The Bluths, Arrested Development
What do you get when a white-collar criminal breeds with a cold, manipulative, upper-crust alcoholic? An undercooked mama’s boy, a worthless magician/lothario, and an unfailingly selfish (adopted) activist princess — which leaves poor Jason Bateman, the fourth Bluth sibling, to hold everyone together in hopes of saving the family’s real estate development firm, Bluth Company. Of course, that’s just George and Lucille’s immediate family; their kids and spouses include a “never-nude” and a teenager named George Michael who has a crush on his cousin.
The Fishers, Six Feet Under
The family at the core of this HBO drama is thrown into crisis in the series premiere, when patriarch Nathaniel Fisher dies suddenly on Christmas Eve. But really, the characters are already on pretty shaky ground: Nate, the oldest, is an aimless 30-something with a fear of commitment and a tendency toward sexual recklessness. Religious middle child, David, is struggling to come to terms with the realization that he’s gay. Teenage Claire is your classic art school-bound misery chick. And their poor mother, Ruth, is a repressed housewife who married young and has never had the chance to be independent. As the seasons progress, this troubled clan begins to grow up and confront its problems — although there are plenty of heartbreaking setbacks, too.
The Bunkers, All in the Family
TV’s classic dysfunctional household, and the model for many family sitcoms for the past four decades, the Bunkers are the generation gap embodied. First and foremost, there’s Archie Bunker, the bigoted, working-class father and armchair social commentator. By his side is dedicated, long-suffering, pre-Women’s Lib wife Edith. And then there’s his poor daughter, Gloria, who seemingly spends all her time mediating quarrels between her dad and her hippie husband, Michael — better known to Archie as “Meathead.”
The Costanzas, Seinfeld
Sure, Jerry Seinfeld had some trouble with his parents every now and then, but his family drama is nothing compared to the Costanzas’. Neurotic, self-sabotaging George could only be the product of a deeply unstable upbringing, which Frank and Estelle clearly provided. Their Queens home — where George sometimes lives as an adult — is a place of constant, top-of-the-lungs argument, the parents shouting each other down at the dinner table and bullying their son into submission. Hell, they even have an entire holiday devoted to the Airing of Grievances.
The Drapers, Mad Men
What’s worse: having a dad who’s completely fabricated his identity or having a mean, delusional mom who hates you? The Draper children don’t get to choose, because they’ve got both — and things get even worse when the truth about Don comes out and he and Betty go their separate ways. Maybe that’s why little Bobby is a total nonentity and little Sally is always being lewd in public and running away and hanging out with creepy neighborhood boys. RIP Grandpa Gene.
The Bundys, Married… with Children
A quick poll at Flavorpill HQ revealed that a good number of us were forbidden from watching Married… with Children as kids. What, then, was so offensive about the Bundy household? Perhaps it was Al, the cranky, disrespected shoe salesman father whose glory days ended in high school. But it could also have been Peg, the TV- and shopping-addicted mom who’s always undermining her poor husband? Of course, the kids — promiscuous bimbo Kelly and awkward, creepy (if also somewhat intelligent) Bud — are pretty depressing, too. And yet, what our parents just didn’t understand was that in the sea of saccharine ’90s family sitcoms (hey there, Full House), the Bundys were a rare and welcome counterpoint.
The Conners, Roseanne
Speaking of antidotes to saccharine ’90s family sitcoms, how about Roseanne? It’s debatable whether the Conner family truly qualifies as dysfunctional. Sure, there’s a lot of shouting and grumbling and eating junk food in front of the TV. Yes, Roseanne and Jackie have an absolutely bonkers mother. But through all the family’s troubles — unemployment, terrible jobs, the kids’ romantic and scholastic foibles — it’s clear that the Conners really do love and value one another, and that Roseanne and Dan are working their hardest to make sure their children have more opportunities in life than they did.
The Addams Family
The poor Addams family. They’re a swell group of aristocrats, just trying to make their way in mid-’60s society and frighten as few outsiders as possible. But when you’re all basically monsters with bizarre powers, you don’t really stand a chance of not being dysfunctional, do you?
The Botwins, Weeds
Shane and Silas Botwin probably thought that their father’s untimely death was the worst thing that could ever happen to their family. Fast forward a few months and their mom, Nancy, has become a pot dealer in their sanitized southern California suburb. Then she’s competing with (not to mention bedding) gangsters, getting racy tattoos, and marrying DEA agents — and that’s all before she burns down their town, the family goes into hiding, and she gets pregnant by a Mexican drug lord. Meanwhile, young Shane takes after his reckless, selfish mother, while Uncle Andy — Nancy’s brother-in-law, who has a checkered past of his own — is hopelessly in love with her. Silas seems like the only Botwin who’s capable of going straight, but every time he tries to escape the family’s insanity, Nancy just sucks him back in.
It’s hard to decide who’s the bigger troublemaker: dim, misadventure-prone Homer or rebellious prankster Bart. Sincere, responsible Marge and precocious, conscientious Lisa may not be enough to save the family from utter dysfunction, but they certainly make a fantastic argument for matriarchy.