Joel Miller & 9 of the Grumpiest TV Dads
Joel from The Last of Us was seemingly a happy, albeit exhausted and overworked, single dad pre-apocalypse. But he has taken a different tone as a parental figure to Ellie, or at least her temporary protector. He’s gruff, serious and rarely interested in her hijinks, jokes or humorous comments. While Ellie has managed to get Joel to smile now and then, he remains his grumpy self.
He’s not alone. Just as much as the goofy dad trope is played out in sitcoms, so is the grumpy dad trope in TV dramas. This is the dad who always has a sullen look or seems to be perpetually angry. In some cases, it’s rightfully so while in others, it’s just part of the dad’s charm.
1 Joel Miller – ‘The Last Of Us’ (2023 – )
Joel from The Last of Us has reason to be the way he is due to his tragic past: he has been dealing with a terrifying situation for decades, has watched the world crumble and his daughter died in his arms. With the passage of time, however, Joel has continued to harden rather than loosen up. This is especially so when he comes in contact with the young Ellie, to who he unwittingly becomes a father figure.
While the old Joel might have been more receptive to the task of transporting her, especially having had a daughter himself, the new Joel wants nothing to do with the teenager. He views her merely as cargo. When she tries to make him laugh, for the most part, he remains as stone-faced as ever. He has shown glimpses of finally warming to Ellie, but for now, Joel remains one of the grumpiest dads on TV.
2 Arthur Spooner – ‘The King Of Queens’ (1998 – 2007)
Arthur from The King of Queens wasn’t necessarily grumpy, but he was demanding and would throw tantrums when he didn’t get his way. Living with his daughter and son-in-law in their basement, Arthur was always cooking up one scheme or another, often to disastrous results.
Naturally, when he was chastised by his daughter or son-in-law, or his grand ideas were rebuffed, Arthur would pout and shout and guilt them into helping him. What’s more, he devised his own set of irrational rules for the home he was graciously staying in, like banning Halloween, soft cheese, and any non-American VCR. Arthur was endearing, but he used his grumpiness to get what he wanted.
3 Archie Bunker – ‘All In The Family’ (1971 – 1979)
There was nothing and no one Archie Bunker from All in the Family couldn’t complain about. He always seemed either angry or annoyed at something, whether it was his rival neighbor George, something his son did, or something he read in the newspaper. Archie was also notoriously racist and misogynistic.
In some ways, Archie personified a stereotypical blue-collar worker of the ‘70s. He would constantly get into arguments with his more liberal son and would constantly lose his temper with his wife Edith, saying mean and hurtful things to her.
4 Red Forman – ‘That ‘90s Show’ (2023 – )
A role that appears for a second time in the sequel series That ‘90s Show, one of many modern shows set in the 1990s, Red Forman hasn’t changed in the 15 or so years that have passed since That ‘70s Show ended. Still living in the same house with his wife Kitty, Red continues to use his favorite phrases, referencing putting a “foot” in annoying kids’ rear ends and calling them all “dumbasses.”
Deep down, of course, Red is sweet, kind and thoughtful. But his surly nature and constant annoyance whenever anyone comes to the home and disrupts his otherwise peaceful day, is a signature part of him.
5 John Dutton III – ‘Yellowstone’ (2018 – )
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: John Dutton III in Yellowstone is the boss and no one will ever take that from him. He takes his job and ranch very seriously, which means he’s rarely seen with a smile. Even his dealings with his children are always about business.
John has to deal with plenty of hardship and threats, from losing his eldest son to living with colon cancer and dealing with threats to his livelihood and legacy. Thus, his grumpy attitude is to be expected. Dutton is not just grumpy, though, he’s downright scary.
6 Frank Barone – ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (1996 – 2005)
As a war veteran, it’s no surprise that Frank Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond, one of the highest-grossing TV shows of all time, was tough as nails and rarely showed emotion. He simply went along for the ride with his wife Marie, doing whatever she needed him to do. He loved spending time with his son Ray and his family, though he would rarely show it and dare not admit it.
Frank was often seen sitting in his recliner chair wearing a frown and complaining about something. He had tons of machismo, expecting his wife to wait on him hand and foot. He also made fun of his sons when they did something he did not believe was “manly” enough. He did show a softer side on occasion, often with his grandkids. But for the most part, being mean and angry all the time was what defined Frank’s personality.
7 Abe Weissman – ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ (2017 – )
Midge Maisel’s father Abe in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, one of the best TV shows about stand-up comedy, is a former (and reinvigorated) activist who loves to rant. He has a passion for theater but also a distaste for the injustices of the world and things he believes are simply not right.
While his wife is upbeat and positive, Abe is often sullen and angry. He’s never overly enthusiastic and refrains from showing affection to anyone, even his own grandchildren. Everyone and everything gets on his nerves, from his daughter’s choice of career path to his ex-son-in-law’s intrusive parents.
8 Al Bundy – ‘Married With Children’ (1987 – 1997)
Al from Married With Children despises everything about his life, from his wife to his children, his go-nowhere job, his nosy neighbor, and even the people he calls friends. He lives in complete regret over a life that could have been had he fulfilled his football dreams.
Deep down, Al loves his family and appreciates what he has. But he’d prefer to spend his days at work insulting every woman who comes into his shoe store or making inappropriate comments to or about the conventionally attractive ones. He spends his nights slumped down in front of the TV with his mouth in a frown, a dejected look and hand down his pants for self-soothing.
9 Frank Costanza – ‘Seinfeld’ (1989 – 1998)
Played by Jerry Stiller on Seinfeld, who also played Arthur Spooner in King of Queens, the actor was clearly often typecast. Frank Costanza was just as animated and angry as Arthur, making him one of the best supporting characters on Seinfeld. So much so that he coined a term that remains popular today: “Serenity Now” as two words to say to oneself when in desperate need of de-stressing.
Frank is fed up with his son George, annoyed that his wife still coddles the now grown man, and screamed and lost his temper on more than one occasion.
10 Johnny Lawrence – ‘Cobra Kai’ (2018 – )
Johnny Lawrence is one of the most charming and endearing characters in Cobra Kai. But he was also always grumpy. When he took a job as an Uber driver, for example, he would yell at the customers, or treat them poorly. He had trouble keeping down a job because of his surly attitude and lack of patience.
When it came to his son Robby, Johnny really tried to be a positive role model, and he eventually achieved that in the later seasons. But in the beginning, Johnny was angry more than he was happy and was grumpy about every situation he found himself in.