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Series / Major Dad

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The joys of family life.

Secretary: I like Marines. They're polite, respectful, and very friendly.
[The Major knocks down the screen door as he walks through it]
Polly: They're strong, too.

This is not your standard sitcom. This is the story of Major John McGillis (Gerald McRaney) and the woman he fell in love with. And her three daughters. Major Dad lasted 4 seasons and 96 episodes (September 1989-April 1993).

So what separates this sitcom from all others? First of all, the military, specifically the United States Marine Corps, is portrayed in a positive light. Second, each plot does not revolve around the characters passing around the Idiot Ball and blatantly lying to each other. In fact, some of the characters might be considered a little too honest at times.

The entire series is available for viewing on Hulu and, from September 2021 to August 2022, on Netflix.

Major Dad contains examples of:

  • And Starring: From season two onward: "And Beverly Archer as 'Gunny' Bricker"
  • Armies Are Evil: Inverted, subverted, and lampshaded. Heck, discrediting this trope seems to be almost the point of the show.
    "Major, she claimed that we exist to train young people to kill!"
    "... Isn't that what we do here?"
  • BFG: Polly gets to fire one of these. And finds out that, yes, there is recoil.
  • Bland-Name Product: Subverted. In the Christmas Episode, “Eco Gekkos” are the hot and impossible to find toy based on a popular kids cartoon that are clearly meant to evoke the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Later a joke was made about searching for the elusive Gekkos only to end up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead.
  • Book Dumb: in a tender moment, Mac confesses that he was intimidated as a kid by his peers who effortlessly got A's. He tells Elizabeth that the two are the same and that she can't let the fear of failing keep her from doing her best.
  • Canon Discontinuity: In season 1, the Major briefly retires to work in the private sector. In season 4, he again considers leaving the Marines but no mention is made of his previous venture into civilian life.
  • The Captain: Okay, he's a Major. And he's never exactly the guy officially in charge. But he might as well be.
  • Child Soldiers: The youngest girl tries to be one to get the respect of the Major after eavesdropping on a dressing down he gave to one of the enlisted men.
  • Christmas Episode: Complete with Santa Ambiguity thrown in for good measure.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Miss Gunderson and Sgt. James from the first season. Justified in that the Major had been transferred away from Camp Singleton. Averted with Lt. Holowachuk, who was coincidentally transferred to Hollister (to the same office, even) at the same time as the Major.
  • The Comically Serious: The Major, he gets most of the laughs because of this. Gunny would apply as well.
  • Commonality Connection: The Major and his Russian counterpart.
  • Doomed Autographed Item:
    • Gunny’s prized porcelain eagle autographed by a renowned general.
    • Mimsy’s autographed picture of the Rat Pack. Averted when it was revealed that the autographs were forged.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Season one of the show was set in the fictional Camp Singleton, where the Major commanded an infantry training school, had a blonde secretary a la Jennifer Marlowe, and had early trouble adapting to being a dad. This all was dropped in favor of a retool the following season.
    • Even after the retool, the show still had early weirdness. Gunny was coldly methodical towards the Major (eliciting actual boos from the studio audience during her first scene) and General Craig was a bit more intimidating.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Polly E. McGillis. The E stands for Ester.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": With the exception of Polly, everyone calls John "Major", even his daughters.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: The Major proposes to Polly about three days after meeting her. And the marriage lasts!
    • Lampshaded by Elizabeth when she wanted to date a Marine. This did not exactly help her case.
  • The Fundamentalist: The show would occasionally use the uniformed characters (mainly John, of course) to tell the audience what's wrong with the country. Most commonly during the 3rd and 4th seasons.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Oldest daughter Elizabeth is the pretty but Book Dumb sister, while middle daughter Robin is the smart, nerdy sister. They occasionally bicker because of it.
  • Heir Club for Men: In one episode, Polly thinks she may be pregnant and Mac becomes excited at the prospect of having a son, mainly because he's a junior and has been called "Little John" all his life so becoming a father means he gets to be promoted to "Big John". When asked what will happen to John, Sr, he quips that his father will become "Old John".
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: The general’s wife Mimsy. Often mentioned but never seen.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine:
  • Laugh Track: Actually a live studio audience, but it's still there.
  • Love at First Sight: More somewhere between this and Love at First Punch, only Polly didn't punch the Major, just trashed him and everything he's worked for in a news article. She did try to punch him, in an attempt that only further made his point about the validity of a "peace offensive".
  • Men Can't Keep House: *Strongly* averted. Mac keeps a tight ship as a Marine.
  • Mildly Military: Subverted and played straight all at the same time. General Craig is rarely 100% professional, except when there's a foreign dignitary or an inspection. Holowachuk is very sensitive and can get easily sidetracked from his duties. Even Gunny Bricker likes to cut loose in the office from time to time. The Major, on the other hand, is military down to the calluses on his feet and the other three characters call him a buzzkill behind his back.
  • Military Alphabet: Useful at home and in the office.
  • Military Brat: Gunny, and of course the McGillis kids.
  • Not So Above It All: As straight-laced and professional as the Major is, there are moments when he can't help but be drawn into some of the more inane un-military things that General Craig, Lieutenant Holowachuk, and Gunny Bricker get up to in the office.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: In "Silent Drill Team", when John is asked to perform with the drill team he is only shown from behind and from far away in effort to fool the audience into thinking that Gerald McRaney is performing the very complicated and dangerous doesn't work.
  • Odd Couple: The Major and Polly. Straight-laced conservative Marine and an (at times self-described) fire-eating liberal (who doesn't even eat red meat). They argue and tease, but they also always respect each other.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: The Major is very military, right down to putting a handkerchief on the floor before kneeling to formally ask Polly's hand in marriage.
  • Only Sane Man: The Major has symptoms of this. Particularly since he's the only man in a house full of women. Including a teenager. Confusion ensues.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: General Craig
  • Politician Guest-Star: Dan Quayle shows up in the season 2 episode "Birthday Ball" to help the main characters celebrate the 215th anniversary of the Marine Corps.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Actor Jon Cypher broke his leg in two places after a dress rehearsal for a stage production of "Oliver!" resulting in General Craig having to spend the fourth season in a wheelchair and then crutches.
  • Really Gets Around: Gunny. Oh wow Gunny. Among other things, she's an expert on which motels in the tri-county area are suitable for staying at due to having stayed in most of them (and most of the rooms in them) at some point.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Both the Major and Polly try to be this. They don't always succeed in being reasonable but they learn; the Major especially takes time learning to tell the difference between being a reasonable military authority figure and being a reasonable parental authority figure.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The Major, Holowachuck, and Gunny Bricker team up to get a particularly troublesome sergeant transferred from Hollister to Iceland.
  • Retool: The series changed setting after the first season as the Major got transferred.
    • A few minor ones occurred between the pilot and the second episode as well. Most obviously, the Major's secretary got a lot younger and ditzier.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The first The Gulf War episode aired just weeks after it started. This gave subsequent episodes of the season a certain level of tonal incongruity.
  • Santa Ambiguity: Shenanigans cause the elusive Cool Toy present to go to the wrong recipient, but another one ends up mysteriously in the Christmas tree in the end.
  • Semper Fi: Well, duh.
  • Servile Snarker: Gunny. As an enlisted marine, she defers to the officers on the base. That doesn't shield them from her scathing sarcasm though.
  • Shown Their Work: the Major names and correctly uses the Philidor Position, a chess endgame scenario.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Polly was a minor one. Guest Vicki Lawrence played a rather cartoonish one.
  • Straight Man: The Major is an example who actually gets a lot of the really funny lines because he's taking things seriously. Ditto for Gunny.
  • The Teaser: Rare in season 1, but most later season episodes had one of these.
  • The Teetotaler: Holowachuk doesn't drink, which becomes an issue when he gets promoted to First Lieutenant and has to take part in a wetting down ceremony — an event normally accompanied by enormous amounts of alcohol. While his peers try to pressure him into drinking, Mac stands up for Holowachuk and convinces everyone to take part in the traditional antics sober, leading to everyone having lots of fun while remarking that this is the first wetting down they'll properly remember.
  • Twerp Sweating: The Major automatically does this with any boy the girls bring home and goes extra hard on any Marines Elizabeth takes a liking to since he knows what young Marines are after. This usually doesn't last, though, because he inevitably ends up liking all of them while still keeping a close eye on the relationships. He also attempts this with boys Casey likes but they're all too young to realize what's going on.
  • Valentine's Day Episode: Because of course there is one.
  • Very Special Episode:
    • Gunny's house get burglarized, and dealt with how she handled it
    • The Major confronting another major who had been abusing his wife and son. The end of the episode featured Gerald McRaney and Nicole Debuc out of character, giving a number to a hotline that abuse victims could call.
    • A second season episode dealt with The Gulf War by having the Major write a letter to George H. W. Bush asking to go fight in Kuwait.
    • In one episode where the General has the Major write a welcome home speech for Marines returning home from Desert Storm, he writes a standard "Good job, men" speech that the General wants redone. When he related how he was greeted when returning from Vietnam (snuck out the back of the plane in civvies to avoid protesters), the General tells him to write the speech that that Marine should have received.
    • The episode addressing Desert Storm that aired less than a month after the start of the war.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: When the Major's father visits, Mac reveals that he's never felt like his father has been proud of him. His father struggles with the words and finally says something that seems mild, but is delivered with such heartfelt emotion and has such an effect on Mac that it becomes a Tear Jerker.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: Played with in an episode where a Russian major visits Hollister. Both Mac and Gunny admit to General Craig that they're unsure of how to feel, as they both had been trained in the Marines to distrust Russians.