11.Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) — The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Abe working at his newspaper job

Grade: B-

I wouldn't consider Abe Weissman to be one of the best dads on TV, but I would consider him to be one of my favorite fathers of all time (my own father actually agrees with this assessment). Between his overall neurotic personality and his unbridled and frequently unjustified rage, Abe is an absolute wild card in both of his children’s lives. Still, he has his moments, like when he yells at Joel for, well, everything. Or when he offers his very small paycheck to Midge to help support her after she takes him and Rose in (after Abe quit his tenured teaching job on a whim and blew up everyone’s lives, I might add). He's a grumpy and reluctant grandfather, still harbors plenty of sexist views despite letting all the women in his life take total care of him, and can't remember the name of Midge’s one friend (typical). And yet, I can't help but adore the strange little man anyway.

Watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Prime Video.

Amazon Studios

10.Craig Foster (Craig Robinson) — Killing it

craig in killing it

Grade: B

I'm operating on limited information regarding Craig Robinson’s relationship with his daughter, Nessa. Sure, our first impression of Craig involved him suggesting Nessa go handle the large lizard that fell onto the hood of his car because he's “not good with reptiles,” but he’s only had one season so far, so there's definitely time for Craig to grow. Plus, even when he's living part-time in his car while he rents out his apartment for some extra money (only on the nights Nessa isn’t there, I might add), he's still on time(ish) to take Nessa to school. Unfortunately, Craig's a bit too busy hunting pythons to give us any significant signs of fatherly excellence, but he is sort of doing all the entrepreneurial stuff to take care of Nessa, in a way…

Watch Killing It on Peacock.

Peacock

9.Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) — Schitt’s Creek

Johnny Rose holding a baby

Grade: B+

For all his faults, there's no denying the love I have for Johnny Rose (of Rose Video). Whatever mistakes he made prior to the pilot of Schitt’s Creek (of which there were most certainly many) frankly feel like none of my business. Sure, he hardly knew his kids while they grew up, but that's what living next door to them in a motel is for! And boy, does he really make the most of those formative-ish years. Plus — although it really should be the bare minimum at this point — Johnny’s acceptance of David and Patrick’s relationship really warms my heart. My favorite Great Dad™ moment of Johnny’s, though, isn't actually between him and either of his biological children, but when he’s consoling a heartbroken and embarrassed Stevie after the ultra-cheap motel awards ceremony. At the core of all his missteps (financial and otherwise), Johnny just wants to take care of the people he loves.

Watch Schitt's Creek on Netflix.

CBC / POP / Courtesy Everett Collection

8.Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) — Bob’s Burgers

Bob and Linda in Bob's Burgers

Grade: B+

I don't often make it a habit of developing crushes on cartoon characters (and don't say Peter Pan, or Simba from The Lion King, or Scar from The Lion King, or Kovu from The Lion King II: Simba's Pride), but Bob Belcher just makes my heart flip like one of those probably mediocre burgers he spends all day cooking. Maybe that makes me biased toward the quality of his fatherhood, but I think where other animated dads always seem to fall short, Bob really comes through. Yeah, a lot of the time spent with his kids is spent totally bewildered by their wild stories and oddball interests, but at least he's there to be bewildered and never once deterred by their antics. I haven't yet seen The Bob’s Burgers Movie, but I'm positive that Big Screen Bob is just as solid of a dad (and man).

Watch Bob's Burgers on Hulu, and see The Bob's Burgers Movie in theaters.

Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection

7.Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) — Black-ish

Dre Johnson and his wife in Blackish

Grade: B+

Andre Johnson has an alpha-male exterior that I would usually see as a bright red flag, but underneath, the father of five always shows up for his family, even if he is spouting some “man-of-the-house” BS as he does it. On a good day, he can deliver an excellent heart-to-heart, and on a not-so-good day, a very, very bad take (or two). But whether his good intentions behind even the most unfortunate choices are simply shining through, or there’s yet another crush at play here on my part, I think Zoey, Jr., the twins, and Devante are lucky kids (even luckier to have Bow as their mom, though…).

Watch Black-ish on Hulu or Disney+.

ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Burt Hummel (Mike O'Malley) — Glee

Burt dancing for Kurt in glee

Grade: A-

Burt Hummel is the poster boy for excellent character development on a show that enjoyed dragging each and every one of its once-exceptional characters through the mud. From the steady evolution of his feelings about Kurt’s sexuality to the glow-up of both his personal and professional life, Burt is an underrated icon. Even when he struggles to be the father Kurt needs, Burt always stands up for, protects, and advocates for Kurt. And when Finn comes into the picture, he makes sure to be there for him, too, while still being conscious of Kurt’s complicated feelings surrounding the whole situation. Say what you want about the basic and at times gruff midwestern man, but you CAN’T say he isn't trying — especially after that "Single Ladies" dance number he gifts Kurt at graduation.

Watch Glee on Hulu or Disney+.

Fox

5.Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) — Ted Lasso

Ted in Ted Lasso

Grade: A-

Although Ted’s technically above-average grade is attributed to his fatherhood, I’m judging his abilities based mainly on his coaching skills, because, in a very out-of-character move, he’s relocated an ocean away from his actual son. That being said, for the players (and player-adjacent people) he’s decided to pass down all his dad jokes and motivational speeches to, Ted is a pretty great father figure, right down to the fantastic mustache. He looks the part, he sounds the part, he bakes the biscuits for the part, and sometimes he drinks a little too much for the part: He’s the quintessential Great TV Dad™.

Watch Ted Lasso on Apple TV+.

Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

4.Jim Hopper (David Harbour) — Stranger Things

Jim Hopper with Eleven in the woods

Grade: A-

I don’t know that I have the emotional stability to even get into Jim Hopper’s relationship with his first daughter, Sara. But judging by the way he speaks about her (or often, can’t bring himself to speak about her), Hopper was the best dad he could have possibly been to Sara during her tragically short life. And then came Eleven, who, pardon the cliché typically reserved for rescue animals, definitely saved Hopper as much as Hopper saved her. Foul-mouthed, stubborn, and unhinged as he can be (see: his multiple confrontations with Mike), Hopper would (and nearly does, on several occasions) die for Eleven, and probably any of her friends as well (the jury is still out on Mike). He’s not the perfect sitcom dad we wanted, but he’s the rough-around-the-edges sci-fi dad we needed, and if we don’t get an El and Hopper reunion in Stranger Things Season 4 Vol. 2, the Duffer Brothers will be receiving a very strongly worded letter from me.

Watch Stranger Things on Netflix.

Netflix / Everett Collection

3.Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) — Modern Family

Phil and Hailey at her college

Grade: A

Beyond being an undeniable snack, Phil Dunphy is a fantastic TV father for several key reasons:

1) It's obvious he takes his job as a dad SERIOUSLY, far more serious than his silly little real estate gig.

2) He's just barely mature enough to pull off being a dad, to the point where often Claire is left taking care of him as he attempts to take care of everyone else. IRL this would be a red flag, but on a sitcom? Be still, my heart! How adorable that this messy, foolish man who can barely take care of himself is trying so hard (and succeeding!) to take care of everyone else.

3) Phil’s-osophies… Phil Dunphy elevates the concept of fatherly wisdom to a whole new, incredibly absurd level by literally writing down his best revelations in a book. And you gotta love him for it.

In summary: Haley, Alex, and Luke are lucky to have him as their dad (and Claire is a very lucky woman).

Watch Modern Family on Peacock or Hulu.

ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

2.Luke Danes (Scott Patterson) — Gilmore Girls

Luke in his diner

Grade: A+

Has there ever been a TV dad better than Luke Danes? Luke, who doesn’t even know he’s a dad but is already helping to take care of Rory, stepping in as a stabilizing force for Jess and, let’s face it, serving as Kirk’s father figure? And that’s all pre the Season 6 introduction of April Nardini — about whom my feelings have been made quite clear — but setting aside my irritation at Luke’s surprise daughter, April did allow us to see just how deeply Luke cares about being a good dad under his gruff exterior and all that flannel. Especially in comparison to the other father figures of Gilmore Girls, Luke Danes is a treasure.

Watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Warner Bros.

1.Garry (aka Jerry, Larry, or Terry) Gergich (Jim O'Heir) — Parks and Recreation

Garry smiling at Chris

Grade: A+

Though his stellar dad reputation is most definitely tainted by his rampant accidents (both bathroom-related and otherwise), Garry Gergich was an excellent (and maybe even cool?) father. Garry, who drops the ice cream scoop straight off his cone pretty much half the time and has accepted he will almost always be the butt of the joke, can flawlessly flip dishes while dishing out fatherly wisdom when he’s in the presence of his three daughters. The stark contrast between his societal identity and his familial one certainly has me wondering: Does the father make the family or vice versa? Whether he’s seriously stepping up to the dad plate at home, or so distraught away from his girls that he’s rendered a buffoon, no one, not even Tom, can deny Garry Gergich’s greatness.

Watch Parks and Recreation Seasons 1–2 free on Peacock.

NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection