Let’s be honest: I doubt that any of the moms on this list are as awesome as your own mother (suffice it to say that none of them are as amazing as mine). But these women, these television moms, are certainly worthy of mention. You may have grown up with some of them or you may have watched them last week, but one thing’s for sure: they’re moms, and they’re pretty terrific. So, in honor of Mother’s Day (and in no particular order) I present our favorite TV moms.
1. Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Was Joyce kind of clueless? At first, yeah, but her clueless nature was cute and funny. Joyce was a single mother raising a very difficult daughter--before she knew Buffy was the Slayer, all she saw was a girl who fought, skipped class, stayed out late and once set fire to a school building. What earns Joyce a place on this list is the fact that she never stopped loving Buffy. She never stopped trying to help her daughter, no matter how wayward and troublesome she became. Even in the fifth season (Joyce’s final season on the show), she loved Dawn--even though she knew that Dawn wasn’t her natural daughter. Joyce’s capacity for love outweighs her initial (comical) ignorance.
2. Jill Taylor (Patricia Richardson) - Home Improvement
Raising three boys is hard, but when their father is Tim the Tool Man Taylor, it has to be almost impossible. Jill juggles three kids, an accident-prone husband and (later in the series) going back to college with grace, ease, and only the occasional melt-down. Jill was rarely angry (and when she was, her anger was totally justified). She conquered everything in her life with a sort of weary acceptance and a seriously dark sense of humor.
3. Michaela Quinn (Jane Seymour) - Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman
There were two shows that my quietly feminist mother raised my sister and I on: Star Trek Voyager (the first and only Star Trek show with a female captain as a lead character) and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. Captain Kathryn Janeway wasn’t a mother, but Dr. Quinn was. Michaela adopted three siblings--Matthew, Colleen and Brian--and raised them as her own. For most of the series, Michaela (or Mike, as Sully called her) was a single career woman raising three children... in the wild, uncivilized west. As though raising teenagers isn’t difficult enough!
4. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) - Game of Thrones
As a TV show, Game of Thrones is in its infancy, but in “The Kingsroad,” the second episode of the series, Catelyn Stark cemented her place on our list of favorite moms when she tackled an assassin who was trying to kill her ten year-old son, Bran. Not content to simply save the life of her comatose and crippled son, Catelyn then proceeds to travel to the capital to make sure her two daughters, both of whom have been thrust into the world of politics and scheming, are safe.
5. Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashād) - The Cosby Show
No one embodies class and charm like Clair Huxtable. There is one episode of The Cosby Show that I always remember--Vanessa bragged to her friends about how much money her parents spent on a painting. When Clair found out what she had said, she gently told her daughter that it was crass and tasteless to advertise something like that. The calm, classy way Clair taught her daughter an important life lesson stuck with me. She knew what it meant to be wealthy without being stuck-up; how to be intelligent without being arrogant.
6. Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) - Friday Night Lights
My favorite Tami moments come from the second season, when Tami is dealing with a difficult teenage daughter, a newborn and a constantly-traveling husband. Tami rarely needs help, so she doesn’t think to ask for it. I’ve often thought of Tami as the secular, football version of a Pastor’s Wife. Everyone knows her, everyone wants to be her friend, and everyone wants to criticize her husband. Sure, Tami probably knew what she was getting into when she married Coach Taylor, but that doesn’t make her life any easier. Her strength (and the degree of love that she holds for some truly ungrateful football players) is admirable.
7. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) - Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
This short-lived Terminator spin-off showed us one thing: how fiercely awesome Sarah Connor is. Sure, raising a teenager on the run with only a hot female Terminator for company isn’t ideal, but Sarah made it work. After all, her son is the savior of the world. You have to make some sacrifices. Sarah had one mission and one mission only: protect John. She pursued this goal with a single-minded fury that puts mother bears to shame.
8. Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner) - The Simpsons
Marge is the quintessential TV mom: she has a bumbling husband, a trouble-making son, a precocious daughter and an adorable baby. It takes a special kind of woman to survive married life with Homer Simpson (and to survive being Bart’s mother). Marge has patience, finesse, love and, most important of all, a trademarked method of saying her husband’s name that rolls all three traits into two quick syllables.
9. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) - Gilmore Girls
When you have a kid at 16, it must be hard to learn how to be a mom instead of a friend. In Lorelai Gilmore’s case, she’s created a mixture: a little discipline, a lot of take-out food and a healthy helping of classic cinema. The result was Rory: a poised, educated young woman who, like her mother, occasionally made horrible decisions when it comes to men. But there’s only so much Mom can do about that.
10. Vivian Banks (Janet Hubert-Whitten / Daphne Maxwell Reid) - Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Vivian, like Clair, was a classy lady, but she was also more than that: she was unbelievably kind and generous. Did she have to take in an errant nephew? No. Did she have to love and care for him, even when he caused an unbelievable amount of trouble? Of course not, but she did anyway, because she understands what all good moms understand: the importance of family. Vivian Banks taught us that moms are always moms, even if they’re technically aunts.
11. Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) - Weeds
To put it simply, Nancy is sassy. Sure she sells pot, but you know what? She’s just another mom providing for her family in the manner they had become accustomed. Nancy is a 21st century mom. In her own way, she’s just trying to make ends meet.
12. Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grassle) - Little House on the Prairie
Confession: I watched more Dr. Quinn than Little House when I was growing up. I have read the books at least a million times, so I feel like I know Ma as well as my own mother. This earns her a place on our list of favorite TV mothers. Caroline dealt with harsher conditions than most of the other mothers on this list (even Nancy Botwin lived in a big fancy house while she was targeted by the Russian mob). She was a frontier wife--she faced drought, famine, locusts, disease and blizzards. What makes Caroline even more admirable is that she was a real woman who raised four children in the untamed American west.
So this Mother’s Day, while you’re remembering all the things that make these television moms great, give a shout-out to your own mother, because chances are these women pale in comparison. I know that my mom outshines them all.