If you and your mom don’t get to see each other this Sunday, don’t worry. Unless it’s because she’s just suddenly gone missing, in which case, uh-oh, dude, you better go find your mom. I’ve compiled a list of great TV episodes that revolve around issues of motherhood. I don’t advise watching all of them with your mother, but I do recommend them all. And they’re all available streaming on Netflix!
1. King of the Hill – Peggy’s Turtle Song
Peggy, the ridiculously arrogant matriarch of the Hill family, has a sympathetic storyline in “Peggy’s Turtle Song.” When her son Bobby eats too much of a cereal called “Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookie Crunch” and disrupts class, he’s diagnosed with A.D.D. Peggy quits her job as a substitute teacher, but soon becomes bored staying home with a now incredibly well-focused son and takes up guitar lessons. She writes a song about a turtle who wants to escape her shell despite her attachment to it. Hank, her husband, is uncharacteristically tyrannical in this episode, and the prospect of Peggy learning the guitar (from a woman with green hair, no less) and performing her song on Mother’s Day upsets him. He comes around, of course, and attends her recital, where she plays the turtle song– the metaphor of which is not actually clear to her– to a group of caricatures of ’90’s feminists, who hoot and holler in appreciation. She tacks on a line about the turtle finding love “with a turtle named Hank.” Peggy has found liberation in her own square way, which is kind of beautiful.
Key Quote: “I thought we’d agreed to take a big step backwards together, but it sounds like you’d rather play punk music with your hippie friends on boring old Mother’s Day.”
2. The X-Files – Terms of Endearment
Wikipedia describes this episode as “an inversion of … Rosemary’s Baby,” which proves what I’ve suspected for a long time but have never been able to prove: the editors of Wikipedia do not know what the word “inversion” means. In “Terms of Endearment,” Mulder investigates Wayne Weinsider, a demon in human form who impregnates women and takes their babies. Most of the reason this episode is worth watching is that Weinsider is played by camp king Bruce Campbell in a weirdly staid– for a demon– role.
Key Quote: “Mr. Weinsider, I don’t want to arrest Laura. I’m sure you’d hate like the devil for this to happen as well.”
3. Home Movies – Get Away From My Mother
Home Movies’ central character, child VHS auteur Brendon, and his mother Paula, had, I think, one of the most interesting mother-son dynamics on television. In this first episode, in which Paula goes on a date with Brendon’s loutish gym coach, Brendon is still very much a child, not understanding the concept of dating and desperately needing Paula to watch the new movie he and his friends made, but because of the show’s loose voice-acting style and witty dialogue, the two have always reminded me of a couple of adult friends.
Key Quotes: “I like to go into this date with almost a chip on my shoulder. How dare he ask me out. How dare anybody put me through this. I’m wearing– just– this is my feeling, right now I’m at the precipice of my life, I’m at a turning point. I’ve decided that I’m just gonna go dressed how I am dressed, because otherwise it’s almost false advertising. I’m wearin’ big baggy pants and a shirt that makes a man wanna buy me another shirt.”
4. Arrested Development – Motherboy XXX
If Brendon and Paula had a compellingly healthy and mature relationship, Arrested Development‘s Lucille and Buster Bluth are fascinating for the inverse reason: Buster is an adult child, and his mother uses his dependency to nurture her own vanity. At this point Buster’s left hand has been bitten off by a loose seal, and Lucille feels that Buster’s recent moodiness (and scary hook hand) will hurt her chances at winning “Cutest Couple” at a weird mother-son dinner dance called Motherboy. She takes her grandson and Buster breaks in to the dance to confront her.
Key Quote: “Whenever she changed clothes, she made me wait on the balcony until zip-up. And yet anything goes at bath time.”
5. Archer – Lo Scandalo
Further into unhealthy territory, this episode of the spy comedy revolves around its protagonist, Sterling Archer, attempting to dispose of the body of the Prime Minister of Italy, after Archer’s mother Mallory seduces the Prime Minister and most likely brings about his demise. I didn’t say they were all exemplary mothers. Jessica Walter plays Mallory, a more licensed-to-kill version of Lucille, whom Walter plays on Arrested Development.
Key Quote: “What else was on tonight’s menu? Sex under a hive of Africanized bees?”
6. Mad Men – Shoot
The character of Betty on Mad Men has become increasingly monstrous in the past few years, but Season One’s “Shoot,” gives her an epic moment of vindication. After a neighbor threatens to shoot the family dog for taking a bite out of one of his pigeons (did you ever have a neighbor threaten to shoot your dog when you were a kid? I did, and it bummed me out for days, and I probably wasn’t even that young), and also after a modeling gig falls through for her, Betty takes out a rifle and coolly begins shooting the neighbor’s pigeons out of the sky, cigarette in her mouth. I’ll leave you with this so you can think of how many times your mom probably did something this cool for you as a kid– the answer is most likely several.
What great mom-centric TV episodes did I miss? What’s the best Gilmore Girls episode? Should I be watching that Norman Bates show? Don’t get so caught up in TV-watching that you forget to call your mom!