If it can be said that everyone has a mission in life, or if not a mission then at least a badly repressed core neurosis, then Louis C.K.’s purpose as a T.V. dad is to expose the wonderful, ever-changing love-hate relationship some of us (all of us?) have with our role as parents. In the past we’ve had television father-angels who demonstrated unlimited patience, wisdom, and love toward their smart-aleck families, and we’ve had anti-dads whose main job seemed to have been to make the ass groove in their favorite chairs deep enough to be buried in.
But in comparison to TV dads of the past, Louis C.K. stands apart in a number of ways. He makes better choices than Homer Simpson, and he’s as much of an unlikely sex symbol as Tony Soprano; he has less patriarchal weight than Bill Cosby, but is more emotionally present than Al Bundy or Jay Pritchett (both played by Ed O’Neill). There are dozens of other fathers that I could throw into the mix, of course, but I need to get this posted, so my Gomez Addams/Archie Bunker/Bernie Mac flow chart will have to wait for another day.
Here we see how some of our favorite T.V. dads fare in relation to each others’ weaknesses. Homer Simpson, it is now abundantly clear, shares more with Tony Soprano than just a love of processed meats: it is their frequently unrestrained rage that sets them apart from the dad herd. Homer and Al Bundy, on the other hand, revel in their own cowardice. What do Dr. Cosby and the co-owner of the Bada Bing have in common? Terrible taste in leisure wear, of course.
Given another set of options, we see that Soprano and Simpson also share a terrible, aching loneliness, despite the presence of super-hot wives. Ed O’Neill, most notable as Al Bundy but also as Jay Pritchett (step-father to a precocious Casanova whose closeness to his super-hot mom makes Pritchett’s attempts at romance look pretty ham-fisted), embodies sexual frustration at every stage of a man’s married life, while Louis C.K., the only single father of the bunch, is just sort of awkward and sad around women he likes.
But always in the center of it all we find the apex seat of rage, loneliness, frustration, cowardice, super-hot wife-having-ness, crazy-sweater wearing, wisdom, patience, and love occupied by the still-undisputed king of T.V. dads, Bill Cosby. Beloved by conservatives and liberals alike, Cosby embodies the American Dad many of us wish we had. Grumpy, wealthy, and always around, Cosby was never afraid of the big issues; he also wasn’t afraid to give the kids chocolate cake for breakfast, make them do boring chores, or (threaten to) slap someone upside the head. Bill Cosby was one, big, unrestrained, reactionary good time.
Much as I love Louis, he’s still one dyslexic teen pregnancy short of usurping the T.V. dad throne.