Our First Round of competition was rife with stunning head-to-head Mom matchups. In our Early division, it was a battle of some of the first mother figures black and white television had to offer. June Cleaver, the mother of the titular “Beav” on Leave it to Beaver, has become the stereotype for 1950’s mothers. Though usually seen cleaning or doing other housework, June was not necessary as submissive as some of her later counterparts. The Cleaver household was strict with June and Ward sharing equal input into the children’s upbringing. Maureen Robinson filled the same homemaker role in the Robinson family, despite being both a doctor and, subsequently, an astronaut. Even in outer space, her primary focus is protecting and often locating her lost children while cooking, cleaning and gardening (for their space station). Portrayed by June Lockhart who also played the mom on Lassie (which did not make this competition), she is a comfort in a constantly unknown place but just couldn’t seem to get past tv’s first mom.
It was a clash of past vs. future and Griffin vs. Simpson as animated matrons squared off in our Cartoon division. Marge Simpson and Lois Griffin are direct descendents of Wilma Flintstone, the long-standing television trope of the skinny, doting and somewhat more intelligent wife paired with the overweight, buffoonish and/or angry, but still well-intentioned husband. Each of their husbands works a blue-collar job (rock quarry, power plant, toy factory/brewery) and woman is a homemaker and, more importantly, the glue that keeps the family together, usually despite their husband’s antics.
Jane Jetson comes to us from a more affluent, advanced time. With robots and machines to care for most of the household needs, Jane is free to take George’s full wallet and go shopping (see the show’s opening). She is happy and often aloof, a pleasant but not very authoritarian mother figure and in our first round she falls to her prehistoric counterpart. Wilma is able to make a household run on rocks, sticks and wooly mammoths, she endures a neighbor whose child bashes and destroys everything in sight, and she lives with a man who never stops yelling. And while we all like Marge and her dorky charm, Lois Griffin is cooler. Lois loves her husband, children and dog and even seems to take pleasure in her housework, but inside is a woman always ready and eager for adventure, a trait bred out of comedy but with a hint of verity. Lois makes short work of Marge in Round One.
In our fan-favorite 80’s division, Angela Bower, the advertising executive, took on Clair Huxtable, the attorney, in a battle of female professionals, a trait also shared by the other two moms in their division- Elyse Keaton is an architect and Maggie Seaver a reporter. Angela stands out among this group as the sole single mom, despite Tony Micelli’s male presence, a trait often explored in the struggle to balance her professional and personal life. Clair works the same balance, but with greater ease, always keeping her family as the highest priority while not forfeiting her personal success. Clair shows Angela who the boss truly is and moves on to the next round.
Our “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” division is comprised of four moms whose respective shows make money a central factor to their lives, in one way or another. In Peggy Bundy and Roseanne Conner, we get two images from the 90’s of moms in financially-strapped white families, though of slightly different grades. The Bundy’s would be middle class, I suppose, but Al’s continued failure as a shoes salesman keeps money as a central component. Peggy was, in fact, ahead of her time given the Real Housewives phenomenon but in this competition her inept and resistant housewife persona falls to the mother that altered the tv mom dynamic. Whatever you may think of Roseanne Barr/Arnold herself or even if you have no affinity for Roseanne the show, respect must be paid where it is due and not only was she one of the first few examples of a working mother, she was brash and grew into a character that was instrumental in changing the way women could be perceived on television. She advances to face Vivian Banks in Round Two.
In our 70’s division, the Brady-Partridge showdown looked to be a tough one to call at first glance, for Shirley Partridge surely deserves credit as tv’s first single mom (widowed). But the tribulations of a family band have difficulty competing against the Brady clan’s 2-gender, 3-age group now-iconic tales of growing up. In addition to spawning a myriad of spin-offs, specials and satirical movies in the 90’s, The Brady Bunch’s blended family served as the direct model for the 90’s Step by Step, also represented in this tournament. Carol Brady (top middle on the tic-tac-toe board) emerges the clear victor.
Jill Taylor and Amy Matthews of our 90’s division share an important characteristic in common: they are both mothers of all boys. Jill, however, owns that image, adding a husband who is often akin to having another grown child, and sticking in our mind as the 90’s image of a “hockey mom”. There is a certain toughness to being the mother of a pack of boys, constantly fixing or disciplining or patching up any number of things they could have gotten themselves into. While Mrs. Matthews is a sweet ear for Corey’s romantic soul, the head of the Taylor household is the one advancing to the next round.
As mentioned in the intro, there is no handbook to parenthood, each person approaches it in a different way. The mothers in our Badass division, approach it in… well, a very different way. With high degrees of criminality and varying degrees of violence/murder, these women all very strongly want what is best for their families, often blurring the lines of morality, sometimes selfishly, in order to keep that focus. With the exception of Carmela Soprano, each is separated from the father of her children by death, two out of three by mariticide (killing of one’s own husband). Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones is as cut-throat as they come, her nefarious actions always executed in the name of protecting her family line, but only Nancy Botwin chose to change herself from suburban housewife into a gangster and weed mogul to support her family after her husband’s death. Honest and complicated, the dark humor of Botwin’s Weeds shows a mother often making mistakes and questionable judgment calls but continuously working to provide for her family.
On the other side of the aisle, Carmela Soprano is not a criminal herself but bends morality in the way a mob wife must, always struggling between being a loving, devoted wife and protecting her children from the world of violence that provides for their way of life. Jemma Teller gets her hands dirty and takes no shit. While her husband-killing ways belie a-less-than-selfless nature, Jemma keeps her son and grandsons closer to her heart than anything else. These moms may be some of the worst moral examples but it is certainly tough to see any of them depart our competition. Cersei and Carmela nevertheless now find themselves in shallow graves in the garden.
Our cast of players has now narrowed to a field of sixteen. Check back tomorrow to see which of our all-time greatest moms advances to Sunday’s Final Four and Championship. Who do you think should be crowned Top Mom?