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17 dastardly, dysfunctional and dangerous TV mothers and sons


Psycho Norma and Norman Bates aren’t the only nightmare mother-and-son duo on TV, though they are certainly one of the most fearsome. Whether by nurture or nature, these often-lethal TV relations are truly wretched in one way or another. But who reigns as the supreme hot mess?

Read on to meet some terrifying small-screen moms and sons that scare the crap out of us, but be warned: Spoilers abound. The show title appears at the top of each section, so that you can jump over any series you still plan to watch — because sometimes the mother-son relationship itself is a spoiler.

Arrested Development (Fox)SHOW: Arrested Development (Fox, Netflix)
FAMILY UNIT: Lucille, Gob, Michael, Buster and Hel-loh “Annyong” Bluth
(Jessica Walter, Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Tony Hale and Justin Lee)

The Bluths may not responsible for as much homicide as some other family units on our list, but the level of dysfunction is so high that it more than makes up for any lack of gore. Narcissistic, tyrannical and chemically dependent, Lucille is the architect of her family’s worst ailments. She heaps emotional abuse upon her sons: the self-destructive magician Gob, who is prone to tears and a terrible magician; level-headed second son Michael, who valiantly suffers the indignity of growing up Bluth; Oedipally challenged Buster; and adopted Korean brother Annyong, who Lucille sends away to boarding school and forgets entirely. Their sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) rounds out the siblings tormented by this epic momster.

SHOW: Weeds (Showtime)
FAMILY UNIT: Nancy, Silas and Shane Botwin
(Mary-Louise Parker, Hunter Parrish and Alexander Gould)

After her husband’s death, suburban homemaker Nancy Botwin turns to pot-dealing to keep the family afloat. Her misadventures in the drug underworld lead to her son Shane becoming a full-blown sociopath who makes friends with a hitman, behaves inappropriately with his dad’s stash of nude photos of his mom — ew! — and murders a business associate who threatens the family. The elder Botwin boy, Silas, makes out slightly better, though Nancy inadvertently (but repeatedly) thwarts his attempts to escape the family business and better himself. Lucky for the youngest, Stevie-Ray, Nancy serves a three-year prison stint, so he ends up calling his aunt “Mom” for most of those critical formative years.

Hemlock-GroveSHOW: Hemlock Grove (Netflix original)
FAMILY UNIT: Olivia and Roman Godfrey
(Famke Janssen and Bill Skarsgård)

Frankly, I have no idea what’s going on with these two. The show features werewolves, a disfigured girl with special powers and Frankenstein-like size and strength, and angels (or something). Is that a vampire? I dunno, but the wrongness factor between mother and son in this Netflix show is pretty high. I expect all will be revealed in the second season, due sometime in 2014. Or someone could just clue me in down in the comments section below.

Walking Dead's Lori and Carl Grimes (AMC)SHOW: The Walking Dead (AMC)
FAMILY UNIT: Lori and Carl Grimes
(Sarah Wayne Callies and Chandler Riggs)

Lori and Carl are dangerous under certain circumstances, but not wicked. Grimes family members mostly kill zombies and are generally only troublesome to humans if attacked. (So don’t do that, guv’nor.) Sadly, Lori meets her end while in labor with her daughter. Carl then shoots his mother in the head to prevent her zombification.

Justified (FX)SHOW: Justified (FX)
FAMILY UNIT: Mags and sons Doyle, Dickie and Coover Bennett
(Margo Martindale, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Jeremy Davies and Brad William Henke)

Season 2’s Mags Bennett is the charismatic matriarch of a family of hillbilly pot growers, and the creature of late, great crime writer Elmore Leonard. Mags sometimes employs a lethal recipe for her famous “apple pie” moonshine, but she has been known to wield weapons with more heft — most memorably, a hammer. Her sons, the high and homicidal Three Stooges of Harlan County — Dickie, the schemer; Coover, the half-wit; and Harlan Police Chief Doyle, the fixer — repeatedly butt heads with our hero, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). Both Davies and Martindale (pictured, left and center) won Emmys for their portrayals of these Bennett-clan bruisers.

Bates Motel (A+E)SHOW: Bates Motel (A&E)
FAMILY UNIT: Norma and Norman Bates, Dylan Massett
(Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore and Max Thieriot)

A teenage serial killer and his PTSD-stricken homicidal mom are the core of this modern TV prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic Psycho. By the end of Season 1, Norman has killed at least two people, including his own dad. Norma only brutally stabs one person to death, but — compared to Norman’s hit-it-and-forget-it tendencies — her manipulations and personality malfunctions kind of make it feel like she’s killed oh so many more. Every day with Norma Bates is a little death for Norman’s older half-brother, Dylan, who’s employed in the local marijuana-farming racket and who ties with Norman at a total of two kills so far.

Sopranos (HBO)SHOW: The Sopranos (HBO)
FAMILY UNIT: Livia and Tony Soprano
(Nancy Marchand and James Gandolfini)

Mob boss Tony is personally responsible for eight murders, plus many more done on his orders. His mother is personally responsible for being a reprehensible human being, who emotionally abuses her children and is informally diagnosed by Tony’s therapist as having borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. But which of these nightmare moms isn’t similarly afflicted? That said, she’s one of the few on the list who tries to have her darling boy killed.

Heroes (NBC)SHOW: Heroes (NBC)
FAMILY UNIT: Angela, Nathan and Peter Petrelli
(Cristine Rose, Adrian Pasdar and Milo Ventimiglia)

Superhero powers give rise to more family strife than can be clearly explained in a four-season television series. Suffice it to say that precog-dream manipulator mom, flyboy Nathan and superpower mimic Peter have an unconventional dynamic that culminates with Nathan’s consciousness inhabiting the body of serial killer (Zachary Quinto, pictured center, with Rose and Ventimiglia) and a memorable Thanksgiving confrontation between the Petrellis and one majorly pissed-off shapeshifter. Make sense? Maybe they’ll turn up in 2015’s 13-episode event Heroes: Reborn and explain it all to us. (Probably not.)

American Horror Story: Murder House (FX)SHOW: American Horror Story (FX)
Each season features a new mom-and-son duo more unsettling than the last:

Murder House
FAMILY UNIT: Constance and Tate Langdon
(Jessica Lange and Evan Peters)

The scheming Southern belle and her poltergeist son torment a string of neighbors, resulting in the (probably) most haunted house in Los Angeles. The sprawling collection of spirits includes a gay couple killed for their inability to bring a child into the house, a psychotic surgeon with a Frankenstein complex, his infant son reassembled from animal and other parts, a pair of student nurses offed by a serial killer, the Black Dahlia herself, and the Langdon’s own maid, Moira (Frances Conroy, pictured far right), whom Constance shot through the eye for unwillingly having sex with Constance’s philandering husband. Lange, who has two Best Actress Academy Awards, won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her Constance and went on to receive multiple nominations for her subsequent AHS incarnations.

FAMILY UNIT: Lana Winters and Johnny Morgan
(Sarah Paulson and Dylan McDermott)

Lana is a cool ’60s chick in a tough spot: Kidnapped and raped by a psycho-killer, she gives birth to the monster’s monster, who grows up and follows in his father’s footsteps. This is a case in which the mother isn’t to blame for inflicting as much damage as the son in the equation. That said, Lana does kill twice. Guess who?

FAMILY UNIT: Alicia and Kyle Spencer
(Mare Winningham and Evan Peters)

Frat boy Kyle’s hippy mom helicopters in and lands in his bed. Ew! He brings that to a brutal end after he dies and is brought back as a vengeful zombie. Most disturbed Coven mom-and-son runner-up: Patti LuPone and Alexander Dreymon as Joan and Luke Ramsey. Religious fanatic mom’s idea of a cleansing: She gives her son bleach enemas. Almost as messed up as the act itself: Why does he allow it?

For the record, this is an odious list to appear on repeatedly, American Horror Story producers. At least you give equal time to daughters with mommy issues (Fiona: “The doctors say it’s terminal.” Her daughter Cordelia: “Do me a favor. Die before Thanksgiving.”), but that’s another list.

Sons of Anarchy (FX)SHOW: Sons of Anarchy (FX)
FAMILY UNIT: Gemma Teller Morrow and Jax Teller
(Katey Sagal and Charlie Hunnam)

Motorcycle club den mother Gemma made a life for herself dominating domineering men. She’s responsible for orchestrating the fatal crash of her leader-of-the-pack husband with the help of his BFF, who subsequently became her man’s replacement, both in her bed and as head of the club. Her son Jax (pictured, left) is one of the dudes under her spell. They’re both responsible for multiple assaults, murders and various other forms of illegal activity. The family that slays together stays together.

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)SHOW: Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
FAMILY UNIT: Gillian and James Darmody
(Gretchen Mol and Michael Pitt)

A former showgirl, Gillian’s a 1920s-style smothering mother — except that she likes to smother Jimmy with her girl parts. Ew! Ew! She gave birth to her son when she was 13, after being offered as a tribute to a 54-year-old Atlantic City political boss. (We’ll assume she was not a showgirl at the time.) Jimmy grew up, went to college, had an “encounter” with his mom, then joined the Army as a seriously messed up young man. He returns from the war injured and becomes a murderous, bootlegging gangster brute. When he dies, Gillian, who by that time has graduated to brothel madam, is given custody of Jimmy’s young son. The resulting ruckus is finally resolved when she is arrested for murder by her undercover Pinkerton-agent boyfriend. The end!

Vampire Diaries (CW)SHOW: The Vampire Diaries (CW)
FAMILY UNIT: Esther, Elijah, Finn, Niklaus and Kol Mikaelson
(Alice Evans, Daniel Gillies, Casper Zafer, Joseph Morgan and Nathaniel Buzolic)

Esther, a 10th-century witch, turns her husband and kids into the world’s very first vampires. They become known as “The Originals” and are later the subject of a spin-off show of the same name. Vampire-werewolf hybrid Niklaus (or “Klaus” to fiends and loved ones) is the product of his mom’s affair with a local werewolf, and generally takes out the pain of his “otherness” on everyone. His older brother, Elijah, is the elegant, level-headed Original. He tries to keep the peace while the other brothers have their own particular amoral and egomaniacal tendencies. The fellas’ sister, Rebekah (Claire Holt), is as bloodthirsty and has as many mommy issues as her brothers. Mikaelson family members have a tendency to off each other — repeatedly. In fact, when Mom is released from her forced extended nap (which was brought on, in part, by Klaus ripping her heart out of her chest), she immediately sets in motion a kill-’em-all! vampire-doomsday plan. The short of it: Hide! Mom’s pissed.

Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox)SHOW: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox)
FAMILY UNIT: Sarah and John Connor
(Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker)

Not evil, but lethally fierce, the time-traveling Connors tear stuff up while simultaneously trying to save the world from Skynet and escape a tenacious T-888-model Terminator. Unfortunately, their relationship suffers for their good intentions. Sarah Connor is the ultimate helicopter mom, with eyes on her son virtually 24/7, which makes John a teenage boy — and future savior of the world — with zero privacy. You can imagine how well that goes over when he wants to start dating. The epic tension between the two feeds on the love they feel for each other and the fact that they have no option but to exist in a state of extreme codependency. Together with their pet Terminator, Cameron (Summer Glau), they soldier on as buckets and buckets o’ people die around them.


Game of Thrones (HBO)SHOW: Game of Thrones (HBO)
FAMILY UNIT: Cersei Lannister Baratheon and Joffrey Baratheon
(Lena Headey and Jack Gleeson)

Speaking of Lena Headey, she also appears as TV’s ultimate unhinged mom, Cersei Lannister Baratheon. Her boy may be king, but he’s the product of incest and has a tendency to indulge in murder and mayhem. Plus, he’s so annoying that you just want to slap him. Those who run afoul of this pair usually turn up dead — or worse.

I’ve roughly applied “who would win in a no-rules fight” logic to rank this list, and the reason Cersei and Joffrey came out on top is that Cersei would just keep throwing money at the problem, hiring Gold Cloaks, knights, Kingsguard, sellswords, Faceless Men and so on until the problem, whatever it is, is dealt with. Mobsters? Eh. Serial killers? Whatevs. Vampires? Bring it.

One-on-one in hand-to-hand combat, however, Lena Headey’s Sarah Connor would decimate her Cersei. Why are you punching yourself, Lena Headey?

The following were also up for consideration for being terribly tedious in one way or another, but that’s a different list:

Two and a Half Men — Evelyn and Charlie Harper
Married With Children — Peggy and Bud Bundy
The Osbournes — Sharon and Jack Osbourne
30 Rock — Colleen and Jack Donaghy
Seinfeld — Estelle and George Costanza

Which dangerously dysfunctional TV mothers and sons have I missed? Do Cersei and Joffrey deserve to reign over this list of momsters and their spawn? Tell me in the comments below!

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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