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Arts | Culture

These are the best TV moms for our modern times

A photo from an early episode of "This is Us."
(Ron Batzdorff / NBC)

Sure, when you think of the best TV moms, iconic names come to mind: June Cleaver, Carol Brady, Clair Huxtable.

But those moms weren’t parenting with smart phones or social media, let alone coronavirus. So for Mother’s Day, let’s honor some realistic TV moms. Moms who aren’t perfect, but instead offer us a blend of inspiration, support and even a few laughs.

The mom you want in your corner: Beth Pearson, “This Is Us”

Played by: Susan Kelechi Watson
What is her life? Beth juggles a lot. She’s wife to the high-strung, anxiety-prone Randall; mother of two, then three daughters; and is, of course, a sister-in-law among a set of triplets (who call themselves “The Big Three” because they think they’re the center of everything). Even though she’s hardly in the spotlight, Beth maintains a strong identity: smart, funny and driven, but never shies away from telling hard truths, even when no one wants to hear them.
Why we love her: She has a firm but nurturing parenting style - one that stays connected even through difficult issues. Remember when foster daughter Deja finally trusted Beth enough to wash her hair? Beth also supports her husband’s many whims (I’m going to buy this apartment building and do the maintenance myself, I’m going to run for office in a whole new neighborhood). Even through a personal career crisis and reinvention as a dance teacher, she still manages to be a present and involved parent. Just keep boys away from the house, OK?
Mom advice: Don’t sweep away problems, talk about what’s going on. And if all else fails, there’s always “a hot minute for some yogurt.”
Watch her: “This is Us” is on NBC and is streaming on Hulu, YouTube TV and other services.

The mom who is most relatable: Sam Fox, “Better Things”

Olivia Edward as Duke Fox, left, and Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox, in the family kitchen in "Better Things."
(Nicole Wilder-Shattuck/FX)

Played by: Pamela Adlon
What is her life: Sam Fox is a single mother of three girls, each battling issues like independence, gender identity and puberty. Sam is also a working actress, stringing together enough gigs to support her family, which also includes her kooky British mother living across the street.
Why we love her: Aside from her fabulous house, Sam is one of the most realistic mothers on TV. Her kids are always on their devices. They talk back. She curses. Everyone cries. She makes delicious meals even though she has no idea who will be home to eat them. There are no neat endings on this show, and often the fights she has with her daughters are so uncomfortable and heartbreaking, it feels like you’re intruding. Still, even when the Fox family hates each other, you know they also love each other fiercely.
Mom advice: Imperfection is perfection.
Watch her: “Better Things” is on FX and streams on Hulu.

The mom who never puts herself first: Penelope Alvarez, “One Day at a Time”

Marcel Ruiz as Alex, Justina Machado as Penelope and Isabella Gomez as Elena in "One Day at a Time."
(Nicole Wilder/POP TV)

Played by: Justina Machado
What is her life: Penelope is a single, working mom raising her daughter and a son in a Los Angeles apartment that she also shares with her proudly Cuban mom (played by Rita Moreno). She’s a former Army medic who served in Afghanistan and suffers from anxiety because of it, but pushes through to make sure her children always have what they need.
Why we love her: Penelope deals with realistic issues - whether it’s arguing with her son about why she can’t afford fancy sneakers or admitting to her own mom that she has depression. She parents through honesty and openness, even if it means the family has zero boundaries.
Lesson: Set high expectations, communicate and always listen to your mom
Watch her: The first three seasons are on Netflix, the latest episodes are on POP TV.

The mom you’re glad isn’t yours: Moira Rose, “Schitt’s Creek”

The cast of Schitt's Creek in season 2.
( Steve Wilkie/CBC)

Played by: Catherine O’Hara
What is her life: Moira Rose is a glamorous former soap star who was stripped of her family fortune and is living in a motel with her husband and two adult children, David and Alexis. Because she was once so wealthy, she didn’t actually raise her kids ... nannies and boarding schools took care of that. But now that she’s stuck in a small town with no money, there’s plenty of time to explore her maternal side.
Why we love her: Moira is not a good mom. At all. She’s vain and dramatic. And she clearly favors her wig collection over her kids. (But then, she also favors David over Alexis.) Still, she does have the most impressive vocabulary on TV, and always gives brutally honest relationship and career advice. And over six seasons, we’ve watched her evolve into a mother who truly learns to cherish her family.
Mom advice: In rough times, family really is what matters most.
Watch her: “Schitt’s Creek” is on POP TV and is also streaming on Netflix.

The mom who lets you make mistakes: Mutsuko Erskine, “PEN15"

Maya Erskine in a scene from her show, "PEN15."
(Alex Lombardi/Hulu)

Played by: Mutsuko Erskine (real-life mom of “PEN15" co-creator Maya Erskine , pictured above)
What is her life: “PEN15" is a modern show, but it’s set in 2000, so Mutsuko is a mom raising two middle school kids just as technology is starting to become part of daily life. Her husband is often on tour as part of a Steely Dan cover band, so she’s left to take care of Maya and Shuji largely on her own. (Fun fact: Maya Erskine’s dad actually plays drums in Steely Dan.)
Why we love her: Though Mutsuko keeps a traditional Japanese home, she has an easygoing and supportive approach to parenting. Instead of hounding Maya with lectures - like when Maya chops off her hair or has fits of anger - Mutsuko is always there with a compassionate, supportive ear.
Mom advice: You can achieve more with kindness.
Watch her: “PEN15" is streaming on Hulu.

The mom who is the queen of all TV moms: Tami Taylor, “Friday Night Lights”

Connie Britton as Tami Taylor in "Friday Night Lights."
(NBC Universal)

Played by: Connie Britton
What is her life? Tami is the very put-together and usually smiling wife of a godlike Texas high school football coach, and mother to teenaged Julie, and later, to baby Gracie Belle. Along with juggling a home life (in which people are always stopping by unannounced) Tami is also a driven and respected educator at the local high school.
Why we love her: She can put together a team barbecue in two days, have a heartfelt talk about sexuality with her daughter and is always ready with the most poignant, thoughtful advice no matter the situation. And while Tami has a confident and reassuring approach when dealing with the students at Dillon High, she’s quick to get emotional with her own kids because she does everything - including parenting - with her whole heart.
Mom advice: If you’re going to do something, do it genuinely. And if you can’t, fake it until you can hide under a table and compose yourself.
Watch: “Friday Night Lights” is streaming on NBC, Amazon Prime and other services.


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