It's Father's Day, which means it's once again time to think about Dad Shows.
Dad Shows are shows that are not just beloved by dads but have something essentially Dad-ish about them. They're unhip but dependable, like a well-worn pair of Merrells. They're well-made and often critically acclaimed, but they don't always get a lot of attention because they aren't trying to innovate. They look and feel like prestige TV but don't really have the depth. With a Dad Show, what you see is what you get. Dad Shows tend to be Showtime shows, not HBO shows. Some dads may love Succession, for example, but Succession is a little too slick and satirical and political to qualify as a Dad Show. Billions is a Dad Show, though.
Dad Shows span all genres, and no two Dad Shows are exactly alike, but there are certain components that many Dad Shows share, especially Dad Dramas. They're usually about a middle-aged white man who's very good at his job (which often involves doing violence) and has a complicated relationship with his family. He loves his family, but much of the time he doesn't get along with them, usually because of the demands of his job. He assumes his family doesn't understand, but they actually do, and he's just kind of an ass. Some dads are like this, but not all dads who like Dad Shows are like this.
You don't have to be a dad to like Dad Shows. Many moms like Dad Shows, as do sons and daughters. Because even though Dad Shows are from Dad's point of view, they invite other people to see the world through Dad's flawed but well-meaning eyes. This Father's Day, give your dad two gifts: a life-size cardboard cutout of Ray Donovan, and the gift of your time as you watch one of the shows from this list with him.
Where to watch: Showtime
It's been said before, but it bears repeating because it's still true: Ray Donovan is the ultimate Dad Show. Nothing else even comes close. This is the Magnetic North towards which all other Dad Shows bend. It stars gravel-voiced, stubble-faced Liev Schreiber as the titular fixer, who bribes and blackmails and beats people up and covers up misdeeds on behalf of his wealthy clients. He does his best to take care of his Irish American family, even though his family is really messed up because of his abusive gangster dad, Mickey (Jon Voight). Ray Dadovan is who all dads secretly wish they were: tough, competent, loyal, willing to do anything for the people he loves, and has a moral code even when he has to do unsavory things to protect his family and his livelihood. Your dad is probably still pissed Showtime abruptly canceled Ray Donovan, and if he could blackmail someone into bringing it back, he would.
Where to watch: HBO Max
Dads may want to be Ray Donovan, but in reality they're usually more Ray Barone. And that's great! Everybody loves Raymond. Ray Romano understands how to make relatable Dad Content. He and One Day at a Time's Mike Royce created this dramedy that ran for two short seasons on TNT between 2009 and 2011. It stars iconic Dad Actors Romano, Scott Bakula, and Andre Braugher as three best friends dealing with the problems men face in their late 40s, like divorce, stress over money, scary new health issues, and the reality that your life didn't turn out the way you wanted it to. Men of a Certain Age earned critical raves for its grounded, intimate writing and performances and won a Peabody. It kind of disappeared for awhile, but it's ripe for rediscovery on HBO Max.
Where to watch: Peacock (July 15)
Kevin Costner, a Hall of Fame Dad Actor, stars in and executive produces this modern Western about the Duttons, a wealthy Montana ranching family beset by foes coming for their land on all sides and riven by internal conflicts, because John Dutton is not a good dad. He pits his kids against each other and verbally abuses them. And yet — or more accurately, of course — they still crave his approval. If you're playing Dad Show Bingo, Yellowstone will check off most of the boxes. It has a grizzled and growly middle-aged protagonist, brutal violence, rugged masculinity and female characters with bigger Rocky Mountain oysters than any of the men, and a guiding principle of "family over everything."
Where to watch: Hulu
black-ish is told from the point of view of Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson), who's a stand-in for creator Kenya Barris, a real-life father of six. Dre is not a father who knows best, because his own self-absorption sometimes prevents him from seeing what's best for his family. But by the end of the episode, they work it out. Dads of all races love black-ish because they see their own family in the Johnsons.
Where to watch: Showtime
Billions teams up two powerful Dad Actors, Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis, who between them have a tremendous repertoire of Dad Shows, including Homeland, John Adams, Band of Brothers, and Lodge 49, and sets them as nemeses in the world of high finance. Lewis plays brilliant but ruthless Bobby "Axe" Axelrod, while Giamatti plays equally brilliant but ruthless U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, whose mission in life is to claim Axe's scalp, legally speaking. It has some of the most crackling dialogue of any show on TV, the guest cast is loaded with dad-favorite actors like Eric Bogosian and David Strathairn, and the character Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) helps dads learn about nonbinary gender, which makes Billions the most socially redeeming drama series on this list.
Any Ken Burns documentary
Where to watch: Various streaming services
Ken Burns is TV's most Dad-approved documentary filmmaker, best known for his multi-part PBS historical epics like The Civil War, Baseball, The Vietnam War, and most recently Country Music, among many other miniseries, features, and features. Dads love all of them. In fact, Ken Burns has never made a documentary miniseries about something dads aren't obsessed with. The most Dad one is National Parks: America's Best Idea, which is 12 hours about the history of the National Parks system, and currently available on Amazon Prime Video. No matter the subject, dads love to watch a camera pan over some old photos.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
House is about a cranky middle-aged guy who's really good at his job and always tries to do the right thing in spite of his own personal flaws. Yup, it's a Dad Show. Hugh Laurie stars as Dr. Gregory House, the Head of Diagnostic Medicine at a New Jersey hospital who is a brilliant medical detective ("House" is a play on "Sherlock Holmes"), but suffers from Vicodin addiction and an inability to suffer fools. He's not a nice guy, but he gets the job done. All dads wish they were outlaws who didn't have to follow social rules like House. (That's also why dads like Curb Your Enthusiasm.)
Where to watch: Starz
There have been a vast number of Dad Sitcoms, but one of the best and Daddiest was The Bernie Mac Show. Bernie Mac was one of the greatest sitcom dads ever, and the character wasn't technically even a dad at all. On the show, Mac played a fictionalized version of himself as a comedian who takes in his sister's kids and raises them as his own. He gives out tough love, and he doesn't always know best, but he has a heart of gold. "When I say I want to kill those kids, you know what I mean," he said directly to the audience in the pilot. Dads know exactly what he means. Bernie Mac was one of the funniest people who ever lived, and this show doesn't always get the credit it deserves.
Where to watch: Netflix
Dads love any classic British comedy series. Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, you name it. But no British comedy series is more Dad-friendly than Monty Python's Flying Circus, the highly influential absurdist sketch show that's conveniently available to stream on Netflix along with the Monty Python movies Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian, and a bunch of Monty Python documentaries, specials, and compilations. All dads have at least three Monty Python sketches completely committed to memory.
Where to watch: Netflix
Ray Donovan, Israeli style. All right, that's a very reductionist way to describe this action series. For one thing, it's about an IDF soldier named Doron Kavillio (Lior Raz) who comes out of retirement and rejoins his old unit when it's discovered that the Hamas operative he thought he killed, Taufiq Hammed (Hisham Sulliman), is still alive. But Doron has a similar type of gravelly, competent machismo as Ray Donovan, and all bald dads wish they looked as stubbly and tough as Lior Raz.
Where to watch: Netflix
Or as my dad inexplicably thought it was called well into Season 3, "Pinky Blinders." This tremendously violent crime drama is set in Birmingham, England between the First and Second World Wars and follows the Peaky Blinders street gang, led by the charismatic but brutal Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), as they expand their criminal empire and try (and fail) to go legit. It has a lot of things dads love: history, family, people getting murdered in heinous ways, flat caps, Tom Hardy. My dad is currently watching this one, which has led to him walking around the house saying "We're the Peaky f---in' Blinders" as he practices his Brummie accent.