Father’s Day is the perfect time to thank your dad for all his hard work with cards, whiskey, and golf-themed socks. Or, if you’re really cheap, you can just watch a really good father-oriented episode of television with him.
There are a lot of different types of dads, and over time, TV has evolved to represent the myriad kinds of men we have in our own lives. Wherein once upon a time we were presented with the ideal, masculine, briefcase-toting, never-home working father, we now have dads to match the men we actually know. Soft, funny, angry, drunk, absent, silly: dads and father figures of all shapes are represented on shows these days.
No matter your own relationship with your dad, there’s likely a father-child relationship on TV that matches even the most awkward of familial situations, and we’ve put together a list of some of the best dad-centric TV episodes to celebrate that.
Hal Wilkerson, Malcolm in the Middle
“Rollerskates” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Serious mom paired with silly dad is a regular trope on TV, and Malcolm in the Middle’s Hal and Lois are the king and queen of it. In “Rollerskates,” Lois throws out her back screaming at Reese and ends up bedbound, fighting against Hal’s attempts to medicate her. Meanwhile, Hal teaches Malcolm to roller-skate so he can beat Reese’s team, showing off his skills and even impressing his son. “Rollerskates” is memorable mostly for Hal’s ridiculous, timeless scenes that see him rolling out full-blown figure-skating routines in a head-to-toe blue sparkly outfit, epitomizing his ridiculous, silly, extremely dad energy. Hal is mostly seen as pretty useless, but “Rollerskates” sees him finding something he’s really, really good at.
Luke Danes, Gilmore Girls
“Wedding Blues” (Season 5, Episode 13)
As Luke finds out later in the series, he is an actual dad to daughter April, but his most notable father-child relationships aren’t actually with his own kid. They’re with Jess, the nephew he constantly spars with, and Rory, future-girlfriend Lorelai’s daughter, who he feeds and cares for every day. In season seven, Lorelai writes a letter commending Luke for his involvement: “Luke has been a sort of father figure in my daughter’s life,” she wrote. But “Wedding Blues” sees his unspoken competition with “real” father Christopher come to a head, as they fight and Luke gets hurt that Christopher says he isn’t her father: “Well, then where the hell were you when she got the chicken pox and would only eat mashed potatoes for a week, or where were you when she graduated high school, or started college?” he yells, cementing his status as lovable, stoic pseudo-dad.
Frank Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
“The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Now, Frank is not a good dad by any stretch. But there are many bad, selfish dads out there, and maybe they just need representing on TV, too, if only so we can be grateful that ours aren’t quite as bad as Frank. In “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention,” all of Frank’s badness reaches a truly terrible peak. When he starts to go off the rails, his children and friends step in as they believe he is no longer fun to drink with. He attempts to sleep with Dennis and Dee’s aunt but ends up with their cousin, Gail the Snail. They call in professional reinforcements for a full-blown intervention (complete with gun!) and end up being united by just how awful they all are to, well, everyone. Including each other. A happy ending!
Phil Dunphy, Modern Family
“Good Cop Bad Dog” (Season 2, Episode 22)
Phil and Claire also partake in the silly dad/serious mom trope, even if it’s a more toned-down version than Hal and Lois. In “Good Cop Bad Dog” Claire tries to teach Phil a lesson about undermining her by forcing him to be the bad cop for once and yell at Alex and Haley for not cleaning their bathroom. Claire takes on Phil’s more fun “job” of taking Manny and Luke go-karting, but both parents take their new roles too far, with Claire forcing the boys to eat too much junk food and Phil turning into something of a dictator. It doesn’t quite work out — “You poked the bear!” Phil screams at one point — and they both return to their old roles of good cop/bad cop, the natural order of things for many families.
Sandy Cohen, The O.C.
“The My Two Dads” (Season 4, Episode 9)
Sandy Cohen is a great dad to his actual son Seth, but where he really excels is with his adopted tearaway Ryan. From the first couple of episodes wherein he convinces his wife to take in Ryan, then his client in his work as a public defender, Sandy has been staunchly defensive of Ryan and of his role as his stand-in dad. In season four, Ryan’s long-absent real dad shows up, fresh out of prison and claiming to be suffering with cancer. Sandy invites him over for dinner, but they soon get into a scrap — and sweet, calm Sandy ends up punching Frank in the face (an Atwood specialty!). Chatting about the altercation later on, Sandy apologizes that it didn’t work out with his dad — to which Ryan says, “Hey, my dad is right here” (cue tears). It might not always work out with your real dad, but families come in all shapes.
Louis Huang, Fresh Off the Boat
“Louisween” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Louis Huang often tends to be the king of silly dads, with Jessica serving as the firm hand. While she loves Christmas, an opportunity for organization and showing off, Louis adores the silliness of Halloween. Jessica, naturally, hates it. Desperate to instill the spirit of Halloween in his wife, Louis dresses up as Pete Vampras (Pete Sampras’s bloodsucking cousin from Transylvania). Jessica, staying home from the festivities to work on her novel, resists Louis’s desperate attempts to scare her — from ghost stories to heads in the oven. When he eventually confesses to her how much it hurts his feelings that she hates Halloween, they compromise with an early morning November trick or treat. Family life: It’s all about compromise!
Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
“Women in Garbage” (Season 5, Episode 11)
Ron Swanson, famously, hates kids. Really, he hates anything fun or cuddly or silly. So when he starts dating a woman who has two daughters, it looks like a recipe for disaster. In “Women in Garbage,” Ron stays at the office to babysit Diane’s daughter, finding himself massively snowed under. On the second day of babysitting, he enlists Ann’s help, and when it all goes horribly wrong he’s terrified to tell his new girlfriend that he messed up. But it’s all okay: Diane laughs it all off, and is touched by Ron’s concern and investment in the well-being of her daughters. She tells him she loves him for the first time, and eventually, they have their own little baby together. It just goes to show that however messy parenthood can be, if you’ve got love for your kids, you can probably figure it out one way or another.
Frank Costanza, Seinfeld
“The Serenity Now” (Season 9, Episode 3)
Some dads often tend to get worked up over, well, nothing. Frank Costanza, much like his son George, blows up at the slightest thing, so in the iconic Seinfeld episode “The Serenity Now,” he is advised by his doctor to keep calm in order to keep his blood pressure down. He’s told to say “serenity now” anytime he feels himself getting stressed, but chooses to yell it instead — something that catches on with Kramer and other characters throughout the episode. “The Serenity Now” perfectly showcases Jerry Stiller’s comedic yelling and both of the Costanzas’ beautiful, ridiculous tempers. Maybe try to teach “Serenity Now” to your dad next time he can’t get the TV to work?
Martin Crane, Frasier
“Our Father Whose Art Ain’t Heaven” (Season 4, Episode 8)
If there’s one thing that’s pretty much universal with fathers and sons everywhere, it’s that they find it difficult to express their emotions. In “Our Father Whose Art Ain’t Heaven,” Martin, feeling uncomfortable that his sons are always providing for and looking after him, wants to repay them. Thinking that they like a piece of art at a restaurant because they compliment it to get a table, he buys it for Frasier, despite the price. Unable to tell his dad how he really feels, Frasier puts it above his fireplace, avoiding spending time at home so as not to look at it. Eventually he bites the bullet and comes clean, leading to Martin crying. This then leads to Frasier crying, which sets off Niles, for a full minute and a half of manly expressing of built-up stress. If there’s a lesson in here somewhere, it’s that having a little crying sesh with your dad might be the best way to get it all out this Father’s Day.