Mother’s Day is more than just Hawaiian-shirt-and-jeans day at 1-800Flowers. Aside from being a regularly-scheduled reminder to us to show our moms how much we appreciate the very gift of life, it’s an opportunity to step back and consider motherhood in all its varied forms.
Tomorrow we’ll pay tribute to some of the best moms ever to place a fresh-from-the-oven apple pie onto the small screen’s windowsill – but today we’re taking a look at some of the worst television moms ever to wield a wooden spoon. (Or a sidearm.) Mind your Ps and Qs with these ladies!
(in alpha order)
Norma Bates (Bates Motel)
Oh my God, Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) – where to start? It’s almost unfair to include Norma – one of the most inept parents in the history of television – on this list because she’s clearly unwell. (And also, we already know that her beloved son is going to murder her, so why add insult to matricide?) Norma’s apron-strings are living, twisting, suffocating vines that make every moment between her and her sons (she has two, let’s not forget – for now, at least!) a deliciously agonizing – yet sensibly kitten-heeled – tango of passive-aggression. She’s straight-up batshit, and we love it.
Lucille Bluth (Arrested Development)
Arch, conniving, and famously withholding (and getting off on it!), the Bluth empire’s brittle matriarch is the Medea of the family-owned business model. (And no, I don’t mean she’s played by Tyler Perry.) Whether she’s framing her children or infantilizing them, Alpha Lucille is always two steps ahead, and those steps are usually in the general direction of the mini-bar. Actually, may as well include Mallory Archer (Archer) here, since every mother that the peerless Jessica Walter plays on television is required by law to be equally imperious and soundtracked by the same sound of ice cubes clinking around in a cut-glass tumbler full of gin.
Irina Derevko (Alias)
A lot of the moms on this list are bad, but very few of them pretend to be dead for most of their child’s life and then, when they are finally reunited, shoot that child. She later hires a hitman to kill her daughter, for good measure. Irina’s saving grace was that Lena Olin played her to the hilt, making us love the double-crossing covert agent in spite of ourselves.
Colleen Donaghy (30 Rock)
Oh, Colleen. You were an absolute nightmare to your son, but we gave you many, many passes during your tenure as 30 Rock’s resident Cruella de Ville. And for a few good reasons. First, you were played by the irrepressible, unsinkable, and quite possibly unkillable Elaine Stritch. Second, you were so screamingly funny in your constant takedowns of son Jack (Alec Baldwin, who always has it coming) that it was hard to stay mad at you for long. And finally, you ended your life happy and in a lesbian relationship in a Florida retirement home. It’s almost enough to forgive you for letting Jack’s dog die after it got run over by the postman.
Betty Draper (Mad Men)
Is it almost too easy to hate on Stepford drone Betty (January Jones)?
Yes. But that doesn’t make it any less necessary.
Monica Gallagher (Shameless)
Dubbed “Hurricane Monica” by her own children, Monica Gallagher (Chloe Webb) is a bit of a sad story. She’s seriously bipolar (mostly untreated), a drug addict, and was married to one of the most destructive forces of nature Chicago has ever seen. These combined forces resulted in a woman who abandons her children for years on end, steals her kids’ hard-earned food and utilities money to buy cocaine, and attempts a blood-soaked suicide during Thanksgiving dinner. Granted, Frank’s gun-toting, meth-cooking mother was no walk in the park herself, so maybe we should cut Monica a bit of slack.
Veronica Harrington (The Haves and the Have Nots)
The source of Veronica’s (Angela Robinson) seething, seemingly bottomless anger is unclear. Perhaps she is confused by the fact that she is on a Tyler Perry show called The Haves and the Have Nots and yet her last name is neither “Have” nor “Havenot”. In any case, scenery-devouring homophobe Veronica makes life a sheer hell for her gay son, Jeffrey, by sabotaging his relationships, declaring his sexuality a punishment from God, and telling him that she’d rather one of her other babies (who died via either miscarriage or abortion) had lived than her big gay disappointment. What a charmer! Granted, Veronica is part of a long tradition of deliciously evil soap opera mothers – but that doesn’t make her any easier to like.
Constance Langdon (American Horror Story)
Good grief – for how many of her own children’s deaths was Constance (Jessica Lange) either directly or indirectly responsible? And her apron strings actually reach beyond this mortal coil – she further bitchslapped her tormented brood’s souls by stuffing them into the haunted house next door, where she could berate them for eternity for not getting her the right Chanel fragrance for Christmas in 1987. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but poor, sweet Adelaide – whom Constance used to lock in a mirror-filled closet as punishment – got off easy by dying in the street before her mom could drag her onto the cursed land. At least, in the end, Constance gets exactly what was coming to her: a new child even more evil than she is.
Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) has it all: she’s the Queen Regent following the death of her husband (of whom she is glad to be rid), she regularly boffs her hottie brother Jaime, and her sniveling brat of a son sits on the throne. Well, for a while, anyways. Nothing lasts for long inWesteros – except for Cersei’s uncompromising glare, taste for full-bodied reds, and fierce loyalty to the most important person in her universe: herself. She came this close to actually poisoning one of her children during a raid, and as we speak she’s preparing to throw one of her siblings onto the pyre. While her devotion to eldest son Joffrey is on the one hand an admirable motherly trait, you have to wonder whether the devotion was really to a child she openly acknowledged to be a psychopath… or to her own pride.
Maya Lewis (Scandal)
I’m pretty sure that Olivia Pope is the only child of someone on this list who can brag that her mother is an actual terrorist (although, the next entry gets pretty damn close). Maya (Khandi Alexander) notably killed hundreds of innocent people by blowing up an airplane, but that pales in comparison to her failures as a mother. Doesn’t she understand that her daughter has a right to keep her home and work lives separate?
Selina Meyer (Veep)
Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a shitty Vice President – but more than that, she’s a shitty mom. She treats her only daughter Katherine like a campaign opportunity (when she isn’t treating her and her boyfriend like a threat to the Nation), and baldly puts her career before her family whenever given the opportunity. Of which there have been many. Heck, she treats Gary more like a child than her own kid.
DeDe Pritchett (Modern Family)
Okay, here’s the thing: we don’t really know what’s up with DeDe (Shelley Long). All we know is that she traffics in dated New Age trends, crippling guilt trips and extreme rage (usually aimed at Gloria). She is openly critical, manipulative, and a terrible wedding guest. Plus, she mothered Modern Family’s two most neurotic characters, Claire and Mitchell, both of whom should be sending her a lifetime of therapy bills this Mother’s Day.
Lettie Mae Thornton (True Blood)
I can’t decide which is worse: convincing your child that she is possessed by a demon that needs exorcising, or hitting that child in the face with a whiskey bottle. Lettie Mae (Adina Porter) couldn’t, either – so she did both! But I think that aside from all the drinking and gospel-spewing and lies, the greatest crimes committed by Lettie were committed against fashion. No amount of amazing, bacon-fried ho-cakes can excuse some of her hats.
So those are a baker’s dozen of our most nightmare-inducing TV moms. Any that you’d add to the list?