Mother's Day Guide

TV mom matchup: What the Dowager owes to Lorelai Gilmore

May 11, 2014 at 6:07 AM ET

There’s no doubt today’s TV moms are breaking new ground. This year alone, we’ve seen mothers hunt zombies, murder with the aid of a meat fork, and commit treason. So why are we feeling déjà vu? We compared the moms of 2014 with those on classic shows and found some surprising similarities.

(Some TV spoilers ahead.)

Sharp-Tongued Mom
NOW: Dowager Countess, "Downton Abbey"
THEN: Lorelai Gilmore, "Gilmore Girls"

IMAGE: Gilmore Girls, Downton Abbey
CW Network/Everett Collection; N
TV's most quotable moms include Lorelei Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith).

There are moms who use their voices to nurture, and there are those who crack their words like whips. On "Downton Abbey," it's Lord Grantham's steely mother, the Dowager Countess, who doles out the withering put-downs and punchlines. "One forgets about parenthood," she once sighed. "The on-and-on-ness of it." Her 1990s counterpart, Lorelai Gilmore, had similar wit, albeit with a streak of self-deprecating humor that the Dowager would never allow. As she herself once cracked, "Lorelai Gilmore: disappointing parents since 1968."    —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Pioneer Mom
NOW: Carol, "The Walking Dead"
THEN: Ma Ingalls, "Little House on the Prairie"

IMAGE: Little House on the Prairie, The Walking Dead
Everett Collection; AMC
Ma Ingalls (Karen Grassle) and Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) are mothers struggling with a new world.

Some moms live their whole lives in familiar comfort. Others are trailblazers, surviving in harsh new worlds for which nothing could have readied them. On "Walking Dead," Carol never expected to witness the shooting death of her zombified daughter Sophia, nor was she prepared to put down loony Lizzie after the young girl killed her own sister. Caroline "Ma" Ingalls from "Little House on the Prairie" could relate. Life on the edge of civilization was tough enough without the drama of Mary's blindness, crop-killing hail, rabid raccoons and the snobby Oleson women. If only Nellie could have met up with a hungry walker.  —G.F.C.

Love-You-No-Matter-What Mom
NOW: Marge Simpson, "The Simpsons"
THEN: Carol Brady, "The Brady Bunch"

THE BRADY BUNCH, Florence Henderson, Barry Williams,  'Call Me Irresponsible,' (Season 2, October 30, 1970)
Everett Collection; CR: FOX
Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) would do anything for her blended family, just like Marge Simpson would for her three kids.

Even when Bart moons all of Australia and Lisa gets lost on a bus to nowhere, blue-haired mom Marge of "The Simpsons" stays calm. She's had plenty of practice — if she hasn't left Homer yet, she'll never go off on her kids. In the same way, nothing fazed Carol Brady, whether it was Marcia and Jan's petty rivalry, Greg dyeing his hair orange, or Peter quitting his bike shop job and hiding out in the park. Good thing Carol had Alice (and possibly some Valium).   —G.F.C.

Don't-Get-In-Her-Way Mom
NOW: Cersei Lannister Baratheon, "Game of Thrones"
THEN: Roseanne Conner, "Roseanne"

ROSEANNE, Roseanne, 1988-1997, third year
Everett Collection; HBO
Don't mess with Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) or Cersei Lannister Baratheon (Lena Headey).

It hardly seems fair to compare bloodthirsty Cersei, who's currently demanding her brother's head, to feisty Roseanne. But you don't want to mess with either of these moms. While Cersei might kill you, Roseanne could make you wish you were dead. Only the approaches differ. Cersei manipulates, as when she cooed to psycho son Joffrey, "You are my darling boy, and the world will be exactly as you want it to be." Roseanne was more explosive, at one point rejecting a cafeteria job because "serving crappy food to ungrateful teenagers, how would I know I was at work?" At any rate, watch out.   —G.F.C.

Nightmare Mom
NOW: Gemma Teller Morrow, "Sons of Anarchy"
THEN: Estelle Costanza, "Seinfeld"

IMAGE: Seinfeld, Sons of Anarchy
CR: Prashant Gupta/FX; Everett
Be glad your mom isn't Estelle Costanza (Estelle Harris) or Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal).

Certain moms seem to view motherhood as a sick challenge: How can I mess up my kid in the worst way possible? Biker babe Gemma has the edge for killing son Jax's father and later his wife — that second one with a carving fork. But naggy Estelle made son George a neurotic mess with her over-the-top hysterics, as when she required a hospital stay after catching him in an intimate act with an issue of Glamour magazine.   —G.F.C.

Career-Minded Mom
NOW: Alicia Florrick, “The Good Wife”
THEN: Elyse Keaton, “Family Ties”

IMAGE: Family Ties, The Good Wife
NBC/Everett Collection;CBS
Elyse Keaton (Meredith Baxter) and Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) work hard to juggle career and family.

We'd love to see Alicia and Elyse meet over coffee or wine. Perhaps the whip-smart matriarchs could commiserate over their struggles to separate work and family life. "Family Ties" fans will recall that Elyse's architecture work was strewn all over the Keaton house, while Alicia's law firm once made her small apartment its home base. Plus, both moms have kids who go against the grain: Ex-hippie Elyse spawned the Ronald Reagan-loving Alex; atheist Alicia's daughter embraces evangelism. (As to the philandering husband, however, Alicia is on her own.) —Randee Dawn

Scheming Mom
NOW: Mellie Grant, “Scandal”
THEN: Lucy Ricardo, “I Love Lucy”

IMAGE: Lucille Ball, Bellamy Young
Everett Collection; ABC
Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) have high-placed husbands and schemes aplenty.

Having a husband in the spotlight can diminish a mom’s sense of self-worth, but not for this power-hungry pair. On “Scandal,” First Lady Mellie Grant is the POTUS’s puppetmaster, rigging a national election, attempting to entrap a political rival with a prostitute, and forging the President’s signature on official documents while the guy recovers from a bullet wound to the head. (It remains to be seen if the death of the First Couple’s son, in the most recent season finale, will change her.) Mellie’s 1950s counterpart, Lucy Ricardo, had her sights set on fame — not politics — but Lucy was just as driven. When her bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo started getting interest from Hollywood, Lucy went behind his back to impersonate his agent, crash his screen test, and weasel into performing for studio execs by using a Ricky-shaped dummy as a dance partner. Both of these moms have some ‘splainin’ to do.    —Erin Quinlan

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