The Five Best Manly Men On Television

There’s been a lot of discussion prompted by Good Men Project founder Tom Matlack’s recent essay, in which he suggests that women want men to be more like them, and that manliness is a good thing. I’ll leave Amanda Marcotte to take on some of the larger assumptions in this piece (and to mount a defense as Matlack appears to denounce feminists and insist attacks on him are unfair because he’s a simple oral historian, or something), because I want to address this one: “So are dudes as a gender really assholes? If you look around in the press, on TV, and in popular culture you certainly might conclude that.” I’ve written in the past about some of the best shows about masculinity on television. Sure, it’s true — there are men who behave badly on television, but a lot of women who do same. But I also think that there are a lot of great manly male characters in pop culture right now. Among them:

1. With a bullet. Or with U.S. Army issued mustache trimmers. Parks and Recreation‘s Ron Swanson: Ron Swanson eats steak, drinks whiskey, smokes cigars, venerates John Wayne, reads Patrick O’Brian, hunts, camps, lays wreathes, lights torches, and teaches fourth-graders the importance of libertarianism. He also mentors women, loves mini-horses, shows up with hangover cures, self-sacrifices for the greater good, and dances with a fascinator on when he’s drunk. And he makes the point that none of these things are remotely inconsistent.

2. Because sometimes mentoring means you call the CIA on your mentee. And sometimes it means you show up with chicken soup. Homeland‘s Saul Berenson: Dude has one of the most serious beards on television. He blackmails the vice president of the United States in the name of justice. He talks around homegrown terrorists into giving up critically useful information. He responds to improper advances from his desperate mentee in an entirely proper fashion. He tries to woo back his estranged wife when she announces she’s leaving him to his workaholic tendencies, but ultimately respects her decision to go. Saul’s personal and professional courage are admirable. I’m going to be really sad if he turns out to be a mole.

3. Because sometimes being a good father means letting your daughter get mentored by Oprah. Up All Night‘s Kevin: Jason Lee’s had a bit of a wacky streak these past couple of years, but it’s turns out he’s exactly what this freshman comedy needed. As a contractor, he’s a nice counterbalance to the glitzy world new girlfriend Ava spends most of her time in without being an exploitable working-class fling. He spends Christmas with his ex-wife to create a smooth transition for his daughter. And he trusts and respects that Ava will find her way to a relationship with his daughter—and in expecting her to behave like a normal human, or as close as she’s capable of getting, helps her level up.

4. Cable executive. Tuxedo-wearer. Single father. 30 Rock‘s Jack Donaghy: Now, let’s be clear. Jack Donaghy has his flaws: a pathological hatred for his (admittedly dotty) mother, a disturbing level of comfort with turning children permanently orange, and a willingness to fake Dominican birth certificates to bolster Tracy Jordan’s struggling baseball team. But he loves smart women, whether he’s marrying first wife Bianca or talented cable-talker Avery Jessup or mentoring Liz Lemon; he’ll do anything for his father, include arranging a one-beneficiary all-star charity concert; and even if baby Libby is Canadian, you know that man will take all the care of her in the world.

5. The mismatched socks. The mad marksmanship skills. The naked omelet-making. Bones‘ Seeley Booth: I know Bones drives a lot of you crazy. But in the post-Bush years, and in this particular moment after Christopher Hitchens’ death, there’s something really valuable about throwing down a marker and declaring that while it may be manly to be able to use force, it’s morally correct to abhor killing even if you’re good at it. And even though David Boreanaz makes it look effortless, the character of Booth is all about the fact that manhood — whether in the form of resisting addiction, caring for a wayward brother, respecting and loving a strong but difficult woman, and holding on to your faith — is hard work. But it’s worth doing.