In honor of the upcoming Mother’s Day, I’d like to show my appreciation of my favorite–and funniest–sitcom moms since the turn of the still fairly new century/ millennium.
Sitcom moms from television’s earlier decades (or “Golden Age,” if you insist), are celebrated for reasons that are becoming increasingly difficult to fathom with the passage of time. Let’s face it, most of them were not terribly funny as characters. Only in the most recent years have a number of television’s funniest and most eccentric mothers been given the opportunity to shine, in all of their dysfunctional glory. My personal faves, in chronological order:
Lois–Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006). Perhaps no mother in sitcom history has instilled the “fear of God” in her children quite like Lois, played by Jane Kazmarek (by the way, there is no surname given to Malcolm’s family throughout the series’ run). With three mischievous and destructive boys, close in age, and often deliberately getting themselves in trouble to suit their own immediate needs (including Malcolm, who has a genius-level I.Q. and who should know better), and husband Hal who prefers to avoid confrontation at all costs, Lois doesn’t think twice about using various acts of emotional–and sometimes physical–
torture on her beloved sons. Her volcanic temper is legendary in the family, and among friends and neighbors (who have permanent “For Sale” signs adorning their front lawns). The boys always know they’ve gone too far when her face indicates an oncoming explosion of rage, and the subsequently harsh punishment. How Jane Kazmarek did not win multiple Emmys for her role is a question for the Ages.
Virginia Chance —Raising Hope (2010-2014), played by Martha Plimpton. This hilarious series never got the attention it deserved, but it is worth seeking out. It centers on the Chance family, especially teenage son Jimmy, who decides to raise his baby girl Hope, born out of his brief fling with a twenty-something girl named Lucy. Lucy gave birth to Hope in prison, while awaiting execution as a psychotic serial killer (and yes, within the context of the show, it is funny). Jimmy’s mom Virginia and father Burt are happy to help, and we know Hope will be raised in a loving family. The Chances are all well-meaning, but their combined I.Q.s don’t add up to very much. Martha Plimpton is fabulous as Virginia, who considers herself to have the most common sense among them, despite her own habit of mangling historical facts and the English language. Plimpton received a well-deserved Emmy nomination for her performance.
Claire Dunphy–Modern Family, played by Emmy-winner Julie Bowen (2009-present). Anyone who knows me also knows that Modern Family battles for the top of my All-time Favorite Sitcom list (with only The Honeymooners and All in the Family challenging it for the #1 position). As Claire Dunphy–business executive, mother of three, and wife of child-like husband Phil–Bowen is a marvel to behold, seamlessly juggling street-smarts with total geekiness, and equally adept at getting one family member out of trouble while landing herself in her own cringe-worthy predicament. As a comic actress, Bowen’s eyes can convey anything from fear, to skepticism, to embarrassment, to quiet desperation, even when the rest of her face projects a happy mom and loving wife.
Frankie Heck–The Middle (2009-2018), played by Patricia Heaton. Like the Chance family on Raising Hope, the Hecks are a lower middle-class family, and have long ago stopped bothering to present themselves as otherwise. Their home is physically falling apart at the seams, yet somehow retains its coziness. Frankie, as mother of three teens and wife of laconic husband Mike, keeps a kitchen drawer full of coupons (most of which have long since expired), and has been worn down by life’s everyday struggles and minor setbacks. Still, she tries to muster enthusiasm for her kids’ rare accomplishments, and clings to the little things that bring her some degree of solace, like watching her favorite TV mini-series before the cable TV service gets discontinued for unpaid bills.
Beverly Goldberg–The Goldbergs (2013-present), played by Wendi McLendon-Covey. Based on the program creator’s real-life family (the show uses their real names and actual old home video clips), mother Beverly is the ultimate loving, smothering mom who insists on calling her offspring by embarrassing terms of endearment, even in the presence of their friends (as opposed to husband Murray, who commonly refers to his kids as “morons”). Bev has no qualms calling her youngest son Adam her favorite, while his siblings Erica and Barry look on. McLendon-Covey (Reno 911) is a whirlwind of motherly nurturing run amuck, determined not to let the ways of the world hurt her kids, while she employs whatever means possible to slow down their growth and eventual exit from the nest.
Whether she’s interfering with her kids’ life in school, or browbeating the school principle into submission for any perceived slight or reprimand he’s given them (usually deserved), Bev can be counted on to go too far, thus sabotaging her own best intentions, but is eventually forgiven for her motherly zealousness by her exhausted, but understanding, family.
Katie Otto–American Housewife (2016-present). Katy Mixon made her mark on Mike & Molly before getting the lead on this ever-improving sitcom. The Otto family resides in wealthy, trendy, and rather snooty Westport, Connecticut, due to husband Greg’s college teaching job,
where they stick out like a family of sore thumbs–for they are neither wealthy, nor trendy. Katie, however, is no pushover, and returns the town’s overall snobbishness in kind, clashing with younger, slimmer trophy wives who look down their reconstructed noses at her strictly middle-class ways, and several extra pounds. She also uses her natural cynicism and tough exterior to keep her own kids in line, and sentiment at bay, whenever she suspects they’re in the midst of putting a scheme over on her. The eldest girl, Taylor, is a jock sorely lacking in book smarts– or any
smarts, for that matter. Middle child Oliver is a corrupt business mogul in the making, and the youngest, Anna-Kat, has a touch of O.C.D., but is especially bright, and quite good at bending her parents to her will. Even when dealing with the kids’ various problems, Katie encourages them not to be swayed by their classmates’ more privileged lifestyles.
A truly mixed bag of TV sitcom mothers, for sure, but each is achingly funny, and a treat to watch in action for her own particular idiosyncrasies and methods for attaining some semblance of appreciation from her family. Tune in and check them out–in syndicated reruns, dvds, Netflix, wherever you can!
And Happy Mother’s Day…