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Dad TV Fall Is Here

Big news for fathers: The holy dad trinity of ‘Billions,’ ‘Succession,’ and ‘Yellowstone’ is upon us

Showtime/HBO/Paramount/Ringer illustration

Every once in a while an indie-leaning album by a band my dad most certainly has never heard of comes out, full of songs my dad would most certainly enjoy. He loved A Deeper Understanding by the War on Drugs in 2017; in 2019, I told him to listen to Alex Cameron’s Miami Memory—specifically the song “Divorce,” which he liked, but which also made him ask profound questions I didn’t necessarily mean for him to ask. Last week, I sent him How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, the latest album from Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s Big Red Machine. Huge dad vibes on that one, like if the Band had grown up with Wi-Fi.

How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? comes out at an interesting time, as if it were fated to trigger a series of related events. A perfect Dad Album—full of hard-won wisdom, whiskey-soaked reminiscence, and just the right amount of jangliness—stands as a harbinger for a season that will soon be upon us. Dad TV Fall is coming.

This Sunday, the return of Billions launches perhaps the most dad-centric run of high-level television since 2005, when 24 (conspiracies, light action, a man who saves the day) and House (medical jargon, smart-aleck banter, a man who saves the day) were airing at the same time. The Showtime series will finish out its fifth season after the last five episodes were delayed by the pandemic. Immediately after that, Succession will return, setting up a mind-blowing collision of dad content: The HBO series will still be releasing new episodes when the fourth season of Yellowstone—a.k.a. Frontier Succession—premieres on November 7.

Determining what lands in the Dad Wheelhouse isn’t an exact science. For music it usually boils down to questions like “Does it sound like Springsteen?” or “Is it Wilco?” Everything else remains subject to further tests. In 2019, after the release of the peak Dad Movie Ford v Ferrari, Jason Concepcion and Kevin Clark attempted to define what constitutes dadcore on this website, and outlined a handful of core tenets:

  • Historically based
  • Told (for the most part) in a linear fashion
  • About work, managing, or team building in some form or fashion
  • Has action but no gore or overly intense or realistic violence. (The Saving Private Ryan test: Are there visible intestines in the movie?)
  • The dad avatar should be sexually healthy and able to function. He can have high cholesterol, a brain tumor, and so on—but there must be no suggestion that his partner is unsatisfied.
  • Story imparts something to a dad’s family that words alone cannot

These are helpful guideposts, and because Jason and Kevin are the foremost experts on dad content (despite neither being actual dads), they should be considered dogma. But there’s still a you-know-it-when-you-see-it factor to all of this, so while Billions, Succession, and Yellowstone don’t entirely adhere to all of these rules—I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in history about a ranch hand saving a tourist couple from falling off a cliff and then immediately fighting a bear—they do pass the smell test.

Billions falls into the category of Dad Wish Fulfillment. It provides an avatar for dads through which they can fantasize about eating disgustingly decadent food without worrying about the price; about wearing vests with impunity; about having fuck-you money and actually being able to tell people “fuck you”; about how boss it’d be to show up to your kid’s Little League game in a helicopter. There are, of course, elements of Billions that a dad might find unseemly—he’ll always pretend like the BDSM stuff isn’t a part of the show when you’re talking about it with him on the phone—but at the same time, it’s those things that make it such a compelling watch. It feeds the Dad Id, so that he may mow the lawn in peace the following Saturday.

The dad appeals of Succession and Yellowstone are, like Succession and Yellowstone, both similar and different. Each also contains elements of wish fulfillment. And at their cores, both series are stories about two fatherly notions: the question of legacy, and the realization that your kids can be really annoying, even if you’ll never acknowledge that you’re the one who made them so. But Succession and Yellowstone also unlock disparate pleasures for a patriarch. The former allows a dad to bemoan the American media complex in ways that’ll make you think, I’m not so sure I want to continue this conversation. Its center of gravity, Logan Roy, is a canvas upon which they can assert their superior skills as a dad and as a working professional. Simultaneously, other characters, from Kendall to Connor to Roman to Tom, allow them to consider their own, surely complex relationships with their fathers. (“Yeah, your grandpa and I used to butt heads all the time,” he says, unprompted, during a random commercial break in the middle of Monday Night Football.)

Yellowstone, meanwhile, has the frontier; the place all 21st century men feel connected to despite being born hundreds of years after Manifest Destiny. Oh, how badly the adult male yearns to shed the vestiges of modern life and reconnect with his innate pioneering nature somewhere in Montana. To look a horse square in the eyes and share a meaningful moment between man and beast before pulling the trigger and putting it out of its misery. Yellowstone has men being men; it also kind of has women being men, which is a unique thrill. It has a dad who’s somehow still virile enough to be having sex with government officials. It has fathers making hard choices for the (apparent) sake of family. It has the staunch defense of one’s property, a crucial principle in the dad creed. It also has a lot of crime, and dads like crime in their TV. (My dad loves Narcos. One time he told me that he watches it on his phone while driving on long road trips. It was at this moment that I realized I’d become the parent in our relationship.)

These shows make up the current backbone of Dad TV, and this fall they’ll all be running at basically the same time. Gone are the beta boys of the summer—Steve Zahn’s sad sack husband in The White Lotus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s titular character in Mr. Corman—and in their place is a bunch of guys who Do the Work (and also say “fuck” a lot). I hope you call your father today and congratulate him—his time has come.