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Television’s Great Angry Wives

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Friends, we are living in a Golden Age of Angry Wives on TV. Unlike most of their counterparts from earlier eras, today’s television wives give full voice to their fears, frustrations and fury. It’s a beautiful thing. Take a look at some classic examples from today and yesterday.

JANUARY JONES IN “MAD MEN”

Don Draper gets all the attention, but Betty Draper’s story arc on “Mad Men” is equally compelling and also tragic. We see her transform from mousy and petulant to passive aggressive to outright bitter. No one holds an angrier cigarette than Betty.

SOFIA VERGARA IN “MODERN FAMILY”

Here’s a case where having a character show anger makes her much more likable. As Gloria, Vergara easily could have been just eye candy. Instead, she uses her zero to sixty temper to be someone who stands up for herself, thinks for herself and is funny in her own right.

AUDREY MEADOWS IN “THE HONEYMOONERS”

Alice Kramden is the TV Angry Wife rock of Gibraltar. That voice! That withering stare! Not only did she give as good as she got on “The Honeymooners,” she apparently conducted much of her life in a dreary apartment roughly the size of the Kardashians’ bathroom.

LEAH REMINI IN “KING OF QUEENS”

I think the closest thing to Alice Kramden in recent years was Leah Remini as Carrie Heffernan on “King of Queens.” Carrie didn’t put up with any guff from her larger-than-life hubby and she had a ferocity about her that jumped off the TV screen.

TICHINA ARNOLD IN “EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS”

Everybody may have hated Chris, but they were downright scared of Rochelle. She ruled the family with a steely resolve and a glare that could see through solid rock – in this case a young Chris Rock. Yet the show made quite clear that Rochelle’s anger stemmed from her desire to keep her husband and kids moving forward.

PATRICIA HEATON IN “EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND”

The meaner Patricia Heaton got on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the funnier she became. She was a joy to watch, particularly as she branched out and got angry at her in-laws. The fact that she’s so tiny made it even more impressive.

ESTELLE HARRIS IN “SEINFELD”

Despite playing a secondary character, Estelle Harris was an essential part of “Seinfeld.” Her epic arguments with her TV husband, Jerry Stiller, were atonal symphonies of spite. Bravo, Estelle.

ALICE PEARCE AND SANDRA GOULD IN “BEWITCHED”

Two actresses shared the role of nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz on “Bewitched.” Alice Pearce trafficked expertly in odd facial expressions, while Gould (shown here) went in for a more hostile vibe. Let’s just say Mr. Kravitz had his hands full.

JANE KACZMAREK IN “MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE”

Ah, Lois. Your sitcom anger was pure farce, but it was truly formidable. Kaczmarek crafted a character who used yelling to convey humor, honesty, love and concern, as well as indignation.

SUSIE ESSMAN IN “CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM”

And then there’s Susie. Her put-upon, California wife in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a force of nature. Her anger is volcanic. Her expletives are extraordinary. I’m fairly confident she can divert weather systems with the sheer energy emanating from her face. If TV is going to have a Larry David, there has to be a Susie Essman to balance things out.

Oh, but there are so many more. You have Edie Falco in “The Sopranos,” Felicity Huffman in “Desperate Housewives,” Julie Bowen in “Modern Family,” etc. Who are some of your favorites?

The Uptight Ladies Brigade of Movies & TV

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They may not be the most sympathetic characters in the world, but pop culture would be awfully boring without its uptight ladies. They provide a little tension, a little contrast, sometimes even a little comic relief. Here are some of my personal favorites.

GLADYS KRAVITZ (ALICE PEARCE & SANDRA GOULD)

What a great, great character name: Gladys Kravitz! From the old “Bewitched” TV show, Mrs. Kravitz is the ranking member of the Uptight Ladies Brigade’s Nosy Neighbor Division. Two actresses did duty as Gladys, and both were excellent. First was Alice Pearce, whose photo graces the introduction to this List. She was the mistress of window surveillance. Then you had Sandra Gould, shown here. Gould had a more direct approach, with a voice that could launch a thousand migraines.

TESS HARPER

A wonderful actress in any type of role, Harper for a time in the 1980s excelled at playing uptight Southern ladies. “Crimes of the Heart” from 1986 was one of her best, earning her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

MARGARET DUMONT

Nobody did a better uptight society lady better than Dumont. She appeared prominently in many of the Marx Brothers’ best films, including “Duck Soup,” and she was the perfect foil for Groucho. He would hurl blistering verbal assaults at her; she would huff and puff, then continue on gamely with the rickety plotline.

BEBE NEUWIRTH

Neuwirth’s Lilith character on “Cheers” heads up our Uptight Ladies Intellectual Division. She was rigid, unrelentingly severe and hysterically funny.

BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD

With last year’s “The Help,” and to a lesser extent “50/50,” Howard solidified her standing as a gifted, uptight young lady onscreen. Her strong acting in those parts gave Viola Davis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt something to play against.

THE CHURCH LADY

Who said every great Uptight Lady had to be female? Dana Carvey’s peerless powers of comic inventiveness on “Saturday Night Live” gave us a character who was outlandish yet utterly recognizable. We all know people like this, but rarely do we get to laugh at them openly.

MARGARET HAMILTON

Here’s how magnificent Margaret Hamilton was. As iconic and scary as her Wicked Witch of the West was in “The Wizard of Oz,” her Miss Gulch at the beginning of the film was even scarier. She made an uptight lady on a bicycle seem as menacing as Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.” Bravo.

Those are my favorites, but I’m sure you have a few of your own. Add to The List!