Susannah is off being feted for Mother’s Day; I, on the other hand, am cheerfully/crabbily boycotting. This, then, seems the perfect Bacon nod to Mother’s Day: celebrating those TV moms who did it right and side-eyeing those who could have used a refresher. Or a visit from Social Services.
Let’s look at some heroes first:
10. Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox), Cougar Town: Heaven knows she’s a tad on the clingy side–we expect a whole episode to be built around Trav finding a NannyCam implanted in roommate Kevin. But when push comes to shove it turns out Jules knows when to back off (even if she doesn’t want to) and when to step in. What makes her a compelling candidate for the good list, however, is all the mothering she does of the Cul-de-Sac Crew that makes up her little constructed family. No one in the neighborhood is going without wine, advice, or hugs while Jules is on the job. (Well–maybe Tom.)
9. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Downton Abbey: We love our PBS costume dramas, with Downton Abbey the latest obsession. Isobel Crawley’s progressive ways make her not only an encouraging, inspiring mother to reluctant heir Matthew, but, in the ways she’s searching out to let him be lord of the manor while keeping a toe in the career she’s so intensely proud of, the mother to a new age. Plus, she’s got the cojones to toe-to-toe with Dame Maggie Smith’s fearsome Dowager Countess of Grantham without even flinching.
8. Virgina Chance (Martha Plimpton), Raising Hope: Virgina might seem an odd choice, given that she gave birth at 16 and then raised a son for whom a Wal-Mart level job was a huge step up, but the pilot demonstrated that Virginia’s someone you want on your side. Between walloping the serial killer who would become the mother of her grandchild on the melon with a household appliance and tenderly singing said granddaughter to sleep, Virginia’s got all the mothering bases covered in her own way.
7. Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri), Doctor Who: Jackie’s another tough initial sell–it certainly takes the Doctor a while to warm up to her. As her layers are peeled back, however, we find a fiercely protective Jackie who fought on after being widowed to raise a girl so brave and resourceful she can hold her own with a Time Lord. On top of that, Jackie’s observant enough to worry about how Rose’s journeys are changing her. “Let me tell you something about those who get left behind,” she tells someone perceived as a threat to her daughter and the Doctor, “because it’s hard, and that’s what you become: hard. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that I will never let her down, and I’ll protect them both until the end of my life. So whatever you want, I’m warning you, back off.” We’ll take Jackie’s tough love any day of the week.
6. Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), The Simpsons: She’s brought down tyrants through the hearth arts (scotching Mr. Burns’ gubernatorial campaign with one well-placed entree). She’s shielded Lisa from the Simpsons Gene. For the love of Pete, she’s homeschooled Bart Simpson. Marge has given up a lot to put her kids first, but she might be rewarded one day by being the mother of a president. And Bart Simpson.
5. Patty Chase (Bess Armstrong), My So-Called Life: The anchor of a show that was too good for this world, Patty could bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and nurture Angela through all the heartaches great and small that come from just trying to grow up in this world. And in her spare time, she could do the same for Rayanne and Rickie. We wish Angela had been our friend in high school, mostly so we could hang out at her house and have Patty mother us.
4. Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), Friday Night Lights: If mothers are judged solely on how their kids turn out…well, they shouldn’t be. But if they were, Tami’d better hope Gracie Belle turns out well, because Julie Taylor is working our last nerve. But the Julie saga is actually a perfect example of why Tami’s a great mom–by turns sympathetic and demanding, she gives her kids all the support they need to succeed and then insists that they work hard to be all they can be. Then she does that for an entire town of kids. Add to that her example as a wife and professional (well, most of the time), and she’s top-notch.
3. Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad), The Cosby Show: Claire’s the head badass in charge, and everyone in her house knows is. She’s head disciplinarian, head cattle prodder, head listening ear…she might be the #2 dance leader in the house, but you get the idea. To be fair, the dream life the Huxtable kids live has a lot to do with their socioeconomic status, but Claire is an equal partner in providing that, too. And she does it all with class, sass, and, yes, being a badass. If I could choose one of the moms to be instead of one of the moms to have, it might be Claire.
2. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Tortured, torturing. Shooting, being shot. Taking on the military-industrial complex to save her son, who will lead the glorious revolution against our robot overlords. Sarah’s not just mothering John Connor, people–she’s giving up her hopes and dreams, and maybe her own life, to save us all.
1. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), Gilmore Girls: She may every once in a while be a little overindulgent, but Lorelai’s determination to give her daughter the childhood she herself never had sets off a cascade that starts with a teen mom raising her daughter in a potting shed and ends with Stars Hollow’s Most Beloved Girl Ever graduating from Yale. Along the way, we see one of the warmest, most supportive mother-daughter relationships ever shown on TV. We might want to be both Lorelai and the daughter she raised.
And to those moms you might not want to emulate:
10. (Tie) Lucille Bluth and Lindsay Bluth Funke (Jessica Walter and Portia de Rossi), Arrested Development: One makes her youngest son so codependent that when trying to escape her he mistakes the warning “Loose seal!” for her name and loses a hand. She then uses his prosthetic replacement in…happy times and leaves it in the dishwasher for him to find. The other merrily ignores her daughter until she wants to date said daughter’s high school boyfriend. The apple doesn’t fall far from the funny, funny tree.
9. Mom (Tress MacNeille), Futurama: On the surface, a sweet, bustled woman who just wants you to be happy because she loves you so much. Underneath the corset, a corporate overlord who just wants to suck the life (and all of your money) out of the entire galaxy. Don’t disappoint Mom–she might slap you. Or send her army of killer robots to express her displeasure.
8. Lianne Mars (Connie Bohrer), Veronica Mars: Imagine a mother who gives up every vestige of her old life, including being able to see or care for her teenage daughter, in order to protect that daughter from nefarious folk. A candidate for the best moms list, right? Sure, until she returns, drains her daughter’s college savings going to fake rehab, and then steals a very hard-earned paycheck on her way out the door a second time. Veronica became a better person with Lianne out of the picture anyway.
7. Colleen Donaghy (Elaine Stritch), 30 Rock: Highly critical. Ridiculously demanding. Acid-tongued. Unaffectionate (“Tell him his mother loves him. But not in a queer way”). The anti-matchmaker. And almost sure to bring all of these delightful qualities to the next generation (“I see you brought the bag…that my bastard grandchild will come in”). Like some of our moms on the best list, Colleen did the best with what she had, but now that she has more she’s happy to use it to keep twisting the knife.
6. Ellis Grey (Kate Burton), Grey’s Anatomy: It seems like we should have felt sorry for Ellis Grey, given that her career as one of the foremost cardiothoracic surgeons in the world was cut short by early-onset Alzheimer’s. And maybe we would have, if she hadn’t treated her husband with contempt, cheated on him and then pushed him out of their daughter’s life. Or expressed nothing but disappointment in Meredith, while spitting on her dreams at every opportunity. Oh, and then there was the time Ellis slashed her wrists in front of her daughter, just to manipulate a lover. Meredith drives us up a tree, but she comes by her crazy honestly.
5. Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), Weeds: We’d like to watch this show more regularly, but we can’t get over the intense discomfort we feel when Nancy puts her children in grave danger not only because she’s running a weed business, but because she’s just so bad at it. We can understand being scared about losing her lifestyle along with her husband, but in what world did exposing her children to criminals and druggies become a better choice than downsizing and getting a crappy desk job?
4. Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), Justified: Well, she’s all about family, you have to give her that. A rural version of the Godfather, Mags is willing to use anyone to further her Kentucky kingdom, and that includes selling out her sons, pitting her sons against one another, manipulating her sons, putting her sons in danger, asking her sons to commit heinous crimes…and if they don’t obey to her satisfaction? She smashes their fingers with a ball peen hammer. Sure, she feels deeply sad when things go badly for said sons, but you’ve also gotta suspect she’s got one of those poisoned mason jars set aside for everyone in the family, just in case the need should arise.
3. Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), Damages: Patty would like you to know that she loves her son very much, albeit in her own heartless, extremely demanding way. That’s why she lies to him about his paternity, disowns him, has all of his belongings removed from her home, attempts to bribe his pregnant girlfriend, and has said girlfriend arrested for statutory rape. At least she was pretty understanding when, in return, he tried to run over his mom with her own car.
2. Betty Draper Francis (January Jones), Mad Men: Look, I can understand how soul-killing it might have been to try to live the traditional roles that were imposed on women in the 50s and 60s. It’s not all the smoking and drinking and dieting she does while pregnant, or even the frequently administered spankings that make her such a bad mother, because, hey, it was a different time and who didn’t let their kids play with dry cleaning bags back then? It’s the fact that she allows her bitterness about her strangled life to manifest as resentment of her children. Most of the other moms on this list at least manage to pretend to show some affection towards their kids every once in a while. Not Betty. When she’s not ignoring hers completely or telling them to go away and watch TV, she’s shutting them in closets, telling them to go bang their heads against a wall, or force-feeding them sweet potatoes in front of her new in-laws. But perhaps the worst thing she’s ever done was petulantly fire Carla, the maid who was the closest thing to a loving caregiver those poor kids ever had.
1. Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand), The Sopranos: She’ll probably end up on every bad mom list you’ll see, and she’ll even probably come in at #1 on most. That’s what happens when you compare your children to dogs, fake a stroke to manipulate the entire family, ruin your daughter-in-law’s relationship with her own family, make it clear you think your son will tire of his wife…yeah, Livia’s a peach. Until another TV mom tries to persuade family members to kill her own son, Livia’s likely to be the undisputed queen of the damned. Where’s the Hallmark card that says, “I’m Glad We Got Over Your Putting a Hit Out on Me–Happy Mother’s Day?” In Livia’s cold, dead hands, that’s where.