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Radical Sitcom Moms

Posted on 29 April 2016

The last decade of television has been monumental. We're seeing long form television redefine the small box world, sitcoms breaking free of classic archetypes, and damn, you can hold just about any show in your hand. Now, television isn't apparently Hand-Eye-relevant, but come on, we watch it, too.

So in celebration of Mother's Day, I've watched every sitcom of the last few decades and chosen five sitcom moms I love, not because of their warmth and affection, but for some other sort of something they offer. 

Vivian Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Vivian is a go-getter, a no-nonsense mother that lays down the law. In the Season One episode "Love at First Fight," we learn that Aunt Viv dropped out of high school, worked menial jobs, went back to night school, and that's how she ultimately earned her PhD. When we meet her, she's a retired doctor, now keeping her finger on the pulse of Will Smith's perpetually spinning wheel of hilarious gaffs and hi-jinks. We celebrate Aunt Viv for her wearing of many hats, for her roles as both a mother and professional, and for having a sneak-attack incredible voice

A final note on Viv. I'm speaking definitively and immovably of the Viv portrayed by Janet Hubert-Whitten. After Season Three, Daphne Maxwell Reid took over the role, and while she did a satisfactory job, her portrayal lacked the ambition, tenacity, and dare I say, moxie, proffered by Hubert-Whitten in the role. 

Danny Tanner from Full House

Let's just move right past the fact that he's a 'man' and he's actually a 'dad.' The whole show begins and continues to pivot around one fact: Danny is a widowed father, his wife having just died in a car accident when the show begins. In light of the tragedy, now looking at his three young daughters, he possesses such resplendent self-awareness that he calls on his brother-in-law Jesse Katsopolis (John Stamos, as if you didn't know) and his best buddy Joey Gladtone (Dave Coullier, of Alanis Morrisette fame) to his raise the yearlings. 

We celebrate Danny first and foremost for this act of self-awareness and honesty. But we celebrate him, too, for his attention to detail (he's a clean freak), his ability to juggle work and personal life (he's a busy television show host and still smooth with the ladies), and his unparalleled ability to dish out life lessons in sync with emotional tracks heavy in 80s keyboard. Additionally, we celebrate him for never letting his weakness for crude humor get the better of him (the actor behind the character, Bob Saget, being one of the truest and bluest comics of any decade).

Pam Beesly from The Office

A self-made woman, a fighter, and a smooth operator. That's Pam Beesly. When we meet Pam, she's working as a secretary at Dunder Mifflin and is engaged to a deadbeat loser. Through the course of the series, she takes risks, puts her heart on the line, and in Season 7, tricks her way into becoming "Office Administrator." She marries Jim Halpert, the inevitable man of her imaginary dreams (double entendre?), and they have two children together (as far as we know; who knows how many they've had since the series ended!). 

We celebrate Pam, played by Jenna Fischer, for being a working mother, for possessing a generous heart, for her artistic talent, for the time she slapped Michael Scott, and for offering a simple example of the value of honesty and the potential benefits of impulse decisions. 

Mrs. Mac from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

We don't know a lot about Mrs. Mac. In fact, we don't even know her full name. But we know she loves a good smoke and she's good with her hands. In the Season 6 episode, "Mac's Mom Burns Her House Down," she repairs a bunch of things, including a faulty light fixture, presumably with some Hand-Eye Supply gear

We celebrate Mrs. Mac for her commitment to privacy, for her aggressive yet nonchalant autonomy, and for also being Napoleon Dynamite's grandma

Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development

Of those on this list, Lucille is surely the most likely to elicit a contest. At first glance, or at first-couple-of-episodes, Lucille is a lackluster, below average, matriarch. Ugh, that term. But she proves to have an undeniable love for her children. In fact, she has so much love to give, she adopts Annyong Bluth, to further dissipate her often disastrously applied affection.

We celebrate Lucille (played by the lovely Jessica Walter) for her chicken impersonations, her incomparable wink, for her sharpness in successfully (and bizarrely) keeping the family business alive, for driving directly into the banana stand, and for her desire to win Motherboy. 

And though this isn't a definitive ranking, here's an honorable mention list: Joyce Wrigley from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Estelle Costanza from Seinfeld, and Zach Morris' Mom from Saved by the Bell.

Happy Mother's Day to mother's everywhere, for your mothering and for the things you do and accomplish beyond the confines of early television archetypes. 

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