Thursday, May 08, 2014

A salute to TV moms

With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday, I thought this would be a good time to salute TV moms. They have the most thankless role on television. Basically, they just stand around and react to the shenanigans of their dopey husbands. Or they’re the wet blanket. They’re the sensible ones, always telling the nitwit hubbys they can’t build that treehouse or sign up to fly to Mars. And they won’t let the kids shoot off fireworks in their rooms.

For the most part, they have no real comic persona. They’re the support system. It kills me to see the super talented Nancy Travis relegated to being the sounding board for goofball Tim Allen in LAST MAN STANDING.

Most TV moms are generic. They’re pleasant, sensible, capable. June Cleaver (who wears dresses and pearls while she bakes meatloaf), Donna Stone, Clair Huxtable, Carol Brady, Harriet Nelson, Elysee Keaton, Margaret Anderson, Jill Taylor, Kathy O’Hara (THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW). If they do have a comic persona it’s generally either dingbat (Edith Bunker, Lucy, Mrs. C.,), broad foreign accent (Gloria Pritchett), or ballbuster (Roseanne).

Thanks to great writing and the terrific Patty Heaton, she was able to make Deborah Barone sensible, bitchy, and funny. And she’s doing the same on THE MIDDLE. Julie Bowen is another whose pitch-perfect comic timing elevates Claire Pritchett above the standard family lunch maker/soccer mom. And Nancy Travis tries her best, playing opposite an 800-pound gorilla.

One mom who deserves more attention and praise is Ann Romano from ONE DAY AT A TIME, played by the incomparable Bonnie Franklin. That show is no longer in syndication and has slipped between the cracks, but Ann Romano was a strong single-parent who was feisty, adorable, and funny. If ever there was a TV mom role model it was Ann Romano. On ALMOST PERFECT when we needed a mother-figure we went right out and got Bonnie Franklin. Needless to say, she was fantastic. Sadly, she is no longer with us – another reason why she is generally overlooked.

I’m sure you have other favorites I didn’t mention. There have been almost 70 years of TV moms. Laura Petrie may have been the sexiest TV mom. I also loved Peg Bundy, Morticia, Florida Evans, Marie Barone, Weezy, Lois from MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, and who can ever forget Estelle Costanza? Who are some of your faves?

So happy Mother's Day to TV moms.  Throw your aprons to the sky. 

A great salute to TV moms will be on tonight’s episode of INSTANT MOM at 8:00 on Nick at Nite. It features guest appearances by Florence Henderson, Marion Ross, Jackee, and Tempest Bledsoe. The episode is very funny, and just happens to have been written by Annie Levine & Jonathan Emerson. Call your mother for Mother's Day and watch this show.

60 comments:

Graham Powell said...

To echo what Ken said, and to quote Lewis Grizzard, be sure to call your mama. I sure wish I could call mine.

Carol said...

When I was a kid, I was contractually obligated to watch the Brady Bunch in reruns every day,* so Mrs Brady has a spot in my heart.

I've secretly always wanted to be Laura Petrie, though.



*It was the 70's



Stoney said...

...and then there's "Maude"! She was a mom but I'll concede that the role was much more.

Sophia on "The Golden Girls" (Estelle Getty) was given the best wisecracks by the writers.

Patricia Heaton and Doris Roberts were indeed great on "Raymond" but don't forget the recurring turns by Katherine Helmond and Georgia Engel. Mama mia!

Never seen, only in phone calls, but how about Belker's mom on "Hill Street Blues".

Finally the all-time witch of a mother; ENDORA.

Scooter Schechtman said...

Forget the Jennifer/Bailey debate, it was always Mother Carlson. Andy knew.

Stoney said...

To me, the best example of a TV mom breaking from the stereotype that Ken writes about was the "Lucky Shirt" episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond"; especially when the F.B.I interviewer presses Marie into revealing her true motivation.

Mike Barer said...

Great Post, I love Julie Bowen in Modern Family.

Gene P. said...

Patricia Heaton has nailed it in two different sitcoms, especially in The Middle. Pure, delicious neuroses.

Michael said...

Leave us not forget Laura Petrie. And in the reincarnated life of the actress who played her, does anybody remember Ida Morganstern?

Mike McCann said...

My favorite TV moms:

Kathy Williams (MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY): The glue of the family. Knew how to calm down her emotional performer-hubby and was a spectacular Step-Mother -- remember she was Danny's 2nd wife and won Rusty over and bonded with him. The lack of re-run exposure in recent years has kept her from prominence, but not my memory.

Betty Rubble (FLINTSTONES):
TV's first adoptive mom. The poignancy of episode where she and Barney find and bond with Bamm Bamm is as deep and sincere as in any flesh-and-blood sitcom.

Samantha Stevens (BEWITCHED):
Also kept her calm and did wonders solving problems for her husband -- and keeping her own eccentric (wow, that's kind) mom under control. And she could whip up a banquet with a twitch of her nose.

emily said...

Mags Bennett?

Merle said...

ONE DAY AT A TIME is still in syndication and is still available. It's just that no one has opted to pick up the reruns.

DwWashburn said...

Well since I only watch three new series currently, my current list will be short. But I like the way that the writers write for Mary Cooper on TBBT. Claire Dunphy is sometimes a little too over the top for me. But being able to watch Julie Bowen perform the lines helps.

Chris in Cowtown said...

In Canada, One Day at a Time is shown nightly with back to back episodes on seldom watched Book Televison Canada. The digital network has 1 million subscribers, but only because it is bundled with other channels.

Joe said...

I got a HUGE kick out of Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp) in THAT 70s SHOW. She was hilarious and some of her outtakes were brilliant!

Don Barksdale said...

I have to go with Donna Stone of The Donna Reed Show.

Mike Schryver said...

Ida Morgenstern deserves to be mentioned again. Nancy Walker and the MTM crew created an all-time classic character that belongs in the very top tier of TV moms.

SkippyMom said...

I read a lovely interview of Barbara Billingsley, the infamous pearl wearing mother on "Leave it to Beaver".

She explained why the need for the pearls. They weren't trying to show perfection or the quintessential mom, she simply wore the pearls on TV because she was quite self conscious of the dip in her throat [where her neck meets her shoulders] and since it was so noticeable on TV they decided the pearls would hide her perceived flaw.

She also said in later years when the actors playing Beaver and his brother got older and hence taller, she was forced to wear heels so they would appear to be the appropriate age that was written, although both actors had grown taller than her.

It might dispel the myth of what the network was trying to put across but I always loved her explanation as to why she vacuumed in pearls and heels.

And if I had been able to avoid every interview Patricia Heaton has ever given, I would appreciate her body of work a lot more. She has always come across as . . .I don't know that I want to say, but her comedic timing is excellent. I just wish she would stop giving interviews. She grates.

And did you forget Marge Simpson?

Brian O. said...

Interesting you list Peg Bundy. Katey Segal was perfect even when the later scripts tried to reinvent the character (smart, dingbat, what?).

Johnny Walker said...

I immediately thought of Sophia Petrillo from THE GOLDEN GIRLS! :)

What would a list of "TV Dads" look like, I wonder?

Ted said...

I would tend to disqualify TV mothers who, most of the time, were that in name only. Someone mentioned Samantha from BEWITCHED. Yeah, she was a mother from the second season on, and yeah, they did episodes that focused on the kid from time to time, but for the most part, Tabitha had just been put down for a nap or had just been put to bed or was playing in the nursery or was in the park with Esmerelda. Anything to keep the staff from having to write a scene with her into the show.

Bob said...

Then there's the anti-mom: Nancy Marchand as Livia Soprano. She almost made you feel sorry for Tony. Almost.

I have to give another thumbs-up to Nancy Walker as Ida Morgenstern. The woman was hilarious.

ScottyB said...

Let's not forget Jane Kaczmarek's 'Malcolm In The Middle' mom. She steered a household as screwed up as you could get in a sitcom and still be somewhat believable. She'd kick Debra Baron's ass by herself in a TV wrestling Mexican cage match.

Father's Day is next month. Note to Ken: Frank Barone has NO peer. He is the undisputed Pope Of The Barcolounger.

tb said...

June Lockhart, Lassie and Lost in Space. Also agree about Debra Jo Rupp in That '70's Show, she was hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy (in re-runs) Tyne Daly on Judging Amy. Amy's parenting skills can be a little suspect, but I like Maxine's approach to solving problems and being there for her children, even when difficult.

Andrea said...

Loved Clair Huxtable. So sensible, so smart, so beautiful. And Phylicia Rashad had such chemistry with Bill Cosby: They really seemed like parents who loved each other, unlike most (all, maybe) of the TV couples (who are also parents) that I've seen. Even when she was exasperated with him, she was kind and not cruel. They danced, they smiled at each other, kissed and embraced, and he rubbed her feet after she came home from work. It was sweet, and those characters had a partnership when it came to parenting, too. They worked together and didn't undermine or disrespect each other. Now on TV, it seems like parents just roll their eyes at each other if they aren't outright insulting or demeaning or disrespectful toward each other and sometimes toward their kids, too. I'm really not as old-fashioned as this probably makes me sound, but sheesh, I hope that kind of thing isn't what is actually happening in households across America. That's not how my marriage is, and that's not how I was raised (thankfully).

Wayne said...

An often-neglected TV mother... Shaft.

7 episodes in 1973.

Canda said...

Regarding Shaft being a mother…watch your mouth!

chalmers said...

A great Mom actress who never got that signature role is Amy Aquino. She was outstanding on "Brooklyn Bridge" and numerous guest roles.

One of my favorite Mom scenes ever was her performance as Neal's mother in "Freaks and Geeks" after he had acted out at a party due to some family issues.

On the other hand, she was hilarious in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" when Larry tried to take back the dog he had given to her and her family.

Jeffrey Mark said...

Hands down, Bonnie Franklin as Anne Romano on One Day At A Time. The issues she had to deal with each week with her two daughters was very very real and very honest. She held her head high through the trials and tribulations of being a single mother, sometimes making hard decisions. We saw her struggle with life in a complex world.

Rob said...

Grandma Walton

Grandma Winslow on Family Matters - she was the funniest person on the show

Thelma on Mama's Family (or Carol Burnett, if you prefer)

Mother Jefferson

Mama Carlson on WKRP (Sylvia Sidney was too harsh, but Carol Bruce was perfection)

Elyse Keaton on Family Ties

Tami Taylor (and Mama Smash) - Friday Night Lights

Norma - Wonder Years (she was even popular with Kevin's buddies, to his dismay)

MikeN said...

Patricia Heaton was great, also Mrs Taylor on Home Improvement, Malcolm in the Middle, Mrs Keaton.

If it counts, there's also Agent 99.

Gary said...

Harriet Nelson was much funnier on Ozzie & Harriet than people tend to remember. That show is criminally underrated now, as it's become symbolic of corny 1950's television. But the writers gave Harriet some great putdown lines, almost snarky before that was a thing.

Johnny Walker said...

Totally agree, Andrea! Very nicely put.

James Blight said...

I never watched the show, but many people raved about Lauren Graham's performance on "Gilmore Girls."

Mike Schryver said...

Lauren Graham on Gilmore Girls, absolutely. One of the smartest-written and funniest shows, and an excellent performance by Graham to keep up with the material. Also Kelly Bishop as Graham's mother on that show.

SharoneRosen said...

You named all the best! I also wanted to be Laura Petrie-beautiful, talented, and married to OH ROOOOOOB!

Let's not overlook the pinnacle of modern bad mothering, Stockard Channing on "The Good Wife!" I've actually never been a fan of hers, but I think she nails this character without turning her into a caricature.

Anonymous said...

Molly Goldberg, but that was before your time.

Phillip B said...

Funny that two of the most famously pregnant sitcom characters - Lucy Ricardo and Murphy Brown - are not mentioned here...

Jake said...

What? No "My Mother the Car" love?

Molly said...

I have to disagree about Ann Romano from "One Day at a Time". She uprooted her children from their happy life in Logansport and into a run-down apartment because she was "bored" with her marriage (Ann's words, not mine). She could stay bored for a few more years until the kids left home? Selfish woman.

In another episode, she finds out the man she is seeing is married, and she decides to keep seeing him, even though her daughters know. NOT a role model.

My parents HATED that show when we were growing up and I couldn't understand why. Now I do.

Mike said...

What about Shirley Partridge? She was a modern mother, guiding her children to solve their own problems rather than solving them herself. And she was a knockout, too.

Klee said...

Moms very TOUGH to have: Livia Soprano and Marie Barone...both UNFORGETTABLE!

Bobby said...

I.e., Andrea on the Huxtables: No one in my family ever spoke in anything less than a raised voice and my mother once chased my father several blocks with a golf club over an indiscretion she discovered. The Huxtable household had about as much connection to reality to what I knew in Brooklyn as Munchkinland.

Janice said...

I enjoyed Linda Lavin's ALICE. Not only was she smart and sensitive, but she could crack wise with the best of them.

Anonymous said...

Molly said...
"I have to disagree about Ann Romano from "One Day at a Time". She uprooted her children from their happy life in Logansport and into a run-down apartment because she was "bored" with her marriage (Ann's words, not mine). She could stay bored for a few more years until the kids left home? Selfish woman.

In another episode, she finds out the man she is seeing is married, and she decides to keep seeing him, even though her daughters know. NOT a role model."


Agreed. Her character seemed based on the political disposition of the writers, i.e., Women are actually strong, and men are actually pussies women could take or leave.

I've know quite a few single parents, and the show didn't resonate with any reality I've ever known.

The social contract of her character seemed to be for all the others to ignore her constant patronizing, because it was implicitly understood that if she couldn't do that, she was liable to have a meltdown. It's like she was a passive-aggressive emotional bully.

I never liked the show because I didn't like the premise of having an angry mental patient for a mom, especially when it's apparently not allowed to be mentioned by any of the people she patronized.

cadavra said...

45 posts and no one's mentioned Morticia Addams? For shame.

Linda Lavin was fabulous on SEAN SAVES THE WORLD, but apparently only six of us were watching it. :-(

Ken, I think you're really underestimating your pal Nancy Travis on LAST MAN STANDING. She gets plenty of punch lines, and kudos to Tim Allen for generously being her straight man in the family scenes.

Cap'n Bob said...

June Cleaver is #1 with me, but to go back to my earlier years I'll mention Jan Clayton as Jeff's mother on Lassie.

Ray32 said...

Tami Taylor on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, hands down. But I also thought of Kathy Baker's character on PICKET FENCES right away. She was all kinds of weird and awesome.

thirteen said...

My favorite TV mom is Mr. French. Either one.

David G. Whitham said...

Cynthia Harris was brilliant as Sylvia Buchman in Mad About You.

If anyone can be considered the perfect TV mom, it has to be Claire Huxtable. Intelligent, wise, respectful, and oh so beautiful.

McAlvie said...

Ken, I like Nancy Travis a lot, too, and would love to see her playing a bigger role again someday; but I'm not sure why you're bashing Last Man Standing. Sure, she's probably overqualified for the second banana role, but I suspect she signed on for the role of her own free will, so slamming the show is, just a little, slamming her as well. And while I know the show isn't Great Television, it's quite likeable and even funny at times. In fact, it's a nice departure from all the 20-something shows making 20 somethings look even more shallow than they really are. Considering the low quality of what's available, Nancy might just be glad to have a steady paycheck on a show that doesn't require her character to have a potty mouth and sleep around.

But if you feel so strongly about it, get back in the game and write her a better show to star in.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

If we're including dramas, I liked Joyce Summers and like Alicia Florrick. As a child, I loved June Lockhart. who seemed a lot easier to get along with than my mother. Although I would not like to be the child of either, I love both Leonard's mom (Christine Baranski) and Sheldon's mom (Laurie Metcalfe) on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

I love Debra Jo Rupp in everything she does.

wg

Anonymous said...

Kind of strange Ken says most tv moms are bland, then mentions literally a TON of "exceptions."



RCP said...

Thanks, Anonymous #1, for mentioning Tyne Daly; I also loved Maxine on 'Judging Amy' - her character, but also because she's the spitting image of one of my dearest friends.

Morticia Addams (Ken mentioned her, Cadavra) and Gomez would have been cool parents. Ida Morgenstern was a stand-out but would have driven me nuts - just like she did Rhoda. I never could relate to the June Cleaver types.

Jeffro said...

Mrs. Roper as the best unofficial surrogate mom in Three's Company!

Cheerio,
Jeffro

Rick Spence said...

I'll second the nomination of my first favorite TV mom, June Lockhart in Lassie.
But not Lost in Space. I don't remember her being really present in that show.

Plus, a vote for Mom Partridge. She sent the kids to bed without supper one day and sang along the next.

Barry Traylor said...

My son and I began watching One Day at a Time in the late 70's when he was 13. He had a teen crush on Valerie Bertinelli and old Dad watched it for Bonnie Franklin. It is a shame this one has slipped between the cracks as it was on for 9 years. Just checked Netflix and they only had the first season.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I like a lot of those mentioned. I might add Debbie Weaver and Jackie Joyner-Kersee on "The Neignbors" (please don't cancel it, ABC).

Marie Barone is EXACTLY like my mom. It comes in handy for a shorthand way to explain her to people.

Mike said...

The worst is Rachel Green-Geller.

That show is almost criminal the way it trivializes being a mom and encourages single parenthood.

Mike Barer said...

Then Frasier falls along those lines with Roz.