Top Ten Dysfunctional Families on TV
Everyone loves watching a good ol’ dysfunctional family on TV, if only because it makes you feel better about your own close-knit bunch of relatives. But while arguments and bickering are an inevitable part of every family’s life, the world of TV takes things a step further, showcasing families headed up by serial killers and drug dealers, and littered with kids who think nothing of subjecting their parents to a never-ending stream of slick-mouthed barbs. Here then are TV’s top ten most entertainingly dysfunctional family units.
Back in the pomp and glory of his high school years, Al Bundy was a football champ; he even notched up four touchdowns in one game, as the story he’s fond of telling goes. Bundy’s adult life hasn’t been so kind to him though, and now he spends his days working in a women’s shoe store while dealing with a disinterested family that seems to take glee from mocking his every move. Chief antagonist is Al’s wife, Peggy, the flame-haired sloth who only gets up off the couch to flitter Al’s money away on shopping sprees. Bud and Kelly, the kids, round out the bunch, not least with Bud deciding to annoy his father by slipping into role as Grandmaster B, his rap persona. The whole shebang is so dysfunctional that Al’s dreams of escapism involve far-fetched scenarios like dreaming that Peggy “ran off with the dwarf down at the book store.”
Being that the Fisher family runs a funeral parlor, it’s hard to imagine they could have ever escaped the dysfunctional family tag. Centered around brothers Nate and David, who inherit the family business after their father passes away, what ensues is a sometimes morbid and often depressing look into the drama of family life. Death, of course, plays a major part in the show, with each episode kicking off with an often gruesome and grisly passing, but it’s the show’s dark humor that really casts a pallid spell over the character’s lives, not least when Nate, who is reluctant to get involved in the family business, clashes his his more conscientious sibling David. In the business of death, it seems, it’s hard to forgive and forget.
At times, you’d be forgiven for assuming that The Osbournes is a fully scripted reality TV spoof show, such are the levels of argumentative yelling that goes on in the hell-raising rock star Ozzy Osbourne’s palatial abode. But nope, this is a real deal, with brattish daughter Kelly petulantly pouting her way through episodes while Ozzy himself stumbles around in a dazed manner that leaves you in no doubt that at some point in his lifetime he dabbled with a few too many illicit substances. Worst of all though is matriarch Sharon Osbourne, whose own brand of parenting includes gems like telling her kids, “I’m Ozzy Osbournes wife so shut the f*** up and go to bed.” Oh, and for added value, the family’s pet dogs get free run of the house and are pretty much allowed to poop wherever they want.
More warped and wacky than traditionally dysfunctional, the kooky spooky Addams family thrived on bringing morbid comedy to a horror setting. As parents Gomez and Morticia presided over the kids Pugsley (who owns a pet octopus named Aristotle) and Wednesday (who possess a chillingly fearsome gaze), a household full of gory objects and strange in-laws like a disembodied hand named Thing proceed to cause havoc around them. If you ever receive an invitation for a party at 0001 Cemetery Lane, think long and hard before accepting it.
When mom’s taken to dealing marijuana for a living, it’s probably no surprise that the family’s home life goes to pot, as it were. So it is with the Botwin clan, as Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy Botwin character takes to pushing weed with the noble aim of supporting her kids and keeping her house, only to find that the family fabric soon frays. Throw in a couple of sons who get their kicks from either chasing after MILFs or indulging in murder, and the Botwins are the type of high-end dysfunctional unit that makes for riveting TV.
Malcolm Wilkerson is a boy genius — he just so happens to be hamstrung by living with a family for whom taking morning breakfast together is liable to turn into an all-out shouting match. Malcolm’s siblings include the motley bunch of an elder brother Francis who is at military school, and two younger tykes, Reese and Dewey, who love nothing more than to meddle in Malcolm’s life. But it’s the families father, Hal, who steals the show, not only managing to get into bigger and more juvenile scrapes than the kids, but offering up his own warped brand of life advice like telling his young charges, “Look at that sky, Malcolm. Just think. Somewhere out there, all those stars and planets, there might be at this very moment a space dad who just got kicked out of his space trailer, who’s looking down on us. Or would it be up at us? Or maybe sideways?”
In the idyllic vision of family life, fathers take their sons out to the park to teach them how to hit a baseball. Not in the world of the Morgans, where dad Harry Morgan inspires and instructs his adopted son on how to graduate from killing animals for kicks to taking the lives of other humans under the guise of the moral high-ground. So while Dexter spends his days holding down a respectable job as a blood pattern analyst, he indulges his sociopathic whims at night be venturing out on serial killing sprees. You can only imagine what sort of conversation goes on over the yearly Thanksgiving feast.
Debuting in the late-’80s, Roseanne brought viewers up close to the inner machinations of a working class family set in middle America. Roseanne herself dominated the family, with her head-strong stubborn ways frequently sparking inter-family arguments — although balancing a day-job and providing for three screaming kids certainly tapped away at her patience. Still, even during the worst of tribulations, Roseanne always had a smart and slick answer for every situation, as when she deadpanned at her day job, “Here I am, 5 o’clock in the morning, stuffing breadcrumbs up a dead bird’s butt.”
Where do we start? Twins Dee and Dennis Reynolds might be the TV world’s most depraved siblings, with the former pretending to be disabled to pick up guys at the mall, and the latter taking the pursuit of narcissistic pleasure to new lows. Then there’s Frank, their father, who nurtures their worst instincts, is fond of pulling out a pistol as a solution to any situation, once proudly owned a sweatshop, and has even subjected Dee to the water-board treatment in order to coerce a confession out of her. In a telling scene, when Frank attempts to hang himself, Dee looks up only from the magazine she is reading to observe how, “His neck is so thick, I feel like he’s just going to swing and dangle around for a really long time.”
A family so lovably dysfunctional, when the Simpsons were sent for electric shock therapy by a counselor, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie proceeded to induce high-powered volts of electricity through each other just for kicks. Headed up by the Duff beer-swigging couch potato Homer, the Simpsons hit every archetype, with Bart the mischievous prankster, Lisa the self-righteous, vegetarian know-it-all, and Marge prone to bouts of passive aggression. In a pivotal scene from an early episode, Homer asks little Lisa what she wants from life. Her response? “An absence of mood swings.” Homer, for his part, is content to put faith in beer as “a temporary solution” for everything. Somehow though, through all their dysfunctional plight, the Simpsons stay together — giving us all hope that family really is the world’s indelible bond.