The bad TV Dad is a pretty well known TV Trope, but what happens when both parents aren’t very….bright?
Kids cartoons become popular because the protagonist is usually near the target demographic age, giving them a character who they can relate to in the process. Most of the time adults are either going to be antagonistic, blocking the kid’s dreams, or grossly incompetent. This allows for the children to get away with what they need to get away with, plot advancement if you will.
Or the alternative is that a parent in kids cartoons can just be dumb for the sake of being dumb, clearly to be the comedic effect. “Dumb” parents aren’t always bad parents, Hugh Neutron for example was always well-meaning, just very, very goofy, as was, well….Goofy.
Now for the sake of this discussion, I’m keeping things limited to animated programming aimed at younger demographics. Otherwise it would be too easy to fill this up with Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson and half the adults in South Park. Let’s meet our biggest culprits!
Mr. and Mrs. Turner (Fairly Odd Parents)
“Hey! She’s key-scratching ‘Vicky was here’ on my car! I punished Timmy for key-scratching ‘Vicky was here’ on my car!”
Timmy’s parents were so neglectful and absent-minded that he was awarded Fairies to help improve his life. Now granted his babysitter is a future serial killer and his teacher is the opposite of stable, and that adds to the need for Cosmo and Wanda, but The Turners general incompetence is what puts things over the edge. A child needs stability at home when he’s an average kid that no one understands. They’ve left Timmy at home while on a family vacation twice, his Mom spent his college fund on things she liked on the shopping channel and punished Timmy for Vicky writing “Vicky was here!” on the side of their car.
Mom and Dad (Cow and Chicken)
Dad: Push! Push!
Mom: *walks over to Dad and Chicken* What’s going on, Dad?
Dad: You’re having a baby.
In what ways AREN’T Cow and Chicken’s parents disturbingly useless? They left their youngest child (Cow, who is 7) in child of their oldest child (Chicken, who is 10) while they took a 3 week vacation. They have incredibly scary laughing fits over the smallest things and once tortured their children because they weren’t scared of the dark. They got the impulsive idea that Cow and Chicken needed to join a circus, so they dropped them off at one. The only reason Mom and Dad haven’t had their kids taken away is because literally everyone on the show is an idiot. Everyone except Black Sheep.
Mindy’s Parents (Animaniacs)
“Buttons, you NAUGHTY dog!”
When the only thing protecting you from Child Services is your dog, you’ve got a problem. Mindy can’t be any older than 2 and is often left outside in a swing/bungee combination with the dog being ultimately responsible for her well being. Of course Mindy always escapes, wanders off into danger, Buttons tries to protect her while being the butt of all the dangers she dodges. Hilarity ensues. To be honest, this is the only entry that actually used to frustrate me as a kid. It’s one thing to let your kid play in the backyard, it’s cool if you post up on your back porch and watch your child play from afar. What you absolutely cannot do is leave your child in a harness while you let the dog watch them, especially when you’re leaving the home, which they OFTEN did.
Every single adult (Rugrats)
“According to Dr. Lipschitz…”
To be fair, there has to be some bit of obliviousness for the entire premise of The Rugrats to even work, but the level that the Pickles/Finster/DeVille families show such obliviousness is outstanding. Let’s count the ways they lose their children:
- The babies break out their playpen and escape into the neighbor’s yard (who has a dog) to retrieve Tommy’s ball
- Tommy crawls off into a restaurant kitchen and falls in a pot of (already cooked) spaghetti and also manages to serve a waiting customer a pie full of forks.
- The babies crawl off at the movie theater during a Care Bear parody movie, destroying the theater and the movie reels
- Betty leaves Lillian with an idiot stranger who’s more worried about stuffing his face than watching her child while on the set of a commercial. Lil manages to crawl up a wooden plank that ends up suspended in the air
- Grandpa Lou doesn’t even bother to LOOK at Tommy for an extended period of time while grocery shopping with him. Tommy crawls off looking for Reptar cereal and destroying an entire supermarket.
- Stu and Chaz walk out of a toy store without their kids (who were both replaced by dolls in their strollers), they drive all the way home before even noticing their children were missing.
- The kids climb out of a ride and wander around an amusement park because Grandpa Lou fell asleep.
- Tommy and Angelica wander off and explore an auto repair shop
All of the above incidences happened in the 1st season.
Richard Watterson (The Amazing World of Gumball)
“Eat 100 hot dogs in under a minute. Ha! That’s not a dare. That’s Tuesday.”
This one is a bit of an easy one. Richard is just stupid, he’s endearingly stupid, but he is stupid. Unlike most of the entries above Richard DOES take responsibility for his mistakes….when he actually realizes he made them. He’s more of a child masquerading as an adult rather than an actual adult who makes sound decisions. He’s also a monstrous eater. I give Richard a bit of a slide because Gumball/Darwin/Anais are a lot more sharp/cunning than any other child on this list, some of this is due to age and some due to actual brains (Anais). They end up getting themselves into trouble and Richard just often doesn’t do enough to help initially. His most damning incident is probably when he came up with a ruse with the other dads in Elmore to hijack the bus their kids were on in order to teach them a lesson about skipping school. It backfires horribly.
Delia Ketchum (Pokemon)
“Don’t forget to change your underwear everyday……cause I’m changing Prof. Oak’s”
Again, some of the heat comes off of Delia because of the rules of her world. Ash isn’t an anomaly in the sense that he’s traveling the world like other kids his age in the Pokemon Universe, the issue just seems to be Delia’s actual airheaded personality. She does care deeply about her son and bothers to get him a change of clothes…..once per series. Other than that, she’s completely stopped checking in with Ash like she used to, and only sees or hears from him when he’s in between journeys. Though, to be fair, as of Sun and Moon she has played more of an active role in his life, as he’s in School and she’s just tanning.
Goku (Dragon Ball Z)
You know the joke, Piccolo raised Gohan, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Goku abandoned his family quite often to go fight or train. It’s reasonable when you’re trying to fight off some unknown entity trying to hurt the planet, but it’s a whole separate issue when you up and die juuuuuust when these arcs are about over and you’re needed at home. Pretty suspicious. We’re only counting DBZ in this context because it’s really the only time we see Goku’s kids have a focused development and he’s not really part of either.
Dexter’s Parents (Dexter’s Laboratory)
Dexter and DeeDee’s parents are either incredibly loaded or incredibly oblivious. While they seem to know that Dexter is pretty smart for a kid his age, they are blissfully unaware of the enormous power bill they have to be getting every month due to Dexter’s secret laboratory inside of their home. While it’s fully possible that Dexter, being the genius that he is, operates his lab on some resource other than electricity, it’s very unlikely that his alternate power source would be undetected. Add to that his Dad is a bit of a bully, and can be somewhat manipulative (The Muffin King). His Mom isn’t really embarrassing or incompetent, she just has a crippling fear of germs, and that’s more of germaphobia and not anything that actually a negative aspect of her personality.
The Douglas Family (Freakazoid!)
“You spend way too much time with your computer son”
“It’s my best friend”
“How very very sad”
The craziest thing about Dexter Douglas’s parents is that they just plain didn’t care. Things happened right in front of their eyes: their youngest son lacking social cues, their oldest son physically bullying him, their oldest son being physically attacked by a mysterious blue man (who they attribute to Duncan slowly losing his sanity). The Douglas’s just pretty much shrugged off anything that happened to their kids, to the point where Dexter would be gone for days and they wouldn’t make much of a fuss.
Again, this is something that does fit into the nature of the show, as Dexter’s parents actually caring would create more plotpoints and plotholes than the writers probably cared to deal with. For that reason, and comedy, they decided to make them complete dunces with stepford smiles. It’s kinda creepy.
What do you think? Who are we missing from the list above? Comment below or reach out to us on Twitter @TheKWCBlog!