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21 Awesome TV Moms

Whether expertly explaining the birds and the bees, being a shoulder to cry on, or ... riding her dragons, these moms inspire the hell out of us.


BETTER THINGS "Sam/Pilot" Episode 1 (Airs Thursday, September 8, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (L-R) Pamela Adlon as Sam, Olivia Edward as Duke (photo: Colleen Hayes/FX)

Defining what makes a mom great is a complicated undertaking. No mother — or human, for that matter — is perfect all the time. Keeping that in mind and in honor of Mother’s Day, Rotten Tomatoes made a list of some of our favorite fictional TV moms.

We’ve included some obvious recent choices like characters from Jane the Virgin and Parenthood — programs that, in their very premise, address the concept of parentage and what that means to different people. We’ve also included older series like Leave It to Beaver — series that may not seem as relevant in a world in which many moms juggle career with home life, but that still shaped the role for a generation of viewers. And there are also shows that aren’t necessarily about motherhood all the time, but have certainly offered some thoughts on the subject; Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, for example, will fiercely protect and avenge her “children,” and Catelyn Stark made the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. (No, Cersei — just no.)

One thing’s true for all of these shows: These characters may not be the best moms all the time, but their imperfections sometimes make them best in the role.


#1

Tami Taylor (Connie Britton)
Friday Night Lights 96%

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS -- Season 1 -- Pictured: Connie Britton as Tami Taylor (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
(Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

It wasn’t just that Tami Taylor was a great mom to two her daughters — which she most certainly was — but she was also the de facto parent for so many other kids in Dillon, Texas, when they needed advice on everything from how to handle colleges or their own parents or even more serious issues.


#2

Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez)
Jane the Virgin 100%

Jane the Virgin - Gina Rodriguez (The CW)
(Photo by The CW)

It may not have been Jane Villanueva’s plan to have a kid when she was still a virgin — especially since she was artificially inseminated with her old crush’s sample — but it turned out that she’s  pretty good at it. Probably because she had such great role models in her mom, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), and grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll).


#3

Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross)
black-ish 91%

BLACK-ISH - TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, MARSAI MARTIN, YARA SHAHIDI (ABC/Eric McCandless)
(Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless)

One of Dr. Rainbow Johnson’s greatest acts is her ability to talk to her kids like adults and put them first even when she’s going through her own stuff (like, say, when her marriage is falling apart).


#4

Sharon Morris (Sharon Horgan)
Catastrophe 99%

Catastrophe (Amazon Prime)
(Photo by Amazon Prime)

The circumstances under which Sharon and Rob (Rob Delaney) accidentally became parents and partners could have been catastrophic (one-night stands can have that effect on people’s lives), but she’s handled issues like redefining herself after children and fighting with a spouse in front of the kids with impeccable comic timing.


#5

Penelope Riera Alvarez (Justina Machado)
One Day at a Time 98%

One Day At A Time (Mike Yarish/Netflix)

Penelope Riera Alvarez leads an exceedingly stressful life. A war veteran coping with her own issues of depression and anxiety, she’s also a nurse to a fairly incompetent doctor (Stephen Tobolowsky) and lives with her extremely vivacious mother (Rita Moreno). But she always has time for her kids.


#6

Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad)
The Cosby Show

THE COSBY SHOW, Phylicia Rashad, Raven-Symone, Yr.7, 1990-1991. (c)Carsey-Werner Co. Courtesy: Everett Collection.

The epitome of “having it all” just as the phrase was permeating the lexicon, Clair Huxtable was a successful attorney, a mother of five, and a patient saint who was able to keep up with her family’s antics.


#7

Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham)
Gilmore Girls 82%

GILMORE GIRLS - Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel (Saeed Adyani/Netflix)

Lorelai Gilmore is there for her daughter Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) many, many mistakes with a smile and a quick-witted pop culture reference. In fact, she loves her so much that she’ll even attempt to play nice with her own mother, Emily (Kelly Bishop), no matter how infuriating those encounters can be.


#8

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley)
Game of Thrones 91%

Game of Thrones moms: Daenerys, Catelyn, Cersei (HBO)

Daenerys might be the Mother of Dragons, but she also feels a maternal duty toward her ever-increasing army of soldiers and followers. Catelyn Stark’s final act was a (failed) attempt to protect her first born. And then there’s, erm, Cersei (Lena Headey). Say what you will, the woman loved her children — mostly. Bye, Tommen!


#9

Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon)
Better Things 97%

BETTER THINGS -- Pictured: (l-r) Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox, Olivia Edward Duke, Hannah Alligood as Frankie, Mikey Madison as Max. CR: Pamela Littky/FX

Single mom and working actress Sam Fox knows she doesn’t always have a good work-life balance. But she’s raising three kids who don’t begrudge her for it and that says something.


#10

Nora Walker (Sally Field)
Brothers & Sisters 79%

Brothers & Sisters - Sally Field (ABC)

Sally Field, who played matriarch Nora Walker in this long-running series, said it best when she accepted an Emmy award for this part: “If mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamn wars in the first place.”


#11

Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore), Beth Pearson (Susan Kelechi Watson)
This Is Us 92%

This Is Us - Mandy Moore, Lonnie Chavis; Susan Kelechi Watson, Lyric Ross (Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

We know that Rebecca Pearson had a strong better half in her husband, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) when it came to the emotional support necessary for raising triplets. But it’s how strong Rebecca had to become after Jack’s untimely death that proves she should not be underestimated. The series’ other standout mom is smart, successful, and sympathetic Beth Pearson.


#12

Debra Barone (Patricia Heaton)
Everybody Loves Raymond

EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, Patricia Heaton, 1996-2005, © CBS / Courtesy: Everett Collection

That stereotype that housewives sit on the couch and watch soaps everyday? It doesn’t apply to Debra Barone. She’s relatable because she’s as overworked and stressed out as the rest of us. Plus, she has to put up with her meddling mother-in-law, Marie (Doris Roberts).


#13

Elyse Keaton (Meredith Baxter)
Family Ties

FAMILY TIES, Meredith Baxter (aka Meredith Baxter Birney), 1982-89, © NBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

How did a feminist, free-thinking mom like Elyse Keaton end up with such materialistic and conservative kids? It’s a sign of the times and she made the most of it.


#14

Jessica Huang (Constance Wu)
Fresh Off the Boat 94%

FRESH OFF THE BOAT -Do You Hear What I Hear? - As head of the HOA Christmas committee, Jessica threatens to cut the neighborhood caroling this year due to last year's rocky performance. TUESDAY, DEC. 12 (8:30-9:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Richard Cartwright) CONSTANCE WU

Like many immigrants, Jessica Huang wants her kids to be successful Americans and remember their roots. And if she has to be a stern pragmatist to get them there, then so be it.


#15

Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross)
Happy Days

HAPPY DAYS, Marion Ross, from the opening credits, 1974-1984.©Paramount / Courtesy: Everett Collection.

Who doesn’t love Mrs. C? Marion Cunningham was the caretaker and mother everyone wanted in their lives — even those like Fonzie (Henry Winkler) who may have been too cool to admit it.


#16

Kristina Braverman (Monica Potter), Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham)
Parenthood 88%

Parenthood's Monica Potter (NBC)

This TV remake of the Ron Howard movie was loaded with strong examples of motherhood — be it Monica Potter’s Kristina, who overcame cancer and also turned her worries about her son’s development into a career that would help similar kids, or Lauren Graham’s Sarah Braverman, who may not be so good at adulting herself, but who moves back home because that’s what’s best for her kids.


#17

Harriet Nelson
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, Ricky Nelson, Harriet Nelson, David Nelson, 1952-1966 (ABC)

Before the Kardashians or the Partridges, there was this long-running comedy in which singer Harriet Nelson played a version of herself as the perfect small-town housewife and mother (even if she was nothing like this in real life).


#18

Linda Belcher (John Roberts)
Bob's Burgers 90%

Bob's Burgers (Fox)

Wife, mother, and Tom Selleck fan Linda Belcher is husband Bob’s partner in life and at their restaurant. A little scatterbrained yes, but who can blame her? The lady hasn’t had a day off in years, and she has to put up with burger-themed puns.


#19

Harriette Baines Winslow (Jo Marie Payton and, later, Judyann Elder)
Family Matters

FAMILY MATTERS, JoMarie Payton, 1989-1998. ©ABC/courtesy Everett Collection

Harriette Baines Winslow was proud to be a working mother with her own opinions. She was also patient enough to deal with Steve Urkel’s (Jaleel White) increasingly frequent visits.


#20

June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley)
Leave It to Beaver

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, (from left): Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow, 1957-63.

With her pearls and immaculate kitchen, June Cleaver was the archetype of nuclear family matriarchs who always managed to have a handle on her two sons. She eventually finds a life for herself outside of her family; the follow-up series The New Leave It to Beaver sees her as a member of the city’s council.


#21

The Big Little Lies Tiger Mom Posse
Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies stars Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO)

If motherhood is about keeping your kids as innocent and safe for as long as possible, then all of the women on this miniseries deserve accolades. We’re especially impressed with characters like Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) and Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), who strove to keep their sons good even if genetics wasn’t working in their favor. The series also starred Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Martha Mackenzie, Laura Dern as Renata Klein, and Zoë Kravitz as stepmom Bonnie Carlson.

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