While A Bad Moms Christmas makes its holiday run at the movie box office, don’t forget about these bad moms who once ruled TV Land
Admit it, you want June Cleaver. Even if you’re a woman, you want June Cleaver. Or you want to be June Cleaver, especially during the Christmas holidays when the pressure for maternal warmth is at a fever pitch.
Television serves us spoonful after spoonful of maternal nurturing, which has saddled women with high expectations for performance ever since dear June donned her ubiquitous pearls. From the earliest days of television to the 21st century, the small screen has featured a variety of mothers who have one thing in common: their dedication to their kids.
Fortunately for the cynics and low-achieving mothers among us, television has also offered alternatives to June’s ideal. True, they haven’t been as lionized as June and her crinoline-skirted cohorts. But film isn’t the only place viewers find “Mommie Dearest.” Television, too, gives us some perfectly awful examples of motherhood. The television landscape abounds with moms who have a darker side. In no particular order, here are five juicy ones you wouldn’t want stuffing your bird:
Katey Segal: Peg Bundy on Married With Children
Peg Bundy, of Married with Children, the longest-lasting sitcom on Fox TV (1989-1997), may have been television’s most hysterically narcissistic mother, but can you blame her? She was married to salesman Al Bundy, an ex-all-star quarterback trying to coast on his glory days. A redhead with a teased, bouffant hairdo, Peg refuses to clean, cook or wash clothes.
Instead, she gets the Presidential Fitness Award for turning complaining into an aerobic exercise. Why scrub toilets when you can shop the mall? She cites laziness as a “family tradition,” scoffing at the idea of her daughter ever taking a job.
“Wanker women never work,” she tells her daughter. “In the old pioneer days, Wanker women were getting their hair done while Wanker men got theirs scalped.”
Peg spends her days munching bonbons, watching television and decidedly NOT wasting any energy wondering why her kids are such wash-outs. Her wardrobe consists of skintight Spandex pants, oversized belted blouses and stiletto heels that put the wobble in her Wanker. How low does she go? She even steals from her children to get extra cash.
Somehow, though, actress Kate Segal made it all work as TV comedy:
“I loved Married With Children. That was the job against all odds – you know, when I first read the script, I thought, ‘No one will ever watch this, but I think this is so fun. So I was really happy to be involved in it. And we laughed every single day. It was the funniest 11 years. We really, really enjoyed it.” – Kate Segal
Roseanne Barr: title character on Roseanne
Roseanne Barr is an American actress, comedian, writer and television producer. She began her career doing stand-up at comedy clubs before gaining fame for her role in the hit television sitcom, Roseanne, which ran for nine seasons (1988-1997) and earned Barr an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. In the eight years preceding her show, Barr had crafted a “fierce working-class domestic goddess” persona and wanted to do “a realistic show about a strong mother who was not a victim of patriarchal consumerism.”
When Roseanne premiered in 1988, it was heralded for its honest portrayal of a working-class Midwestern family struggling to make ends meet. Back then, making a sitcom about a less than aspirational family unit was a risk, but it turned out to be a winner, perhaps because audiences were weary of perfect families. John Goodman was great as Roseanne’s not-so-hard-working husband and actress Laurie Metcalf is pitch-perfect as Roseanne’s younger sister. The kids are hilarious too… The whole point of Roseanne Barr’s character in the self-titled sitcom is that by most rational standards, she was an appalling mother.
“My hope is that gays will be running the world, because then there would be no war. Just a greater emphasis on military apparel.”
– Roseanne Barr
Share Thanksgiving with Dan and Roseanne:
January Jones: Betty Draper on Mad Men
If you think Roseanne brings motherhood down to a new low, check out January Jones in the role of Betty Draper in the television series Mad Men.
When Betty Draper chastises her daughter Sally for wrinkling the clothes in the first episode of Mad Men, television audiences knew they were in for a totally different kind of suburban mom. Never mind that Sally was running around with a cellophane dry-cleaner bag over her head. Risk of toddler suffocation was nothing compared to the potential creasing of her Bonwit Teller dress.
Betty Draper might have looked like Donna Reed but she played like some kind of ghoul from an Anne Sexton poem. She makes a lewd pass at Sally’s boyfriend and tries to find out what her daughter told her psychiatrist. When she catches little Sally examining her nether parts, she tells her she may risk amputation.
As Betty Draper, January Jones gave us the dark side of June Cleaver. If dear June had ever gone on a bender, she’d look very much like the chain-smoking, petulant, disinterested trophy wife Betty. It makes you wonder whether Mother didn’t Know Best all along.
Betty Draper’s Guide to Parenting:
“I know people say life goes on, and it does, but no one tells you that’s not a good thing.”
– Betty Draper
Nancy Marchand: Livia Soprano on The Sopranos
Does your mom get on your nerves sometimes? Well, as Livia Soprano would say, “poor you,” because we’re sure she’s got nothing on the matriarchs on television these days. From neglectful and apathetic to tyrannical and downright homicidal, the mother figures on the boob-tube in recent decades have been responsible for some of the most horrific upbringings imaginable.
Possibly the worst mom on this list is Livia Soprano, played by Nancy Marchand, the inimitable and distinguished character actress who achieved perhaps her greatest fame as the domineering mother of mob boss, Tony Soprano, in The Sopranos. When Tony decides his mother can no longer live on her own, he puts her into a ritzy nursing home which he constantly reminds her is a really just a “retirement community.” Livia hates the nursing home and decides to exact revenge by manipulating her brother-in-law, Junior, into a putting out a “hit” on her own son.
Check out Livia’s best moments:
“What do you care? I wish the Lord would take me. Kill me now. Go on, go on, go! Take the carving knife. Here, here now, please!”
– Livia Soprano
Edie Falco: Jackie Peyton on Nurse Jackie
Edie Falco played Jackie Peyton, an emergency room nurse on the medical comedy-drama series on Showtime from 2009 to 2015. For this role, she earned another six Emmy nominations to go along with the six Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe Awards for her role as another “bad mom,” Carmela Soprano, in The Sopranos. Nurse Jackie juggles the frenzied life of a serious drug addict who tries to hold her family together as she steals narcotics from the hospital where she works and cheats on her husband with the hospital’s pharmacist. Ultimately, her marriage falls apart and her two daughters, Grace and Ruby, are estranged from a mother who they really could not know given her relentless addiction to Vicodin, Percocet and Xanax—we see that Jackie never knew herself.
“Can I have Dilaudid?”
– Jackie Peyton
Watch Nurse Jackie in action. A gifted nurse? Yes. A gifted mother? No.
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