Dads have played an outsized role in TV history; some of the most memorable characters ever have been largely defined by their dad-hood. And since we’re currently in the midst of another TV golden age, there are plenty of notable dads on the air right now. But which dads are actually good at being a DAD? Keep in mind; being a great character doesn’t mean one is actually good at being a father. Some of the best characters make truly horrific father figures. That’s why we decided to rank 2017 TV dads by their parenting ability.
16. Perry Wright -- Big Little Lies
A lot of the TV dads on here are terrible, but nobody matches Perry Wright. Perry’s just an unrepentantly horrific human being in general. [SPOILER:] It’s hard to see how a father could actually be worse than a domestic abuser, serial cheater, and rapist. It buys him no mitigation whatsoever that he’s not physically harming his kids directly. Dude got exactly what he deserved at the end of the season, as America replayed his stair death on endless loop. Even Lucious Lyon isn’t this detestably evil.
15. Marty Byrde -- Ozark
Sorry, Marty, but if you willingly put your entire family’s lives at risk for your own financial gain, you’re going to be right near the bottom of this list. Who knew Jason Bateman was so good at playing a legitimately terrible father? Okay, other than Arrested Development fans.
14. Lucious Lyon -- Empire
Lucious is an impressively bad father in an equally impressive variety of ways. He earns the distinction of being horrible to each of his sons in a unique way; he’s an unrepentant homophobe to Jamal, he pretty much tries to ruin Andre’s life thanks to his disapproval of his son’s interracial marriage, and he breaks up Hakeem’s relationship for no apparent reason other than he thinks he knows better. The one thing saving Lucious from ranking lower -- the ONLY thing -- is that he’s never, as far as we know, deliberately put his own children in mortal danger. But ugh, is he terrible.
13. Rick Grimes -- The Walking Dead
Rick is just a disaster of a human, let alone a father. Honestly, the biggest question all 17 seasons (numbers approximate) of The Walking Dead have left us with is: how the hell is ANYONE around this idiot still alive? There is no universe in which Rick is competent enough to care for any child, let alone one who never stays in the damn house. He’s only saved from ranking lower by virtue of not deliberately attempting to make his kid miserable -- Rick isn’t a malicious father, just a wildly irresponsible one. Carl can count how lucky he is on all five fingers that Rick almost had to chop off after dragging him into harm’s way.
12. Raymond Reddington -- The Blacklist
About the best thing you can say about Red is he does actually care about his daughter’s well-being, and has offered to sacrifice himself for her sake more than once. He has a screwed-up way of showing it, though, considering how many times he’s almost gotten her killed. We could listen to Spader soliloquize all day without getting tired of it, but trusting him to put together a Thanksgiving dinner without revealing a convoluted plot behind it to help torture and kill one of his old criminal arch-rivals? Hard pass.
11. Abby’s Father -- The Deuce
Abby’s unnamed father deserves credit for being a garbage dad in an entirely different way from everyone else on this list. He isn’t directly abusive, and he certainly doesn’t want her to fail (unlike Lucious -- screw that guy), but he’s the suffocating, rich WASP-y dad who drives his daughter to failure just as surely by having unrealistically punishing expectations of her. Abby’s dad proves you can be a crap father in all sorts of different ways.
10. Sam Sylvia -- GLOW
Sam doesn’t even know he’s a dad until the second-to-last episode, and when he does find out, he initially doesn’t handle it well. Where he ranks is less a commentary on his own dad skills and more on what walking disasters those below him are. As a degenerate drug user and sex addict, he seems to have no discernible parenting skills... and yet, his relationship with Ruth is clearly father-daughter, and he has hidden depths a lot of TV dads don’t. At the very least, unlike Rick, Red, Lucious, or Marty, he’s never put his kids in mortal danger, essentially disowned them for being gay, and/or attempted to con them into or out of any relationships, so, y’know... points there. The first season finale also leaves us with the distinct impression he’s going to do his level best as a father going forward.
9. Philip Jennings -- The Americans
God, what a weird dad to have to rank on here. Philip cares about his kids plenty, in particular doting on his son Henry. Though he and his daughter Paige have had issues (she did get weird though, so that’s not entirely on him), he definitely cares about her too. But it’s hard to give him too many points considering he’s still, at the end of the day, a ruthless espionage operative. What saves Philip from ranking lower is that we genuinely get the feeling if he had to make a choice between his children and the cause, the kids would win out without much difficulty (something we’re not sure we can say of Elizabeth).
N/A. Joe West -- The Flash
Look, we can’t rank Joe West here. Season 1-2 Joe would be a top five entry EASILY, but considering The Flash’s answer to literally everything is “just reset the timeline again,” the character changes almost entirely on a weekly basis, from a great dad to a jerk then back again. We’re pretty sure he was a space gremlin at one point. We’d like old Joe back now, please, and for the writers of The Flash to stop screwing around with the very fabric of reality just because they’ve completely run out of other ideas and are terrible at their jobs. So he’s simultaneously the best and worst on this list, earning him a center spot until they settle which version exists.
8. Murray Goldberg -- The Goldbergs
Murray likes to pretend his kids are nothing more than an annoyance, but he cares about them more than he’d like to admit. Even if they ARE morons. Though he’s not the best parent (it’s entirely possible he loves both the dog and his chair more than his actual children), Murray is definitely the funniest Grouchy Dad on TV right now.
7. Mitchell Pritchett and Cam Tucker -- Modern Family
We couldn’t really rank these two separately; how can you have one without the other? The problem here is one of the two is dragging both of them down. For all his unrelenting diva-ness, Cam appears to do basically everything for Lily. Seriously, what do Mitch’s parenting responsibilities consist of in this season other than repeatedly setting the kitchen on fire? It’s not like Mitch is a bad dad or anything, but he’s replacement level, and he’s an anchor on the duo’s ranking here.
6. Bob Belcher -- Bob’s Burgers
Poor, luckless Bob deserves more credit than he gets. At the very least, Bob is basically willing to do anything -- and suffer anything -- for his kids. He may be kind of crap when it comes to anything remotely approaching business sense, but he certainly WANTS to do the best for his kids. Also, if put-upon sighing were the most important dad skill (and it’s an underrated one), Bob would easily lead this list.
Photo by Ron Batzdorff/NBC
5. Jack Pearson -- This Is Us
Jack Pearson seems to be everyone’s perfect TV dad -- or at least he did, until season two. But while Jack may have a recurring problem with alcohol, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about his kids. We might be underrating him here, and the constant “JACK IS THE PERFECT FATHER” litany from the internet has us down on him.
4. Terry Jeffords -- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Look, being able to bench press your entire family with one hand doesn’t count as a parenting skill (although maybe it should). Good for Sgt. Jeffords that he’s got more parenting game than just that (admittedly impressive) skill in his toolkit. There’s no TV dad we’d rather have shouting in a frustrated panic over his own inability to put together a princess castle that inexplicably has wheels. TERRY WANTS TO TAKE CARE OF HIS FAMILY!
Photo by Ron Batzdorff/NBC
3. Randall Pearson -- This Is Us
It’s a testament to Randall’s parenting skills that he never seems to inflict any of his absurdly harsh Type A nature on his daughters. He’s just a really, really good dad, and if we needed any more evidence of it, his patience with his foster daughter gave it to us. He does lose some points for a pretty easy degree of difficulty because his wife Beth is such a great mom (Randall and Beth might, when taken together, be the best parents on TV right now), but not enough to move him past the #3 spot.
2. Fred Andrews -- Riverdale
For crying out loud, the guy LITERALLY took a bullet for his son. That alone puts him near the top of this list, but the fact he’s great at being a dad (in contrast to all the other terrible parents on that show) keeps him at #2. Definitely a huge step up over his forgettable comics counterpart.
1. Phil Dunphy -- Modern Family
Look, there was never any question who the #1 on this list was going to be. If we’re talking parenting skills, Phil isn’t just the best TV dad right now, he’s the best ever, and it’s not even really close. Phil is willing to sacrifice basically anything for his kids (including, frequently, his own physical well-being). He’s somehow both the goofiest space cadet dad and most reliable parent on TV, while also seeming like probably the most realistic father we’ve ever seen. When it comes to dad (and magic) skills, Phil stands alone.
C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter @EyePatchGuy.