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The greatest characters ever: Father Figures

Emmy Commemorative 2012

“Father Knows Best,” at least in the persons of easygoing, expansive Charles Ingalls and Cliff Huxtable. Each of them throws open the door to his inner sanctum, like Mr. Roarke welcoming you to Fantasy Island, clearly delighted to share with you his wit and wisdom at length.

To be sure, some wise papas would rather die than sit you down for a sermon. About them you might say, “Father Knows Best But He Ain’t Talkin’.” There’s a courtly, Old West reticence about rancher Ben Cartwright, possum hunter-turned-millionaire Jed Clampett or rifleman Lucas McCain, each of whom will speak softly and deliver life lessons solely by example — often on horseback.

The type can run from mellow (Steve Douglas, paterfamilias of His Three Sons) to grumpy (spunk-hating editor Lou Grant). Either way you may not hear much from them, but whenever they’re proud of you, you can’t miss it.

And then there are the households where “Father Knows Nothing.” Comedy dads tend to be saddled with an amusing blind spot, like “Family Guy” Peter Griffin chafing to live in a simpler time. Al Bundy is a blowhard with entitlement issues, while Phil Dunphy and his dealings with his “Modern Family” are complicated by his pixilated Walter Mitty dreams. These guys aren’t dumb, though they can do and say dumb things.

In dramatic series, hapless fathers aren’t know-nothings, but rather recognizable human beings with real foibles. Bill Henrickson can’t manage the “Big Love” in his polygamous household, though he manages to do good for the community in his political career. Eric Taylor occasionally fumbles when dealing with wife and football players, but scores again and again with his inspirational oratory under the “Friday Night Lights.”

These are good men and flawed men; just like your dad, probably. Just like everybody’s dad.

The female characters who broke ground in television did so bit by bit, their voices growing ever more prominent, their lives that much richer and more complex.

Emmy Commemorative 2012
Critic says ‘MASH’ top show of character
Anti-heroes | At your service | Authorities | Crimesolvers | Father Figures | Goundbreakers | Height of Hijinx | Heroes | Inseparable Duos | Journeyers | Ones of a kind

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