#11. Chet Hunter
Played By: Blake Clark (1995-2000, 2015)
Episode Count: 13 (12- BMW, 1- GMW)
Role: Shawn's father, Jack's biological father
Signature Episodes: Career Day, I Never Sang For My Legal Guardian, Fishing For Virna, Janitor Dad, Turkey Day, Brothers, We'll Have A Good Time Then
One of the cornerstones of Chet's character is his ability to draw us, the viewers, into his game. We love this guy. We love hearing his stories and his jokes. But he's a criminal! A hustler! A conman, and a drunk! Chet is a liar, but we still want to listen to his lies. We'll forgive all of that just because he's likeable. And suddenly... we're part of the problem. No one holds Chet accountable for his nonsense, so he just goes on like always. The moment where this overwhelms me is his first appearance, in Career Day. Chet is grandstanding and making up stories and all the students buy into it. Shawn doesn't even bother trying to tell Cory that his father is lying. This is every day for Shawn, watching his father get away with this crap. And we're part of it. We personally experience the power of his charisma, we are players in this game that has Shawn so trapped. It would be easy to make the viewer feel sorry for Shawn, it happens all the time, but here Chet is bringing us in on the wrong side. That's incredible.
But Shawn isn't the only one who can see through to what Chet really is. Chet sees it too. We start to develop this in I Never Sang For My Legal Guardian with this line when Cory tries to convince him to go back to Philly, "I love him. I love him so much I can't go back." And it's true, he genuinely does love his son. Every time they run into each other, Chet glows and says "Hey Shawny!" or something like that. We learn in Road Trip that Chet loved to brag about Shawn to anyone who will listen at this truck stop, and presumably every other truck stop he frequented. He gives Shawn the toaster he's been working on all episode in Brothers because it's all he has to give. He swallows his pride and goes to Jack's stepfather for help with Shawn's tuition. He does love Shawn, and he genuinely wants what's best for him. Without that love we could have written off "he's better off without me" as a convenient excuse. Fortunately, we have plenty of proof that it's genuine.
That thread returns in the season 5 opener when Chet basically forces Shawn to move in with Jack, because he thinks it's for the best. What's really interesting about it is at the end of I Never Sang. Chet agrees to return and take care of Shawn, but he never admits that Shawn is in good hands with him or that he's good enough of a father to raise him, he never really says what he wants to do. He just gets talked out of chasing Virna anymore and basically says "Okay I guess I'm back." That's interesting because of two parallel moments: there at the end of I Never Sang, Shawn attempts to convince Chet to stay, "I need you. And I'm thinkin' you need me." But Chet doesn't respond to that! He deflects with a joke, like he always does. It's not until We'll Have A Good Time Then that we return to that. There are so many great lines here, Chet saying "I'm a lousy father" directly to Shawn, Shawn asking in tears if he just wasn't good enough for Chet to stick around, and Chet responds with his theme, "No Shawn, I wasn't good enough for you." But the REAL champion line is right after that, the parallel moment I was talking about with I Never Sang. Shawn falls into his father's arms, "I need you dad." And this time Chet responds. "I need you too, son."
That is the line that convinces me 100% that Chet has finally changed, that he actually would have stayed this time. The two situations are so similar. Chet wants to leave, Shawn is living without him, Shawn wants him to stay and says he needs him. But this time, his poisonous mentality of not being good enough doesn't matter, because he realizes he needs Shawn too. I love that they didn't give him the easy way out, there isn't some magic moment where he realizes that he is good enough. They just need each other. And what's amazing is that Chet does stay! His spirit stays with Shawn and guides him, all the way up to Girl Meets Hurricane and presumably beyond that. It would be cheesy and unacceptable to have this explosive crushing death on the show just to bring him back as a ghost if it weren't for all of Shawn's work to get him to stay, culminating in that scene in We'll Have where he says "I'm stayin." And this time he really does.
Change is easy on this show. People change every week, back forth, forgetting what they learned. But the grave consistency of not being good enough, the heartwarming consistency of honestly loving his son, and this final moment of genuine revelation... It might be the most solid and polished character arc in the series. And one of the most powerful. Start to finish, there are no cracks in the design of this character, or in the telling of his story.
And that's just his core theme. You've got his devout and relentless (if foolish) love for his wife, the contrasting fatherhood that lets us examine Alan more closely, his compelling mix of shame and pride in Turkey Day, and most importantly, he's responsible for setting up most of Shawn's internal struggles, in particular the passing on of "I'm not good enough." And we'll get into that in the Shawn post.
Chet is a robust character, fully fleshed out and brought to life, with an almost unmatched level of consistency. His story is emotional and compelling with an overwhelmingly satisfying ending, and he leaves a massive, lasting impact on many of the main characters. He has no trouble contending with the ranks of some of the top ten characters, despite such a low episode count. To be blunt, the #10 post better be damn convincing.