Everyone approaches Mother’s Day their own way, and for many of us, it’s a chance to celebrate the woman who sacrificed everything to raise us. It’s one of maybe two times of year when your mom’s ungrateful children will come around with flowers and a mug to thank her for her endless, priceless, unconditional care and love and sometimes money. Thanks, moms!
Whether you are a mom, have a mom, or don’t speak to yours at all, one thing remains true: Moms are some of the most enjoyable characters to watch on TV. Since the dawn of the medium, we’ve had moms on TV — but they aren’t quite Mrs. Brady anymore. Now we have moms who are drunk, loving, selfish, loud, and everything in between — and as TV gets more nuanced, moms are becoming more like actual people onscreen every day, with all of their quirks. Maybe you even see a little bit of your own mom in Jessica Huang or Lucille Bluth.
There is no one perfect type of mom, so to celebrate them all, we’ve put together this list of ten iconic TV moms and one episode that saw them at their best, worst, or just most on-brand. Watch them all this weekend.
Julie Cooper, The O.C.
“The Strip” (Season 1, Episode 26)
Melinda Clarke, who plays iconic good/bad mom Julie Cooper in The O.C., was only supposed to be a secondary character. That was until fans loved her so much that she got signed on to be a regular in season two, and we are so glad. Julie has her bad moments — like blackmail, deception, general shitty parenting — but she grows up a lot over four seasons. This episode doesn’t showcase that growth, but it does show her hilariously begging Kirsten for “one little stripper” for her bachelorette party before flirting with a stripper despite being almost married to Caleb. It shows her at her fun, silly best, and gives us a preview for the multifaceted Julie that’s to come.
Bree Hodge, Desperate Housewives
“One Wonderful Day” (Season 1, Episode 23)
Bree Hodge/Van De Kamp isn’t really the first name that comes to mind when you think of good moms on Wisteria Lane. She cooks, sure, but she also ships her son away for being gay. While Bree has plenty of iconic lines, she’s known for being cold and detached, so her most pivotal moment comes in the episode where she and Rex reconcile despite his cheating on her. He writes her a note saying that he forgives her for “poisoning him” and passes away. Bree is at home spring-cleaning, polishing her silverware to take her mind off things and because it reminds her that the “best is yet to come.” Still, when she receives the phone call, she breaks her icy exterior and starts sobbing. Bree often cleans through emotional crises, but this is the first moment we really see her break and have feelings. Even the most prim of moms have hearts, too.
Emily Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
“Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller” (Season 5, Episode 1)
A chump might put selfish, self-centered, childish Lorelai Gilmore on this list, but real heads know that Emily Gilmore is the best Gilmore girl. She might usually be perfectly uptight in very proper, tailored Chanel suits, but “Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller” sees Emily stooping to levels of sloppy and petty that make Lorelai look grown up. As her fight with Richard escalates, Emily grows increasingly unreasonable, to the point where she disappears to Europe with Rory instead of dealing with her problems, yelling, “I am going to Europe, Richard. I’m going to Europe and I’m going to have a marvelous time! I’m going to get up at 10 and have two glasses of wine at lunch every single day!” When Richard rudely tells her that “only prostitutes have two glasses of wine at lunch,” she yells, “Then buy me a boa and drive me to Reno because I am open for business!” Emily Gilmore uptight is still funny, but Emily Gilmore letting loose is a real sight.
Mrs. Kelly, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
“Mac’s Mom Burns Her House Down” (Season 6, Episode 6)
Mrs. Kelly, Charlie’s neurotic, high-pitched mom, is as funny as she is completely insane. We first really get to know her in this episode, when Mac’s mom burns her house down and has to move in with Mrs. Kelly. Mrs. Kelly is not keen — she panics that Mrs. Mac’s mom is moving in with her dog, Poppins, as “I DON’T WANT A DOG TO EAT MY FACE, CHARLIEEE!” and despises Mrs. Mac’s habits. Mrs. Kelly’s behaviors and fears start to reveal that she suffers with obsessive compulsive disorder, insisting on doing everything in threes “so Charlie doesn’t die.” This is all our moms, basically.
Bobbi Wexler, Broad City
“Knockoffs” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Ilana Wexler’s mom’s appearances in Broad City are rare, but they are iconic. Played by Susie Essman, Bobbi is the perfect portrayal of a loud but loving Jewish mom — and she’s exactly like her daughter. In “Knockoffs,” Bobbi is grieving her mother and milking it: “My mother just DIED,” she cries, justifying her need to look into Abbi’s handbag at Grandma Esther’s shiva. What she finds in the bag is a dildo from Abbi’s adventures pegging Jeremy — something that becomes the topic of conversation and that she hilariously tries to convince her husband, played by Bob Balaban, to try. “Knockoffs” sees Ilana and Bobbi go fully underground in the search for perfect knockoff handbags, speaking Mandarin, and screaming at police officers. It’s a perfect Broad City episode in so many ways, but it’s also a joy to see a mother and daughter so similar.
Lucille Bluth, Arrested Development
“Motherboy XXX” (Season 2, Episode 13)
Lucille Bluth is by no means a perfect mom. She is coarse, deceitful, distant, unloving, critical … where am I going with this? Oh, yeah — she is all of that, but at least she is funny. In “Motherboy XXX,” Lucille proves that she is invested in one of her children — Buster, whom she has roped into the Motherboy dinner dance over 25 times. While they have won “Cutest Couple” on several occasions, Lucille decides to take Michael because Buster is “moody after losing his hands.” He says no, so she enlists the help of George Michael, pretending that he is an orphan. Buster and Michael attempt to save him from a life of being sheltered, and Buster ends up dancing with his mom anyway. If there’s anything to be learned from this wacky, all-over-the-place, Lucille-starring episode, it’s (A) that Jessica Walter will always steal the show, and (B) that we should always try to spend time with our mothers, no matter how insufferable.
Naomi Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
“I Will Help You” (Season 4, Episode 7)
Naomi isn’t perfect, but whose mom is? Sure, she drugged her own daughter, but it came from the warmest (if very misguided) of places. Rebecca and Naomi’s relationship is tense, but “I Will Help You” sees Naomi at her most human. In this episode, Rebecca tries to solve some unfinished business with her mom. They attend an event together and Naomi attempts to lie about Rebecca’s current status, but Rebecca tells the truth … until it’s time to take to the stage and lie for her mom. Naomi sings two songs in this episode, and while the Jewish camp duet with Elayne Boosler is good, “Forget It,” in which she lays into Rebecca for sticking to her pretzel-based dreams and being a “loser” and a “disgrace” — all while backed by moms telling their kids that “Moms don’t suffer tsuris and pain to have their daughters bring them shame” — is iconic. Many women may see their moms in Naomi, but while the dynamic is difficult, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend always does a nuanced (and hilarious) job of showing that healing those wounds is possible.
Lois Wilkerson, Malcolm in the Middle
“Traffic Ticket” (Season 2, Episode 16)
This list is full of difficult moms who try their best for their ungrateful kids, and Lois is at the top. Sure she’s abrasive, she’s loud, and sometimes she’s even mean … but so are her kids. Her perhaps most infuriating trait, as with so many moms, is her constant need to always be right. In “Traffic Ticket,” Lois is pulled over by a cop and arrested when her record shows that she has 16 unpaid parking tickets. The tickets all turn out to be the fault of Francis, whom Lois punishes, but she also tries to take the cop (who she believes has it in for her) to court. She is desperate to prove she is right, going to ridiculous lengths because, well, that’s what moms do.
Estelle Costanza, Seinfeld
“The Contest” (Season 4, Episode 11)
Is there any worse scenario you could possibly end up in than your mom walking in on you when … you know. “The Contest,” one of the most iconic episodes of Seinfeld of all time, is the one where Estelle Costanza, George’s legendary mom, makes her first appearance as played by Estelle Harris. Estelle is opinionated and prone to outbursts, which many of us may find familiar. In “The Contest,” she catches George masturbating, slips, and ends up in the hospital — leading to the entire gang abstaining from … you know … as part of a very aggressive and competitive contest. In the hospital, Estelle rages at George while he sits with his hands clasped in a pose many of us, no matter what age, will recognize from being told off. This results in her screaming that iconic line: “You have nothing better to do at three o’clock in the afternoon? I go out for a quart of milk, I come home and find my son treating his body like it was an amusement park!” It’s hilarious, with a dose of secondhand shame.
Jessica Huang, Fresh Off the Boat
“Dribbling Tiger, Bounce Pass Dragon” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Jessica Huang has a lot of really incredible, funny moments on Fresh off the Boat, but at the heart of all of that is her desperation to see her children succeed. While there’s not much point in controlling Eddie, she has more luck with genius kids Evan and Emery — which is why she panics so much when they join the school play in “Dribbling Tiger, Bounce Pass Dragon.” While Louis teaches Eddie basketball, Jessica opts to spend time with the other two, directing their school play The Sunflower Gang Goes to Yumland, giving it a rewrite to denounce acting and encourage different, more meaningful careers that offer guaranteed financial success. Her edits are discarded, and the play ends up being full of rainbows, animals, and happy flowers — it lacks any kind of educational value, but at least the kids had fun. It’s a valuable reminder for parents, this one — not everything kids do has to be geared toward success, mom.