Done well, a good sitcom dad represents all that is right with the world. He’s caring but strong, flawed but trying his best to do right by his kid, and busy but never too busy to deliver a very special message at the end of a 22-minute episode. It’s an important role and one that forever links the great sitcom dad with the actor who portrays him (Ty Burrell, for instance, will always be Phil Dunphy; Bob Saget, always Danny Tanner.) And it’s especially unsettling when we see the actors take on new roles when they play assholes or villains. Remember when William Russ, who played Corey Matthews’ dad on Boy Meets World, popped up as the white supremacist in American History X? Or when Hal Wilkerson started cooking meth? No? Well they did. Here are five roles sitcom dads that did things we can’t unsee.
Danny Tanner’s Got A Dirty Mouth
Actor: Bob Saget
Iconic Dad Role: Danny Tanner in Full House (1987-1995)
Ruinous Role: Pretty much everything he’s done since.
Possibly the most wholesome dad of the ’90s, Danny Tanner is obsessed with hugs, teachable moments, and keeping his house as clean as Full House’s jokes. Bob Saget, who plays Danny, is rumored to have hated the part. And that makes a lot of sense once you realize how dirty he is in pretty everything else he’s done. Watch his legendary telling of the Aristocrats joke, which is just him saying as many filthy, despicable things as possible in a short span. Or pretty much any of his standup. Were he to hear him, Danny Tanner would wash Saget’s mouth out with Mop ‘N Glo.
Alan Matthews is a White Supremacist
Actor: William Russ
Iconic Dad Role: Alan Matthews in Boy Meets World (1993-2000)
Ruinous Role: Dennis Vinyard (1998), the deceased father of proud skinhead Derek and aspiring skinhead Danny in American History X.
Boy Meets World’s Alan Matthews may be the most underrated TV dad of all time. Played by William Russ, he’s a lovable, tough-but-fair father who’s always there for his three kids. Hell, he even serves as a surrogate father for Corey’s best friend Shawn, too. It’s a harrowing thing, when Russ appears in a flashback in American History X, as Dennis Vinyard, the deceased father of proud skinheads Derek and Danny. While seemingly Alan Matthewsian in style, Dennis is a blue collar dad whose deep-seated ideas about white power alter the course of his kids’ lives. It’s a good performance by Russ, but one that makes all those talks he had with Corey, Shawn, and Eric seem a lot less special.
Sheriff Andy is a Straight Up Psychopath
Actor: Andy Griffith
Iconic Dad Role: Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)
Ruinous Role: Sam Farragut in Pray for the Wildcats (1974)
Is there an old-timey dad more iconic than Andy Griffiths folksy small town Sheriff and single dad? He’s a symbol of everything a father and man should be. He fishes! He whistles! He teaches his son to always, always do the right thing. Plus, he keeps the peace! No peace is kept in the made for TV movie Pray for the Wildcats, however. In it, Griffith plays Sam Farragut, a dirt bike-riding psychopath who lures two men (William Shatner and Robert Reed) to take a cross country ride. What follows is an unhinged performance by Griffith — and a sketchy vibe that makes Sheriff Andy look a lot less wholesome.
Hal Goes Hardcore
Actor: Bryan Cranston
Iconic Dad Role: Hal in Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006)
Ruinous Role: Walter White in Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Hal is the everydad. He works at a job he hates for a paycheck that barely supports his family. He obviously cares for his kids but is hindered by the fact that he’s kind of a dumbass and kind of unhinged. Walter White is a far different sort of unhinged. Sure, he starts out Hal-like, but quickly evolves into a horrific figure. Plus, he’s an awful husband and father who’d rather worry about his meth empire than take care of his wife or disabled son. Cranston plays him so honestly, he always makes Walter seem like a regular guy dealing with extreme circumstances, a Hal Wilkerson pushed just a bit too far.
Phil Dunphy is a Statutory Rapist
Actor: Ty Burrell
Iconic Dad Role: Phil Dunphy in Modern Family (2009-Present)
Ruinous Role: Rich in Skeleton Twins (2014)
Ty Burrell’s Phil Dunphy is the epitome of the modern sitcom dad. He’s tragically unhip, but he’s a fantastic parent who is an active part of each of his kids’ lives. He’s also a devoted husband, keeping his spark alive with his wife with open communication and a healthy amount of roleplay. In 2014’s Skeleton Twins, Burrell shows off his darker side. As Rich, an old high school teacher of Milo’s (Bill Hader). Over the course of the film, it is revealed that Rich took advantage of Milo when he was 15. This relationship continues when Milo returns to town, and Rich is a sociopathic manipulator who takes a sick pleasure in his control over Milo. That the role is so haunting is a tribute to Burrell’s talents, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see the guy who played lovable Phil Dunphy do such things.