Sunday, June 17, 2007

TV Dads II – The Idiot Dad

It has always been a complaint about sitcoms that they've frequently portrayed Dad as an idiot. Looking over the years, and admittedly this was a very superficial look at the schedule I can't say that I really buy into the concept as being as all-pervasive as critics have claimed. To be sure there have been TV Dads who have been the weaker link in the relationship but would you really consider them idiots? Still there are some TV Dads who could probably be called idiots – without having to resort to animated characters (audio-animatronic Muppets are not animated characters).

1. George Jefferson – The Jeffersons: I have sympathy for George, really I do, but with all of his swagger and ego-mania, the man really was an idiot when it came to dealing with his family. While he loved his son Michael, he was totally against Michael's marriage because his daughter-in-law was mixed race. He became reconciled – grudgingly – to both his daughter-in law Jenny Willis, and her parents, Tom and Helen. While he was a shark in the world of business he was usually beaten down and proven wrong by the women in his life – his wife Louise, Helen Willis, his own mother Olivia, and even (maybe especially) his maid Florence. Although he isn't as bad as most of the examples that follow, I'd have to say that he qualifies as an idiot dad.

2. Al Bundy – Married With Children: If ever there was a portrait of Father as idiot it was Al Bundy. The man is a total loser, but only became one after he slept with the class slut who became his wife, Peg. He blames his family for every bad thing that happens to him – and he's usually right! He works at a dead end job to support a wife who doesn't know the meaning of the word "work" and a daughter who doesn't know the meaning a lot of words including "no" when it relates to sex. In a lot of ways his son Bud is a nerd without the skills, whose obsession with sex is the only thing that Al admires about him although not his failures in getting it. It is to his credit that Ed O'Neill, who is an intelligent and versatile actor, not only portrayed a character as stupid as Al but made it the only role that most people think of him playing.

3. Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor – Home Improvement: Tim Allen got the show Home Improvement on the strength of his stand-up act which depicted the male of the species as slightly (but only very slightly) better than baboons, obsessed with tools and "more power." He took that characterization of men and ran with it in his series Home Improvement. Tim is basically an adult sized kid with really cool toys, at least most of the time. He always wants the most powerful piece of equipment even when something less powerful – more subtle – is the better choice. The same goes for almost everything – when he builds a dance floor for a party for his son he doesn't use the number of coats of wax that the instructions say but uses a lot more. Somehow he manages to stumble and blunder his way through raising his kids thanks to adult figures like his wife Jill, and his neighbour Wilson.

4. Earl Sinclair – Dinosaurs: This is where the audio-animatronic Muppets come in. Obviously characters like Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and Stan Smith (The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad in order) would qualify as Idiot Dads those shows are still on – and besides I like to do these things with actual people. Still I think we have to acknowledge the contributions of non-human creations in this area – they can get away with a lot more in terms of abuse than actual human beings. So why Earl Sinclair? Well, the initial reaction of the "mighty Megalosaurus" to the hatching of his third child was the desire to eat him, while Baby Sinclair's constant reaction to his father is to say "Not the Mama" and to hit him with whatever object is close at hand. His son is rebellious by nature while Earl adheres to the old ways. Frequently, in fact almost inevitably, Earl is wrong and any member of his family who disagrees with him is right. Nevertheless Earl – presumably because he's at the top of the food chain – maintains the "Superdad" attitude even though he's a father who never knows best.

5. Dave Gold – The War At Home: When it comes to sitcom dads, Dave Gold is an Idiot but in the worst possible way – that is to say not in a funny way. Wikipedia describes the character as a "pigheaded, paranoid, overprotective, hypocritical bigot." A reviewer at Blogcritics, in reviewing the Season 1 DVD release said that the character of Dave's son Larry "is in the show so the father can make "fag" jokes about his own son. And, folks, I don't mean "gay" jokes; these are definitely "fag" jokes." Of course the "big" joke is on Dave – his son is straight which he doesn't discover until the second season. Even though he has a beautiful wife (who is sometimes as bad as Dave) that he loves and a family that he cares for, the character of Dave is a real idiot because of his attitudes and because unlike Archie Bunker there's neither the redeeming qualities nor the growth out of his attitudes that we saw with Archie.

Not an Idiot Dad:

Dan Connor – Roseanne: It could have been so easy to make Dan an idiot. Instead in the few episodes of the series that I've seen Dan comes across as an average guy. Unlike the Superdad he doesn't have all the answers but unlike the Idiot Dad his attitudes or actions don't descend into the absurd for the sake of comedy. John Goodman, an actor who I don't think gets the credit he really deserves, and the series took what could have been a generic sitcom dad and made him into something special; an average guy trying to make it through the day and keep it together for his family.

No comments: