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Great TV & Movie Moms You May Not Remember

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This weekend we celebrate Mother’s Day, so here’s something to get you in the mood: A bunch of terrific, but sometimes overlooked, moms from TV and movies.


“FAMILY” (1976-80)

This series about a California family was somewhat of a soap opera, but it got many things just right. Chief among them was the fiercely intelligent performance by Sada Thompson as Kate Lawrence. Without resorting to showy theatrics, she conveyed her character’s deep love for her kids even when they did self-destructive things. And what kid doesn’t do self-destructive things?


“JULIA” (1968-71)

Tame by today’s standards, “Julia” was an important show for its time. Carroll played a nurse raising her son alone, after her husband dies in Vietnam. Just like other shows of that era, it taught simple life lessons that were wrapped up neatly by the end of the episode. It didn’t need to be edgy; its mere existence on the TV schedule was statement enough. Plus, Carroll was excellent.


“BIG” (1988)

Amid the fantasy and comedy elements of the Tom Hanks movie, “Big,” there is this great performance by Ruehl. Her character, Mrs. Baskin, believes her young son has been kidnapped or run away. Her brief flashes of anger and sadness actually keep the rest of the story in perspective.


“GOING MY WAY” (1944)

Here’s a testament to the power of motherhood. In this movie, young priest Bing Crosby is trying to persuade old priest Barry Fitzgerald to change with the times and rejuvenate his spirit. At the end of the film, Crosby arranges to have Fitzgerald’s mother brought in from Ireland as a surprise. When he sees her – ancient, smiling, barely able to walk – he melts into her open arms.



Introducing Meryl Streep, action hero mom. In “The River Wild,” her character, a whitewater rafting expert, has multiple problems to solve. She has to save her marriage, keep her family from being killed by a pair of criminals – and navigate some nasty rapids.


“THE VISITOR” (2007)

Abbass is quietly moving in a film that also is quietly moving. She plays a Syrian woman in America, whose son has been sent to a detention center for illegal immigrants. She feels guilt, rage and helplessness, but never wavers in her love and sacrifice.


“MY SO-CALLED LIFE” (1994-95)

There was nothing quiet about Bess Armstrong in “My So-Called Life.” Her mom character got mad, argued, debated and was willing to discipline her 15-year-old daughter, played by Claire Danes. It was painfully real. Yet she was willing to listen and console, too. Armstrong may have been the most realistic mom in TV history.


“CLOCKERS” (1995)

This is maternal bravery, depicted on film. In “Clockers,” Taylor absolutely tears into a drug dealer (played by Mekhi Phifer) who might be taking an interest in recruiting her young son for the drug trade. Her fire – and her fear that she might be fighting a losing battle – are right there for everyone to see.


“50/50” (2011)

This is a tricky role that Huston plays very nicely. She’s the mom of an adult son who develops cancer, and her initial scenes require her to be fairly hysterical. As the movie progresses, an interesting thing happens with her. You come to realize through her that being fairly hysterical is actually part of a parent’s job.


“thirtysomething” (1987-91)

Wettig’s Nancy Weston on “thirtysomething” got to do something pretty radical for a TV mom. Her character was allowed to grow and change. She was at various times timid, mousy, trapped, jealous, angry, independent, forgiving and resilient. Great, great performance.



She’s one of my favorites. Barrie is pleasantly daffy as the Indiana mom whose son has suddenly decided to pretend he’s a professional bicycle racer from Italy. She just goes with it, merrily waiting for her chance to inject some common sense here and there.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone. Feel free to add to The List!

3 Responses »

  1. I think Sada Thompson is my favorite of these…LOVED that show with Kristy McNichol and Meredith Baxter Birney…sigh….

  2. I remember liking Diahann Carroll back in the day.


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