When American television is at its best, a handful of characters start to feel like family. Viewers everywhere gained a goofy cousin in Will Smith, an adorable little sister in Michelle Tanner, and a cool basement-dwelling babysitter in Charles. This deep connection is the result of bringing together relatable characters, memorable moments and — if we’re being totally honest — a little luck. But there’s one thing that can be found in most of the classic TV series that have been repeatedly adored by the public — a central father figure.
Whether you want to go as far back as Mike Brady, even further back to Andy Griffith or as recently as Homer Simpson, there have been countless characters who have stepped up and served as America’s designated TV dad.
Now, it would be an awkward disservice to act as if Bill Cosby’s character of Cliff Huxtable — one of the most celebrated TV dads of all-time — didn’t exist. But, given Cosby’s recent sexual assault allegations, many have abandoned The Cosby Show‘s damaged legacy altogether, which leaves a noticeable void that needs to be filled. And, honestly, rehashing old lessons from reruns was only going to last for so long.
To step up as America’s next TV dad, I’d like to offer a new name for consideration: Andre “Dre” Johnson from ABC’s Black-ish, as played by Anthony Anderson, who doubles as one of the show’s executive producers.
On the surface, Dre lives to provide for his family as best he can — much like any good father is expected to. He has the ability to offer them more than he ever imagined, including iPhones, hover boards and new pairs of sneakers on a very regular basis. As a result, he constantly struggles to make sure that he’s not depriving his children of the growth that comes from struggle. So, he’ll often compensate by giving them heavy-handed doses of reality through regular trips to the family barbershop or threatening to make them live off of baking soda and ketchup sandwiches.
At first, there may be some hesitation about placing Dre Johnson on this fatherly pedestal because he’s the black father of a black family on a show that doesn’t hold back when it comes to addressing black issues. While The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and others also had primarily black casts, they embraced their black identities in more nuanced ways and not as often as to not steer away a mainstream audience.
There’s still a long-standing misconception in Hollywood that shows and films with minority leads can’t appeal to a mainstream (read: white) audience. The irony is that same assumption has forced minority audiences to lean on paper-thin connections with mostly white characters for decades now due to a lack of diversity. Can mainstream audiences do the same? Yes, they just may not know they can.