TV viewers great and small, make way for the mother lode of on-screen mother-daughter love (or lack thereof).
By
Jeremy Cassar

25 Oct 2016 - 12:40 PM  UPDATED 26 Oct 2016 - 10:43 AM

What makes a great depiction of a mother/daughter relationship? It's easy to identify an inauthentic on-screen relationship, but one that is legit? Often the relationships are seen in one of two ways:

a) outward displays of smiley-love so unnecessarily saccharin they’re right out of a Kool-ai cult, replete with an uncompromising fondness for every aspect of each-other’s being that directly strips the relationship of the potential for conflict. Gross.

Or b) a forced, immovable wedge between mother and daughter. One that’s basically made of polystyrene, that is to say, entirely synthetic. This depiction masquerades as ‘real’, functioning under the delusion that constant, random bickering and angst over surface scum is the definition of conflict. Yawn.

Thank the televisual gods for Modus, our meaty Swedish find that falls in neither camp by revealing to us a unique, palpable relationship between a masterful criminologist and her autistic daughter, as they’re brought closer together over a serial killer at large.

And luckily, decades of television production has afforded us some similarly wonderful depictions of the mother-daughter bond—whether bitter-sweet, draining, hilarious, unsettling, or reckless and dysfunctional.

Lorlai and Rory Gilmore - Gilmore Girls

The crème de le crème of on-screen mother-daughter relationships. The Gilmore bond is so renowned that even those that have barely seen it are fully aware of the reverence held for Lorlai  (Lauren Graham) and Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) spit-fire relationship. Aided by showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino’s unique ability to weave signature banter with mood-melting affection, and you’ve got one mother of a familial union.

Tammy and Julie Taylor Friday Night Lights

A bond of which daughters with dodgy mothers only dream.

Like Tami’s (Connie Britton) enviably respectful marriage, her relationship with daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) is as high up on the believability scale, thanks to multiple cameras covering the action, enabling the actors to talk over each other like in real life, and writers who know that neither melodramatic screaming matches or sugary exchanges of affection are relatable.

Dorothy and Sofia The Golden Girls

It’s always difficult when your widowed mother is a more entertaining party guest than you. Dorothy (Bea Arthur) certainly felt that when it came to her adorable Sicilian mother, Sofia (Estelle Getty). And like anytime parents share a house with their adult children, Dorothy regresses into constant snide bickering with her mother, but one that only thinly masks their undeniable love for each other.

Marge and Lisa SimpsonThe Simpsons

When it comes to her kids, Marge’s radar is always fine-tuned.

It’s difficult to deny that The Simpsons females are considerably more enlightened than their male counterparts. Marge (Julie Kavner) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) take refuge in a mutual depth, a quiet wink between knowing kin, one that without, both would struggle to remain sane.

Ruth and Claire Fisher - Six Feet Under


One word: pants.

The relationship between the Fisher women is a succession of undulating peaks and valleys, marked by an early mutual resentment that’s typical of late-teenage-dom, and moved forward by a growing understanding of each other’s humanity outside their perceived roles.

A highlight is when Claire (Lauren Ambrose), high on a psychedelic drug, sews Ruth (Frances Conroy) a pair of hideous clown pants, which, to Claire’s total embarrassment, mother Fisher wears proudly the next day.

Roseanne and Darlene Roseanne

Roseanne the television creator had a knack for capturing genuine familial tension, whether slight or severe.

No matter how at odds Roseanne (Barr) and Darlene (Sara Gilbert) ended up with each other, no matter what the two might say to each other in the heat of the moment, the underlying love was never in question. Not an easy dynamic to nail, especially in a multi-camera sitcom.

Livia and Janice SopranoThe Sopranos

Like mother like daughter. Janice Soprano (Aida Turturro) is been one of the most (intentionally) grating characters ever put to screen, only rivaled by her hyper-negative mother, Olivia (the late, great Nancy Merchand).

This union is so fraught with duplicity and toxicity that Janice’s interest in her mother’s deteriorating condition is clearly directly related to her desire to mooch—to stay at, and eventually take over her mother’s house, then sell her prized record collection. But thanks to the paranoid monster that Liv had long-become, we can’t put all the blame on Janice.  

Lucille and Lindsay and Maebe Arrested Development

Now, these two sets of mother-daughter relationships are the perfect depictions from which to learn.

The mutual respect along the Bluth line is unparalleled, and if more relationships were as bitchy and underhanded, and downright brutal as Lucille (Jessica Walter) and Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) or and Lindsay and Maebe (Ali Shawkat), then the overall quality of the average family dynamic would improve tenfold*.

*I’ve made a huge mistake.

Maura and Ali Pfefferman Transparent

While Maura’s (Jeffrey Tambor) relationship her two eldest children are defined by a degree of distance—with Sarah (Amy Landecker) there’s a kind of blind acceptance and with Josh (Jay Duplass) it’s usually all about Josh—so in comparison, her bond with Ali (Gaby Hoffman) is made more genuine by the pair’s feelings of otherness.

By the end of season three, we get the sense that of the Pfefferman children, Ali most understands what Maura is going through. Even if her actions are occasionally tinged with ulterior motives, it’s obvious their bond is particularly special.

For a mother-daughter relationship as memorable as the above, head on over to SBS On Demand and lose yourself in the nail-biting Modus. 

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