Mothers-good ones and bad ones, real ones and television ones-are crucial figures in all of our lives. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, here’s a nod to the best and worst moms now on the air:
1. Marge Simpson The Simpsons (Fox) For a series staffed mostly by male writers, The Simpsons has yielded a classic TV mom, at once progressive and traditional. A stay-at-home parent, Marge (quavery voice courtesy of Julie Kavner) is also worldly and independent. She puts up with husband Homer’s stupidity because she knows the lug is well-meaning and adores her. She is wisely tolerant of son Bart’s rascally nature because she knows she’s raising a preternaturally sensitive little boy who’s in the process of sorting out his feelings. She’s a nurturing presence for baby Maggie and supportive of her true triumph—intelligent, spunky Lisa. Motherhood is Marge’s contribution to the, um, human race, for which we are grateful.
2. Dr. Michaela Quinn, Jane Seymour Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (CBS) ”Dr. Mike,” as her adoptive frontier tykes call her, travels across uncharted America to dispense poultices and thin but reassuring smiles. Seymour is honorable without being insufferable, warm without being mushy, implicitly feminist, and handy enough to perform brain surgery on one of the children (Shawn Toovey’s Brian) after he falls out of a tree.
3. Roseanne Conner, Roseanne Arnold Roseanne (ABC) TV’s most complicated mom, Roseanne also merits a slot on the Worst list. What she does best is speak honestly to her children about the realities of their lower-middle-class lives. The show also shows the roots of family function and dysfunction: The needling relationship between Roseanne and her mom (Estelle Parsons) is a revelatory treasure trove of mother-daughter miscommunication.
4. Jill Taylor, Patricia Richardson Home Improvement (ABC) Wryness personified, this suburban mother quells her three boys’ noisy squabbling with a firmness that can never be mistaken for crabbiness. Jill has to protect her offspring from the goofier machoisms of Tim (Tim Allen), while helping her volatile mate to remember, when the wee bairns misbehave, that kids will be kids.
5. Ma Kent, K Callan Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (ABC) With Callan as the adoptive mom of the baby from Krypton, we have a thoroughly believable Ma Kent, the Kansas housewife who raised Clark/Superman. In recent episodes, Ma has encouraged Clark to find out more about his biological parents. She’s a comic-book creation brought to life by Callan’s warmth.
1. Marilyn Larson and Caryl Kellogg, Marilyn Kentz and Caryl Kristensen The Mommies (NBC) As its flimsy ratings have proved, The Mommies’ presentation of motherhood as one long torture of spoiled children and immature husbands has amused few viewers. The flaw in this show’s logic is that neither mom seems to think that her bitter wisecracking has contributed to-or is perhaps the source of-the misery of her life.
2. Roseanne Conner, Roseanne Arnold Roseanne (ABC) One reason Roseanne is a great show is that it’s willing to admit that parents frequently screw up their kids. Unfortunately, Roseanne doesn’t spare her children her often ) brutal anger and sarcasm. No wonder Becky (Sarah Chalke), Darlene (Sara Gilbert), and D.J. (Michael Fishman) are wicked verbal pain-inflicters themselves. 3. Peg Bundy, Katey Sagal Married With Children (Fox) Peg’s penchant for push- up bras probably gave daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate) her own taste in teen-slut fashion. Then, too, Peg’s relationship with her sullen son, Bud (David Faustino), is dismal. Married… certainly succeeds in making a mother’s bond with her children seem like a noose around the neck of everyone involved.
4. Cindy Walsh, Carol Potter Beverly Hills, 90210 (Fox) This nice but dim mom is just not setting a good example for her twins, Brenda and Brandon (Shannen Doherty and Jason Priestley), or for 90210’s legion of teen devotees. She’s barely aware of what her kids are going through. One almost sympathizes with Potter, whose eyes signal that she wishes this character were brighter.
5. Murphy Brown, Candice Bergen Murphy Brown (CBS) Dan Quayle was right: Murphy has turned out to be a lousy mother. Little Avery is the ultimate yuppie accessory, a bundle of Baby Gap clothes to be handed to painter Eldin. Recently, Murphy had a tantrum and left for work; Eldin, cradling Avery, said, “As the hurricane moves on, silence once again descends on the peaceful island village.” That’s funny-but that’s also sad.