Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Who is the best mother on TV? (Must have appeared on a show in the past year.)
Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com
Obviously, the person who is going to be the best mom on TV is going to be the mom who reminds me the most of MY mom because my mother is the best mother in the universe. And that TV mom is Christine Baskets from FX’s “Baskets.” Not that my mom is a man in drag (as far as I know), but she is incredibly devoted to me and obsessed with my well-being, as well as extremely tolerant of my whims, for the most part. Christine is all that, but she’s a great TV mom because she’s SUCH A MOM and the role of motherdom is engrained in her being rather than just part of the role of a typical TV mom. She feels real. Love you, Mom! Just kidding, she’s not reading this because she doesn’t know how to use the internet. Seriously, I just recently told her to close all 500 Safari tabs she had open on her iPhone.
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
Lynn Pierce (Christine Adams) on The CW’s “Black Lightning” has had to put up with a lot. Her ex-husband (who she still truly loves) is getting back into the vigilante game — which split them apart to begin with – while her daughters are both manifesting superpowers. Lynn handles all of this with exceptional grace and strength, showering her family with love, but she also actively works to protect them. Though she doesn’t have superpowers, Lynn doesn’t just hide away – she uses medical research to assist her family regarding their transformations, and looks for the source of a street drug that has been harming their city. She also knows when it’s time to just pick up a shotgun and act when her family is under attack. While most superhero TV shows make mothers either villains or ghosts, “Black Lightning” keeps Lynn an integral part of the story as the family member who truly holds it all together through strength, intelligence, discipline, and compassion.
Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com
I really, really want to say “Riverdale’s” Alice Cooper because I love everything about her –just look at how this woman enters a room! — but is Alice actually a great mother? I don’t think I can spin this one in her favor, even in a joking way, so when I really think about it, I believe there are two shows that deserve to be highlighted here: The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and Netflix’s “One Day at a Time.” Both shows, which actually have some cast overlap, feature portrayals of fierce, protective, loving mothers who highlight the complexities of motherhood from multiple perspectives, proving there’s no one right way to be a parent. From Jane, Petra, Xo and Alba on the former to Penelope and Lydia on the latter, the women of both shows are loving mothers who sometimes make mistakes but are still supportive and kind, and that’s what matters most. Oh, and you know what, I’m also going to throw in a mention for Sam Fox of “Better Things,” one of the few shows on TV that honestly and beautifully digs into the often complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. Plus, I just wanted to remind everyone how great “Better Things” is. Watch “Better Things,” America!
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is about a lot of complicated facets of womanhood, but the flashbacks featuring June as a young mother in a society on the brink of collapse have always had a sharp sting to them; her relationship with Hannah is sweet, real, and grounded in her desperation to be the best mother possible against increasingly impossible odds. With Season 2 confronting June with a new pregnancy under the harsh rule of Gilead, the question of what it means to be a mother will hang heavily over the episodes to come; making her story an unconventional one when it comes to family dramas and comedies, but no less invested in what it means to be a mom.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
My heart wants to give Louie Anderson’s Christine Baskets a big sentimental shout-out for this, especially with his new book released about his mom. But for overall holy cow excellence, it’s Pamela Adlon’s Sam Fox. When FX’s “Better Things” is airing, I dine on Sam Fox’s (Adlon) wit and wisdom as she raises three night-and-day different daughters (Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, Olivia Edward) in Los Angeles. Fox is filterless and fearless, the de facto mother, father, and mediator sandwiched between her three girls and her eccentric English mother, Phil (Celia Imrie), an expatriate, who lives across the street and we are lead to believe is cognitively faltering at the same time. The show makes you laugh out loud and cry at the same time, just like any good mother would.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
It’s Alexi Ashe. And if you don’t know who she is or why I picked her, lemme tell you! On April 8th, the human-rights lawyer and wife to Seth Meyers gave birth to their second son, Axel, in the lobby of their apartment building. Yeah, Seth called 911 and an Uber, but the baby was not about waiting and made his entrance right there on the floor of the building they had just recently moved into. And while Alexi isn’t technically “on TV,” she inspired one of “Late Night’s” greatest opening monologues and went through what had to be one of the most terrifying experiences an expectant mom could endure, surrounded by cops and neighbors and apparently an Uber driver instead of trained doctors and sanitized instruments AND DRUGS! My mom was one of the all-time best moms ever, but even she would have said that this one deserves a trophy.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
Tough one! Let’s see… We probably start by mentioned beloved animated TV mothers like Linda Belcher or Marge Simpson. They’re not gonna win, at least not for me, but I want to mention them. Oh and Bojack Horseman’s mother is awesome/awful, too. Then there are at least three or four spectacular ABC mothers, and I’d want to mention Maya DiMeo from “Speechless” and Jessica Huang from “Fresh Off the Boat” in particular. Daenerys Targaryen is the Mother of Dragons and that’s hugely badass even if I would never really vote for her and even if she probably shouldn’t really count, since she’s not REALLY their mother. Being hatch-adjacent doesn’t count, Dany! Sharon from “Catastrophe”? The eponymous Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, even though Midge CLEARLY doesn’t much care about her children? Ditto with Queen Elizabeth? Ditto Selena Meyer?
OK. Enough dilly-dallying, though. My answer is coming from FX. Contender 1 is Elizabeth Jennings, who has done a magnificent job of teaching Paige self-defense and educating her on Russian culture and when it’s OK to use sex for espionage, but she hasn’t done such a great job of making Henry feel like she even knows what sport he plays. [It’s hockey, Elizabeth! Henry is great a hockey!] Then there’s Christine Baskets of “Baskets,” who has done a fine job of raising two different sets of twins and did a spectacular thing in coordinating Opera Night at the Rodeo, while also finding love later in life. And then there’s Sam Fox of “Better Things,” doing her best with her three daughters and even choreographing a perfect graduation gift/dance. There are no losers here. But if there can be only one winner… Christine Baskets is TV’s best mother!
Diane Gordon (@thesurfreport), Freelance
I’m cheating here because I have more than one pick but they’re all on the same network: the ABC sitcom moms of “black-ish,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “The Goldbergs” for showing a wonderful range of mothering styles and illustrating that there’s no “right” way to be a mom. Tracee Ellis-Ross artfully shows how Rainbow Johnson, a doctor and working mother, juggles doctoring, raising children, and tending to her home. The current arc where Bow and Dre’s marriage is on the rocks has been especially moving given the groundwork the show has laid over past seasons.
Constance Wu’s Jessica Huang (“Fresh Off the Boat”) may be easy to label as a “Tiger Mom” but she’s the essence of tough love and devotion to her husband and sons while also realizing her own potential. Wu’s subtly nuanced performance makes Jessica relatable, funny, and uniquely lovable.
Wendi McClendon-Covey’s Beverly Goldberg continues to tug at my heart for many reasons: she reminds me of my own Jewish mom, who took great joy in hovering protectively over me and my brothers. As “The Goldbergs” reminds us, Beverly puts the “mother” in “smother” and she’s a joy to watch as she shows her dedication to her children by trying to participate in their interests and support their dreams. If you watch Beverly and don’t smile, get your heart checked.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx
You could throw a rock at various half-hours made for FX or ABC and hit a great mom character, from Sam Fox on “Better Things” and Christine on “Baskets” to Bow Johnson on “black-ish,” Jessica Huang on “Fresh Off the Boat,” and Beverly Goldberg. All would be fine choices, but I’m going to cast my vote for Maya DiMeo on “Speechless,” who has turned maternal pushiness into a superpower, bulldozing anyone and everything standing in the way of son JJ’s attempt to live as typical a life as possible, even with cerebral palsy. If Maya were not your mother, you’d run screaming from her early and often, but if you’re her kid (well, if you’re JJ or Dylan, at least; Ray is often out of luck), there’s almost nothing she won’t, or even can’t, do for you.
Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR
Once upon a time, my answer would have been Roseanne Conner, without hesitation. Because, no matter how much she needled her kids, husband or sister, Roseanne always seemed to do it with love and a hard-headed sense of self-awareness. But in ABC’s reboot, a Trump-loving Roseanne is nursing a prescription drug addiction and dunking her disrespectful granddaughter’s head in the kitchen sink, so no thanks.
This year, three other TV moms have stolen my heart, instead. Rita Moreno on Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” is technically the abuela – her Lydia Riera is mother to star Justina Machado’s Penelope Alvarez and grandmother to Penelope’s two kids. But Lydia steals every scene she’s in and provides much-needed perspective on the family’s evolution in Cuba and America. Tracee Ellis Ross’ Rainbow Johnson on “Black-ish” is a physician and mom who doesn’t have it all together and doesn’t assert herself by cutting down her man. Still, as a recent storyline shows trouble in ‘Bow’s marriage to Andre, we learn she’s got plenty of backbone to spare when it comes to doing what’s right for herself and her family. Finally, Molly Parker’s Maureen Robinson on Netflix’s “Lost in Space” is just the space heroine we needed; a brilliant aerospace engineer who takes charge when her spacefaring family’s trip to a new earth colony hits serious snags, staying one step ahead of almost everyone else through her command of science and sheer will to succeed.
Marisa Roffman (@marisaroffman), Give Me My Remote
Beverly Goldberg (from “The Goldbergs”) may be the ultimate “smother” (think helicopter parent before the term existed), but she’d also do literally anything for her kids. She’s sweet, funny, and only occasionally crazy. (Her children would likely disagree about her level of insanity.) Plus, no one on TV swears quite like her.
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
I believe that last year, I said Elizabeth Jennings, because I really would love if she were my mom. But in the interest of varying things up, I’m going to bring up Sam Fox of FX’s wonderful comedy “Better Things,” the kind of mom who somehow manages to keep every single plate spinning amid the very complicated lives of her three kids, while also finding time to deal with her own shit, as well as a disapproving mother. As played by Pamela Adlon, Sam is at once a rock for her children and constantly irritated by them, which strikes me as the most accurate depiction of parenthood out there right now. (Caveat: I only have cats, but I definitely understand being supportive of them while also irritated by them.)
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), GoldDerby
I guess I don’t watch a lot of shows with moms or at least with moms I like, but I’ll go with a mom from a dearly departed (pun intended) show: Nora Durst on “The Leftovers.” Was she a perfect mom? No, but after losing her whole family in The Sudden Departure, she stopped at nothing to find them again. And when – if – she did locate them in the inverted other world and saw them living their new life, she did one of the hardest things a mom could do: let go. But I’d make sure she stays at least 100 feet away from me and my phone.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
It’s Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) on “Better Things.” Favorite TV moms would include the likes of Elizabeth Jennings (played by Keri Russell in “The Americans”) and Mallory Archer (voiced by Jessica Walter in “Archer”), but neither are pushing their kids toward professions with good, uh, life insurance. There’s also Maeve (Thandie Newton) on “Westworld,” but for as far as she’s willing to go to reunite with her daughter, the kid might not even be real. Jessica Huang (Constance Wu) is a “Fresh Off the Boat” favorite, alongside her network co-mother, Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) on “Speechless,” but I have to give the edge to Sam because she’s inspiring, unpredictable, and inspiringly unpredictable.
She knows her kids in such an intimate way that she can give them what they don’t know they need and what they’d never guess they wanted. Look to the bookends of Season 2: allowing Max (Mikey Madison) to date a much older man, just so Sam can stay in her life, to throwing her an outrageous graduation party that Mama Fox isn’t even allowed to attend. Both embody self-sacrifice for the betterment of her daughter, but also for the betterment of her relationship with her daughter. The dance scene is a cherry on top of the sundae: She’s always giving with the best intentions, which is what makes for a great mom.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “Killing Eve” (five votes)
Other contenders: “Atlanta” (three votes), “The Americans,” “Billions,” “Dear White People,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Superstore,” “The Terror”
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.