Parenting: it’s all the rage. Television writers have given us some truly delicious and devilish characters over the years. The best-written characters on TV all seem to be moms. Why? These complex figures ranging from loving to horrendous all have something to offer viewers. They might be offering up some bad (very bad) behavior, but there’s always something on offer when we’re talking about the worst moms on TV.
Writers and producers come up with some truly unbelievable characters, but it’s up to actors to bring them to life and make them feel real. More often than not, actors are nothing like the characters they portray. For instance, Claire Danes is not actually a mentally ill, rogue FBI agent, who can’t seem to care for her child like her Homeland character, Carrie Mathison. No, she’s not the sort of monster who would name her child Frances and then call her “Frannie” for short. Instead, Claire Danes is an award-winning actor and mother to two sons. Like Claire, there are many questionable TV moms portrayed by brilliant actors who are nothing like their on-screen personas. We decided to compile a list of our favorite bad TV moms who are absolutely nothing like the actors who play them.
10. Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek
Moira Rose, the wigged, egomaniacal mom from comedy Schitt’s Creek is hilarious, but she’s a really bad mom. Her two adult children seem stunted and unprepared for the real world. Perhaps if Moira focused a tenth of the energy she spends on herself on her family, they’d be better off.
Portrayed by Catherine O’Hara
Like her character, Catherine O’Hara does act for TV, but that’s about all they have in common. This comedic legend has given us iconic mom performances not only in Schitt’s Creek but also in Home Alone and Beetlejuice. O’Hara met her husband on the set of Beetlejuice in 1992, and they have two sons together.
9. Nancy Botwin from Weeds
Nancy Botwin, from the hit series Weeds, started dealing drugs after her husband passed away. You know, just to supplement her income and hang on to the privileged life she and her children were used to. But, bad stuff happens, especially when you’re involved in crime. This TV mom gets caught up in an international drug-smuggling scheme leading her down a dark path involving identity-theft, regular theft, and even murder. Each step puts her children at further risk and by the end of the series, she’d completely alienated all three of her sons.
Portrayed by Mary-Louise Parker
In real life, Mary-Louise Parker is a talented actor on stage and screen. She’s also a great mom to two children: daughter Caroline “Ash” Aberash, 12, and son William Atticus, 15. When asked about motherhood by People, she said, “I’ll be the first to admit that it can be very hard to raise two kids, but I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine what my life would be without my children.”
8. Betty Draper from Mad Men
When you’re married to a man like Don Draper, you’re bound to be pushed to your limit. In Mad Men, Betty Draper was one of the coldest moms in TV history. She mothered three children on the show: Sally, Robert, and Eugene, all with a cigarette dangling out the side of her mouth.
Portrayed by January Jones
Actor January Jones is a mother to an 8-year-old son named Xander. January is a single mom and told Red, “After I had Xander, I went on a couple of dates and I was like, ‘I’d rather be at home sleeping, or watching TV or hanging out with my kid.’” In addition to being a great actor, January is also extremely relatable when it comes to dating.
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7. Selina Meyer from Veep
Veep‘s Selina Meyer was a self-obsessed politician trying to climb the rungs of power. While she did manage to ascend to the highest elected office in the land, her fall was swift. Her daughter in the show, Catherine Meyer, is consistently humiliated by her mother and her horrible decisions. Let’s face it, Selina Meyer had literally no redeemable qualities.
Portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus
In real life, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a comedy legend starring in classics TV shows like Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live. She recently was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the highest comedy honor you can get. She’s got two children and we’re pretty certain she’s better to them than Selina Meyer ever was to Catherine.
6. Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones
From a show that a whole bunch of people watched, Game of Thrones boasted one of the most power-hungry, cunning, and evil moms ever. While she was never too mean to her children, who were products of incest with her brother, she did make some horrible choices that lead to the untimely demise each and every one of her offspring.
Portrayed by Lena Headey
Actor and mom Lena Headey has two sons. She gave an interview to Radio 5 Live and spoke about motherhood, “It means you get to know parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. I think relationships deepen everywhere because of it.” She also said having little ones around means, “You’ll never poo alone again.” We felt that.
5. Godmother from Fleabag
Comedy Fleabag can be rather dark, and one character who serves shade like no other is the Godmother. Technically, she’s not a mom, but she does marry into the family and becomes the titular character’s “mother.” She treats Fleabag and her sister Claire like complete trash. Every scene she is in, we’re terrified by what she might say next.
Portrayed by Olivia Coleman
The insanely talented actor, Olivia Colman has three children who watched their mom win an Oscar for her performance in The Favourite. Like her character in Fleabag, Colman is very funny. But, she’s not as mean. Roslyn Sucas described her in The Independent: “Colman is the most ordinary extraordinary person you have ever met. She is smiley, charming, apologizes frequently and plays down her talents at every opportunity. Her colleagues trip over their words trying to find enough adjectives to describe her likeability, decency, kindness, her friendliness to the entire crew on any shoot, her lack of diva-dom.”
4. Gemma Teller Morrow from Sons of Anarchy
The show you watched to see Charlie Hunnam shirtless, Sons of Anarchy, had one of the toughest and most loyal moms of all time in it. Gemma Teller Morrow was loyal to a fault and precipitated murders, druggings, and even held a newborn baby hostage at gunpoint. In addition to keeping secret that she arranged the murder of the protagonist’s father, Gemma could tell a lie better than any person ever written.
Portrayed by Katey Sagal
Actress and singer Katey Sagal was one very good reason to watch a show about biker gangs. Her performance was a blast to watch. In real life, Katey is a proud mother to her three children. Her son, Jackson White is following his mom’s footsteps and recently appeared in a mini-series called Mrs. Fletcher. Katey was asked about playing so many mothers by the Denver Post. She said: “They’re all different, but all similar in that they are all loving in their own special, unique ways. In Married With Children, the overriding thing was that the family stayed together. Gemma seems the most complex. She loves these people, she doesn’t want to see anything happen to her little world. She will protect that to no end.”
3. Norma Bates from Bates Motel
In one of the most deftly campy shows to come out in years, Bates Motel really leaned into the creepy-mom factor. Norma Bates, mother to, Norman Bates can’t seem to catch a break! Norma has had a string of bad relationships and unhealthy codependency with her teenage son. Norma and Norman’s adventures are thrilling and extremely uncomfortable to watch. We’ve never cringed harder.
Portrayed by Vera Farmiga
Actor Vera Farmiga has two kids and she posts about them on her Instagram a lot! When asked about her character, Vera said, “Yeah, she’s insane as any mother goes insane sometimes. It’s a very typical portrayal of maternity and its function and dysfunction and its victories and defeats. She doesn’t always make the right decisions.”
2. Adora Crellin from Sharp Objects
If you know, then you know, but Sharp Objects was one of the most brutal shows about motherhood ever put on television. HBO even marketed the miniseries with the tagline, “Mama knows best.” Does Adora Crellin though? Without giving too much away, there is a lot of murder, a lot of mental illness, and a lot of Southern Gothic charm. Mother Adora is at the center of it all. This show has more twists than a pretzel. If you haven’t seen this show, buckle up.
Portrayed by Patricia Clarkson
Actor Patricia Clarkson gives one of the most chilling performances of her career as Adora. She’s totally captivating as she plays the demented mother, but she doesn’t have any kids herself. In an interview with The Guardian, she said, “I’ve never wanted to marry, I’ve never wanted children – I was born without that gene.”She joined Marc Maron on his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, and explained that while she doesn’t have kids she’s extremely close with her nieces and nephews.
1. Livia Soprano from The Sopranos
Mother of Tony Soprano, Olivia “Livia” Soprano was one tough cookie. In addition to being rather grouchy, Livia tried to have her son killed multiple times throughout the run of The Sopranos. In one of her most iconic monologues, Livia tells her grandson, a child, “The world is a jungle. And if you want my advice Anthony, don’t expect happiness. You won’t get it. People let you down. And I’m not naming any names, but in the end, you die in your own arms.” Just a dose of cold, hard truth.
Portrayed by Nancy Marchand
Actor, Nancy Marchand did such an excellent job playing a mom you love to dislike. She passed away in 2000, at the age of 72. She is survived by her three children. She started out on Broadway and had an illustrious career on stage. She was posthumously inducted to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2014. Nancy was such an incredible talent and she made every episode of The Sopranos that she touched very special.
Our favorite TV moms just so happen to be baddies. We love these complex characters and the writers who took a chance and gave the meatiest roles to them. They may be murderers, criminals, predators, or just seriously detached from reality, but we love these bad TV moms. The actors who play these monstrous matriarchs are mostly, good moms in real life. It must be a blast for them to let loose and play evil.
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
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