It didn't take me long to realize that some of my favorite characters of all time, have been pretty horrible parents. I also know that I'm not alone in my adoration for the fundamentally flawed. Honestly, what is it about television's worst moms of all time, both comedic and the darkly horrible, that captures our imaginations?
I feel like watching women subvert maternal instinct does a couple of things to any potential viewer. On the one hand (the one intensely Freudian hand), watching women go against the warm, nurturing mother archetype gives us a character to root for, because we want them to break free from the unexpected rather than become a slave to "the way things always have been and should be." That's why it's simultaneously not too far-fetched to associated "bad" mothers with some kind of cartoonish, feminist, fulfilled wish of strong, independent women everywhere. The characters are basically saying, “Screw you, society, we are not all biologically destined to be nurturing caretakers! See! See!”
Of course, the least complicated answer to this question is, in my opinion, probably the most accurate. In the end, the "bad" characters always make the best and most interesting characters. Good is boring, you guys, and who doesn't love a fantastically devilish villain? I know I do and hey, if all else, at least we have the following characters to make us feel better about our own parenting skills. That's never a bad thing.
Lucille Bluth, "Arrested Development"
Conniving, cold, and usually pretty drunk, Lucille Bluth dislikes her eldest son, manipulates her middle son, routinely belittles her daughter, and smothers her youngest child to the point of stunting him in basically every way possible. She and her equally terrible husband adopt a fifth child, Annyong, in an attempt to appear charitable. She wants to send him back to Korea, but decides otherwise when she sees it makes her youngest son jealous.
While Lucille is officially a terrible mother, she nevertheless inspires some of our #momgoals because, well, she’s one of the best characters ever on television.
Betty Draper, "Mad Men"
Distant, petty, selfish, and frankly pretty childish, Betty Draper has become synonymous in pop culture with the idea of an "ice queen" mother. Whether she’s letting her daughter run around with a plastic bag on her head, encouraging her teenager to smoke, emotionally manipulating her son, or firing the woman who raised her children without giving anyone a chance to say goodbye, Betty is motivated by self-interest and spite and pity and it's the most frustrating. I mean, not even Don Draper's constant infidelity can make you feel sorry for her.
Livia Soprano, "The Sopranos"
Livia once described her three children as “no different from dogs.” When simply making their lives a miserable hell by way of constant criticism and guilt trips loses its "edge," she goes ahead and puts a hit out on her own son. His crime? Suggesting a nursing home. Well then. Livia is made all the more horrifying when one learns that she is based, in large part, on Sopranos creator David Chase’s own mother.
Gemma Teller Morrow, "Sons of Anarchy"
Look, Gemma tries to do right by her kids, but maybe, just maybe, encouraging your child to pursue a life of crime isn’t the way to go. Also, here’s a pretty basic rule you have to follow to get into the “good moms” club: don’t murder your son’s wife by stabbing her in the head with a fork. Just don’t do it. It’s just going to make things unnecessarily awkward.
Malory Archer, "Archer"
Malory, the founder and director of the International Secret Intelligence Service is a badass, but definitely just "bad" when it comes to being a mom and, frankly, being anything close to a decent human being.
Malory is remarkably self-aggrandizing and selfish (her son’s middle name is Malory), and never had much interest in her only child, Sterling, whom she is very open about loving less than her Afghan hound. In fact, Sterling’s spy name, “Duchess," is an homage to the dog. She also sent him to boarding school when he was three, lied to him about who his father is, and although she was absent for most of his childhood she still found the time to nurture an overwhelming emotional dependence on her.
Colleen Donaghy, "30 Rock"
“There are terrorist cells more nurturing than you were,” Jack Donaghy says to his mother, and he’s right. In fact, Colleen (portrayed by the incomparably amazing Elaine Stritch. RIP, you brassy angel!) once complained of a particularly irritating incident when a young Jack wouldn’t stop screaming. It was at his birth. She loves to shoot hurtful (but hilarious) one liners and sow discord and we love her for it.
De’Londa Brice, "The Wire"
If the worst De’Londa were doing was leaving her son by himself (constantly), to spend money they don’t have on shopping sprees and in Atlantic City, she still wouldn’t be winning any awards for "Mother of the Year." However, De’Londa actively encourages her son to get involved in the Baltimore drug trade. You know, the one that kills or incarcerates, like, half the people on the show.
Now, I wouldn’t be a particularly good viewer of The Wire if I thought that the motivations or actions of these characters are simply a cut and dry case of right and wrong, but it’s clear that it’s De’Londa’s desire for material extravagance is a big motivator to get her son in the game, not merely (as in the case with other characters) survival.
Fiona Goode, "American Horror Story: Coven"
Fiona, The Supreme Witch of the Salem Coven, is vain, violent, and completely indifferent to her daughter, except when she feels she can manipulate Cordelia to achieve her own goals.
She barely did any mothering to begin with, really, and Cordelia acknowledges that her Auntie Myrtle, who took her under her wing after the girl enrolled in Miss Robichaeux’s Academy, is her true mother. (Still, Fiona is fabulous and powerful and you can't help but hate her while simultaneously hoping you end up exactly like her.)
Edina Monsoon, "Absolutely Fabulous"
If your best friend sold your kid into slavery while you were vacationing in Morocco, you’d be concerned, right? Not if you’re Edina (Eddie) Monsoon! Eddie is a social climbing, hedonistic, clueless, and hapless wanna-be "It Girl" who usually ignores her saintly, long-suffering daughter, Saffy. Saffy, in turn, is left to put up with her mother's debauched hijinks. (Eddie also has a son, Serge, whom we almost never see, which is probably telling.)
Eddie and Saffy have a classic dysfunctional relationship, and while there are moments of tenderness and maternal protectiveness on Eddie’s behalf, Saffy is usually the one fulfilling the mom role in Edina's absence.
Blanche Devereaux, "The Golden Girls"
I am the biggest Golden Girls fan I know, so please understand that I am not flagrantly disrespecting one of the most amazing women ever to grace the small screen.
However, and by her own admission, Blanche was not a particularly good mother. She has strained relationships with Rebecca and Janet, her daughters, and we never even meet her sons, Biff, Doug, and Skippy (well, we meet Skippy aka Matthew on on the spinoff series Golden Palace, which definitely doesn’t count). Her distance, disapproval, and, in the case of Rebecca, repulsive fat shaming, continue into their adult lives, though she does admit the error of her ways and makes an effort to do right by them, eventually.