A Tribute to Our Funniest Sitcom Moms

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. And, 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 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 on their front lawns). The boys always know they’ve gone too far when her face indicates an oncoming explosion of rage, and subsequent 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 gives birth to Hope in prison, where she’s about to be executed for being 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, 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 and 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 (even though they’ve already expired), and has been worn down by life’s everyday struggles and minor setbacks, but still 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 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 them 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 reside 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 or trendy. Katie, however, is no pushover, and returns the town’s overall snootiness in kind, clashing with younger, thinner trophy wives who look down their reconstructed noses at her strictly middle-class ways. 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!

And Happy Mother’s Day…

Summer Reruns, New and Old (Part 1)

It’s never too late to discover, or rediscover, a TV show that you may have found late in its original run, or have never seen at all. Thanks to a plethora of cable networks that need to fill their schedules with a mix of old and new programs–plus the networks that were specifically created for nostalgic baby boomers in mind–its easy to indulge (even without the help of Hulu, YouTube, or other on-line sites) in shows you haven’t seen yet, whether they’re still on the air in their first runs, have recently ended, or haven’t been on for decades.

So, here are a few recommendations for shows that you may have missed at first (as I did, in some cases), or that have slipped your mind in recent years, but can be found in reruns somewhere on the schedule grid if you look carefully enough. This week, let’s look at sitcoms that are either currently on the air, or have just ended their original runs. Next week, we’ll reach a little further back in time.

Bonnie and Christy in a rare tranquil moment.

Mom (CBS) – I missed the entire first season of this terrific show, but once I gave it a try, I was instantly hooked. The main characters, Bonnie Plunkett (Allison Janney) and her adult daughter Christy (Anna Faris), are both recovering alcoholics/drug abusers, struggling to stay sober and make something of their lives. We see them meet regularly at AA meetings with their close friends and sponsor, and seek happiness in meaningful relationships. Sounds like a downer? It’s not. It’s hilarious.

Creator/producer Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men) has the characters tackle tough personal issues, and suffer occasional setbacks, but the show sustains its often cynical humor throughout, which is quite a remarkable achievement.

American Housewife (ABC) – Katie Mixon, who stole scenes regularly as Molly’s stoner sister Victoria on Mike and Molly, stars here as Katie Otto, the strictly middle-class mother of three, in a decidedly upper class town of Westport, Connecticut.

As a pudgy, unkempt,harried housewife living among the town’s younger, slimmer, and wealthier trophy wives, she’s determined to push back against the snobbery, while still keeping her dignity intact–which proves a tall order. Katie is no stranger to public humiliation. Her laidback husband Greg, a college professor (Diedrich Bader), spends much of his time attempting to ease both family and community tensions, often brought on whenever Katie finds herself on the warpath.

This show got off to a bumpy start when it premiered last fall, but quickly found its way, and will follow Modern Family on Wednesday nights in the upcoming season–a perfect combination, and part of a superb line-up!

The Middle (ABC)– Often described as an unsung but reliable sitcom on the ABC schedule, The Middle is about to enter its 8th and final season. It’s clever, funny, and often scarily relatable, as it follows the financially-struggling Heck family (again–three kids, two in college now).

The appealing thing about the show, led by perpetually-exhausted matriarch Frankie (Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond) and husband Mike (Neil Flynn, Scrubs),is how they cope with their outdated, faulty appliances, piles of store coupons, and their struggles to pay the bills on time (give or take a few weeks).

Sue celebrates her teeth without braces. Finally.

Their only daughter, Sue (Eden Sher), is a stand-out, thanks to her almost relentlessly sunny and optimistic–if often naïve– disposition, even when faced with failure and rejection on a regular basis.

2 Broke Girls (CBS) – Yes, if you’ve ever seen an episode, you already know that the humor is juvenile, the dialogue is crude, raunchy, even shocking, crammed with references to various sex acts and bodily functions. You can almost see the actors thinking “I can’t believe I just said that on network TV” after uttering an especially risqué line.

BUT…the two leads, Max Black (Kat Dennings) and Caroline Channing(Beth Behrs) are utterly charming as diner waitresses struggling to succeed in their cupcake business. Caroline was once worth billions, but all was lost when her father was convicted of stock fraud and sent to prison.

Max’s frequent references to her rough and delinquent childhood, promiscuous mother, drug use, and worse, successively top each other from week to week, or scene to scene (but we can tell she’s exaggerating, if only a little bit). The other characters at the diner, owned by diminutive, put-upon Korean owner Han, have become a family over time. The show was canceled at the end of this past season, but it already lives on, in all of its very naughty glory, in syndicated reruns.

That ’70s Show – The oldest show on this week’s list aired its final original episode in May of 2006, after eight seasons. I didn’t get around to sitting down to watch an entire episode until season seven.

The cast is faultless, the characters will remind you of people you knew in high school, and the writing is consistently just plain funny. Even though it takes place in the mid-1970s, references to the pop culture and world events of the time flow naturally through the dialogue and stories, and are never dragged out just to remind us, “Don’t forget, we’re in the ’70s!” (the same can be said for another current favorite of mine, The Goldbergs, which takes place in the ’80s). As I write this, Comedy Central runs a dozen back-to-back episodes of That ’70s Show on weekend mornings. It deserves the weekly marathon.

These are just a few of the sitcoms whose reruns are as entertaining now as when they first aired, and are worth seeking out if you’ve never gotten around to them. Next week, we’ll take a look at older comedies and dramas that are being given a second chance for us to find again on nostalgia networks and local stations.

Until then, happy watching!