Well, it’s finally here! The day to celebrate all the mamas has arrived. For my fellow dads with young kids in the house, I hope you heeded my advice last week and remembered to hop on the craft train early. Otherwise, you’re probably picking glitter out of your phone cases and keyboards as you read this! It’s worth it though to celebrate all the mamas.
Being a mom means being a bit of everything—you have to interchangeably be a medic, a fashion designer, organizer, cook, house cleaner, valet, accountant, emotional support staff, laundromat and hundreds of other jobs throughout the assignment.
Please don’t take what I’m saying to be sexist—momness entail countless different attributes and styles, but the bottom line is MacGyver has nothing on your average mom in terms of versatility. In other words, it’s sexist, but I mean well. I’ve been blessed to have two wonderful moms in my life, my own ma (she’s the best!) and my dearest wife (she’s…also the best!) in addition to all the other wonderful friends and family in my life that have served mom duty. It’s really impressive to watch from the dad perspective. I’m not implying dads don’t pull their weight, but how many sailors have Dad tattoos? More often than not, mom is the first line of defense and she deserves whatever praise or painted rocks or macaroni necklaces we can provide and then some.
It’s funny though because moms often tend to get short shrift when it comes to pop culture. In the movies, a great mom is a rare gem. Sure, you’ve got Forest Gump’s mama (she really did love that boy). Ellen Griswald seems like a real mom, kind and supportive and nurturing and not at all ready to kill Chevy Chase. Leslie Mann gets that chance to showcase some good mom skills, but I wonder if that’s only because she’s married to the director. He’s in awe of what she does, like so many other dads with their wives, so he puts it on the big screen. Other than that, Hollywood seems too often willing to make mom the bad guy, or worse, not notice mom much at all. Stupid Hollywood. They spend all their time on special effects and fantastical stories and forget all about mom for the most part. Don’t get me started in literature—Grendel’s mom, sheesh!
But there’s one place where that’s different: the world of sitcoms. There’s something about a sitcom that needs to be more relatable, more down to earth. There are three basic types of sitcom, although many mix elements across the board. You got your workplace sitcoms (Cheers, Scrubs, Superstore, etc), your group of friends sitcoms (Friends, How I Met Your Mother, BIg Bang Theory, The Good Place, etc.), and you have the family sitcom. Frequently, they have butlers or maids. But many don’t. These are the shows where mom gets to shine, traditionally. So let’s sing the praises today of our Top 10 Sitcom Moms!
Edit: I lost track and miscounted. Here are the top 11 Sitcom Moms! Ha!
These obviously are in no particular order. How could you pick a favorite mom? It’s impossible. Even in fiction, these ladies are all gems.
Estelle Getty (Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls)
Sofia Petrillo is the type of mom who has run out of … you know…long ago. She’s going to say what’s on her mind when it’s on her mind. And you should listen, because she has the life experience to back it up. She doesn’t have that much time left, so being forthright will have to do in a world where everybody else is trying to sugar coat things. Fewer things are more fun to watch than cranky old ladies being all cranked up, and Estelle Getty was great at it. It didn’t matter who she talked to, you knew they were going to get it straight right then and there.
Vickie Lawrence (Thelma “Mama” Harper from Mama’s Family)
Mama’s Family was a syndicated favorite of mine growing up. It’s the embodiment of comfort food, as I frequently would just have it on in the background and tune in just to watch Vickie Lawrence being cranky. I had no idea of its roots in the Carol Burnett Show; heck, I actually preferred the broader comedy of the second cast (the one with Bubba) as opposed to when comedy greats like Rue Mclanahan and Betty White made regular appearances. It just goes to show what a comedic powerhouse Vickie Lawrence was. Plus, you can’t go wrong with old ladies being cranky for the sake of being cranky. It’s just good fun!
Debra Jo Rupp (Kitty Forman from That 70’s show and Phoebe’s sister-in-law from Friends)
That 70’s show is a great show that doesn’t get its due in my mind. The relationship of Red and Kitty Forman kept the teenage stars in check and gave them ridiciollus foils to bounce off of. But ultimately, those are the two characters that brought the heart to the show. Kitty Forman really cared about her kids and her husband and somehow keeping them from destroying each other. Without her, it just doesn’t work.
The Friends stuff was weird, but I know a lot of people remember her from that, too. She did well carrying Giovani Ribisi, I guess.
Katey Sagal (Peggy Bundy from Married..with Children)
Peggy Bundy is a conundrum. She shakes off the ‘mom’ role in that she doesn’t cook, clean, or really nurture her family in the least. She nags her husband. She leaves the kids hungry to figure out their own dinners. But when someone threatens the well-being of her rag-tag bunch, she’ll be the first in line to defend them with a mama bear’s ferocity. She’s the type of mom who’s there when it counts. The other times, she’s probably eating Bon Bons and belittling her family. That’s ok. Al Bundy really was lucky to find her. We know because she keeps telling him.
Allison Janney (Bonnie Plunkett from Mom)
I’ll admit that I haven’t watched this show a ton, but every time I do, I enjoy it. Janney does a great job portraying the mom who isn’t perfect, but she’s kinda owning up to it and doing the best she can. Janney plays really well off of the naivete of Anna Farris’s Christy, and Janney leans into the reckless dangerousness of a mom who knows what little things can’t hurt her. She’s a nice reminder that anyone can be a good mom. They don’t have to be perfect! There are no laws or anything saying who can be a mom. We celebrate ’em all! Plus, Allison Janney is just fantastic. That’s reason enough for her to make the list.
Wendy McLendon-Covey (Beverley Goldberg from the Goldbergs)
Beverly Goldberg is the type of mom who lives for her children. She’s the kind hearted nurturer who will go to crazy lengths to satisfy her family’s needs. She’s a constant butt-in-ski and never worried about embarrassing her family in her efforts to smother them with love. She’s flawed—and crazy. We would all be so lucky as to have a Bev Goldberg in our lives.
Phylicia Rashad (Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show)
The perfect mom. The successful lawyer. The veneer of everything being ok. Claire Huxtable brough the calming facade that sometimes moms need to bring to the table. Everything will be alright, no matter how much of a dumpster fire Denise’s life is, whatever’s going on with Theo, and I’m not even going to start with Cliff—and Claire Huxtable will calmly set you down and remind you of that. Fictional Claire Huxtable doesn’t deserve to be associated with any of the terrible real life stuff, so I’m going to separate the art from the artists in thanks for the decade of positivity from the show. Phylicia Rashad exuded a maternal warmth and grace that earned her spot here.
Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development and Mallory Archer from Archer)
Conversely, Jessica Walter usually plays the opposite of the perfect mom. She’s self-serving, manipulative, and willing to throw anyone—family, friends, housekeepers under the bus to get what she wants. She makes the list just because she’s so fun to watch! We all know that even the best moms have some Lucille lurking in there somewhere.
Tracee Ellis Ross (Rainbow Johnson from Blackish)
Blackish gets points in my book for being just real enough that it tackles difficult issues but not so real that it forgets its a comedy. Humor helps me to grow I guess. In addition to “regular day to day mom stuff,” Rainbow Johnson has any number of struggles to deal with, whether its in her medical career, dealing with postpartum depression, or just struggling to contain Anthony Anderson’s shoe collection. She has to share her home with her in-laws on top of all that. It’s fun watching Tracee Ross deal with and match the craziness in the house. And like I said, while the show does deal with real issues, there’s always more than enough funny parts to keep me interested. It’s a fine balance that doesn’t work without such a strong character like Bow holding it together.
Patricia Heaton (Frankie Heck from The Middle and Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond)
Pattie Heaton makes the list for two sitcoms. The Middle is a great show that demonstrates the desperation of your modern middle class family. Frankie Heck loves her kids but is constantly dealing with a barrage of challenges life throws her way. She wants what’s best for her family but has to deal with what she and her husband (Janitor from Scrubs) can provide. Frankie Heck feels the most realistic to me of all the moms on the list. Heaton sells the warmth and compassion and the ‘are you kidding me’ aspects that come along with motherhood all at the same time while she’s just barely holding it together.
On the flip side, while my wife suffers some of what Patti Heaton goes though in the Middle, I’m pretty sure my wife’s worst nightmare would be the Debra Barone set-up from Everybody Loves Raymond. Sure, she also has a doofy yet lovable husband. But living in the same neighborhood as her over-reaching mother in law? No one deserves that. And my wife’s mother-in-law is a saint!
Doris Roberts (Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond)
Everybody Loves Raymond is the only show on the list to double dip, but only because 1) it’s a really great show 2) it doesn’t work without the dueling moms. Doris Roberts was the perfect nagging, nothing is ever good enough for my golden boy son mother-in-law. A master of the snide, ‘oh, that’s how you’re going to do it” type of backhanded compliment, Marie Barone simultaneously smothered her sons and managed to drive Ray’s wife Debra crazy. . Marie Barone is the next step for Bev Goldberg’s smother-mother. She loves her family. She loves her sons. She means well. I can respect that.
Honorable mentions to Lucille Ball, the mother of all sitcoms, all the moms on Modern Family, and Roseanne Barr, although I felt like she let John Goodman’s Dan run away with that show—both times! Let me know who I missed, and remember it’s not too late to reach out to mom and let her know you’re thinking of her. Maybe one or maybe mulitiple moms on this list reminded you of those important ladies in your own life, so make sure you let them know. About the importance, not the article. I mean, you can plug the site if you want to, but that’s not the point.
Until next time, I’ll probably still just be hanging out watching sitcoms and possibly learning the wrong lessons. Maybe I’ll try picking up a trick or two from the awesome moms I know in real life. Who knows?!