Our Five Favorite TV Families

So Modern Family, ABC's new pretty darn funny comedy, premieres tonight. And that got me thinking about, well, families. TV families, that is. Pretty much every third show on television is about some sort of blood-bond, but only a certain few stick out as the truly great television clans--ones we admired, or wanted to be a part of, or loved to laugh at. With that in mind, here are my five favorite TV families.

The Keatons -- Family Ties: The Keatons were prototypical white, middle class, former hippies who somehow found themselves mired in the 1980s. They were, essentially, most of my childhood friends and their parents, just a little bit older. The mom, Elyse, was a deep-thinking architect, while dad Steven worked for freaking public radio (perfect). And yet these liberal Baby Boomers managed to produce a son, Alex P. (the marvelous Michael J. Fox), who giddily bought into the "Greed is good" conservative money mania of the Reagan era. What a conundrum! What a conflict! What a typical family thing. Jokey political strife with Alex aside, there were also sisters Mallory (a little ditzy and boy crazy) and Jennifer (perpetually whining and feeling left out), and sorta forgotten late edition baby Andrew ("I'm shocked and happy... I'm shappy.") The family's problems seemed simple on the surface, but they usually also teased at some bigger design for living. A show, a sitcom no less, about what happens when ideology melts away into the practicality of everyday living, Family Ties was one of the quintessential series of the '80s. Suburban, but not lulled into the stupor we later came to associate with that particular milieu, the Keatons were awake and alive and full of ideas and, most importantly on a sitcom, they were funny.

The Huxtables -- The Cosby Show: Well, this is kind of a no-brainer. Obviously Bill Cosby's wildly successful sitcom about a Brooklyn doctor and his large brood is a touchstone of television history. They were just such a good family, always relating to each other in close, intimate ways without being sappy or dumb (see: Full House). Cosby and his costars' and the writers' talent lay in how lived-in and eased the show was right from the very Phylicia Ayers-Allen (remember when she was called that?) beginning. It's funny to think about how, for a show that was so popular and so influential, nothing really happened in each episode. The Cosby crew figured out how to do a show about nothing a good five years before Seinfeld came along. That sort of quotidian ho-hum pace-of-life plodding along, peppered of course with huge bits of humor, just really made you believe that the kids (Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy) belonged to this house, to these parents. The Huxtables were the family we all wanted to be--wealthy but not showy about it, intelligent, prank-pulling, and neighborly. They weren't the perfect black family, mind you. They were just the family, race, color, or creed be damned. That Cosby pulled off that bit of cross-culturalism so deftly will be, among other things, his legacy.

The Simpsons -- The Simpsons: Again, a no-brainer. The Simpsons are the bright yellow stars of the best television show that's ever aired. Trenchant, observant, crass, dumb, loving, indifferent, bored, and hopeful, the Simpsons represented (and still do today, albeit to a more diluted extent) every common banality and peccadillo of the modern American family. That they did so so subtly and warmly beneath a thick polish of side-splittingly witty, absurdist, and referential humor is a testament to just what an incredible project Matt Groening, Sam Simon, and James L. Brooks embarked on all those years (20!) ago. The Simpsons themselves as a family--daft Me Decade dad Homer, quietly intelligent wallflower homemaker Marge, sarcastic troublemaker Bart, loudly intelligent Lisa, and baby Maggie--have the kind of bond that has them strangling each other one minute and piously (if reluctantly) going to church the next. Groening created a show that was both bitingly hilarious and refreshingly sincere. The Simpsons never hate each other, like the gang on end-times creation Family Guy so cynically seem to. No, instead the Simpsons are just a hyperbolized version of a lot of our families--middle class and wanting more, but still pretty grateful for what we have.

The Chases -- My So-Called Life: Nothing was perfect about the Chases. You didn't want to be like them. But like it or not, some of us simply were them. Parents Graham and Patty lived with their two daughters, surly teenager Angela and buddingly curious tweener Danielle, in a gray and brown suburb of Pittsburgh, on a street that looked like so many other streets in the eastern United States. The genius of the show, created by Winnie Holzman and exec-produced by Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskowitz (parents of another great domestic drama, thirtysomething), was just how eerily and heart-soaringly familiar this family, this entire life depicted on the small screen, felt. Particularly resonant, for me at least, was Patty. Played with beautiful detail and precision by the criminally under-worked Bess Armstrong, she just spoke with that mom patois that chills and elates and pangs with nostalgia every time I hear it. She's just mom. And Angela (future movie star Claire Danes) was partly you, or at least your sister, or your cousin, or someone you knew. She was real! Not so-called at all. My So-Called Life was a show about how living, the joy and the pain of it, is a long process of learning to accept our flaws and weaknesses while trying to tease out what's good for us, and what we're good at doing. It's a shame that the show didn't get to continue on that journey itself. It was canceled after one brief season. One of TV's biggest shames.

The Arnolds -- The Wonder Years: Like a late '60s/early '70s version of the Chases, the Arnolds of California were just so real. Or at least I gather they were, judging how my mom (born pretty much at the same time as the protagonist, Kevin) would react to the show when we'd all sit in the TV room and watch on Wednesday nights. The Arnolds weren't fabulously rich or Dickensian poor. They weren't beautiful or silly or terribly special in any way. They were just the Arnolds. The show helped revolutionize the half-hour "sitcom" with its often serious storylines (the show followed an adolescent boy, played by Fred Savage, growing up through turbulent times) and laugh track-free, single-camera format. But it also was great because it didn't have any pretensions about showing anything beyond what happened to one kid in one particular time in one particular town. No matter what generation we were born in, we've all known (or been) a kid like Kevin, all met his sad, scared mom (the terrific Alley Mills), his surly last-of-the-dying-patriarchs dad (the equally-awesome Dan Lauria), his rebellious and faraway sister Karen, and his piggish (but secretly not so bad) bully of a brother Wayne. They were just a regular family. That's all. And that's a lot.

Of course I also love ridiculous familes like the Bluths of Arrested Development and tragic, messed-up families like the Sopranos or the Henricksons of Big Love. The five listed above are just the ones that I hold closest to my heart. You know, like family.

What about you? What TV clans do you like the best?

Comments (41)
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Oct 20, 2010
What about the Bunkers?
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Oct 20, 2010
I vote for the Cartwrights (Bonanza) and the Cunninghams (Happy Days).
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Oct 16, 2009
My fav TV family will always be the Bluths from Arrested Development. Hope to see them soon on the big screen!
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Oct 02, 2009
What about the Conners? Who doesn't love Dan and Roseanne? (BEFORE they won the lotttery, of course)
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Oct 01, 2009
The simpsons are old, bring on the family guy.
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Sep 30, 2009
What about Seven Heaven and the Camdems??
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Sep 30, 2009
The Cosby Show with The Huxtables most of them..
This is the my favorited funny family: Married With Children with The Bundys.
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Sep 30, 2009
Mine would be: The Connors "Roseanne", The Gilmores "Gilmore Girls", the Petrellis "Heroes", the Fishers "Six Feet Under", the Hills "King of the Hill", the Adamas "Battlestar Galactica", The Bluths "Arrested Development", the Summers family "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Also, the O'Reily family "Oz". Also while I didn't care for the mother, the dynamic between Keith Mars and his daughter Veronica on "Veronica Mars" was just outstanding. So I'd trow them in there, too. I realize that's way more than five, but on a personal level I think these families are just too close to call and narrow to just five.
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Sep 29, 2009
I love the Huxtables!
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Sep 29, 2009
The Scavos deserve to be on this list.
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Sep 29, 2009
simpsons sucks :/
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Sep 29, 2009
What about the Taylor family from "Home Improvement"? Or the Gilmores from "Gilmore Girls"? What about the Deline's from "Las Vegas"? Or found families like on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Beverly Hill 90210"? And speaking of that--what about the Walsh clan?
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Sep 28, 2009
Love the Cohen's from the OC!
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Sep 28, 2009
I
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Sep 28, 2009
I like the Trager family. :D
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Sep 28, 2009
BUNDY Family are the best and none before or after them could be compared to them
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Sep 26, 2009
Definitely Roseanne had my favorite family
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Sep 25, 2009
I know their brand new but I would add the whole Modern Family to the list, that's how much faith I have in them!
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Sep 25, 2009
i love Simpsoms, Griffins, and the Brundys the best
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Sep 24, 2009
Lets not forgot TV's first family THE NELSONS
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Sep 24, 2009
Married With Children The Bundys! Gotta love 'em. :)
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Sep 24, 2009
How about the Waltons or the Camdens from 7th heaven?
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Sep 24, 2009
Good job! I agree, especially with the Keatons (Steven worked for a local PBS TV station, btw) and the Arnolds.
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Sep 24, 2009
Well... the Bundys should definitely be up there. Also well worth mentioned are the Ewings, the Flintstones, the Fishers, the Ingalls, the Connors, and the Camdens.
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Sep 24, 2009
Well... the Bundys should definitely be up there. Also well worth mentioned are the Ewings, the Flintstones, the Fishers, the Ingalls, the Connors, and the Camdens.
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Sep 24, 2009
Well... the Bundys should definitely be up there. Also well worth mentioned are the Ewings, the Flintstones, the Fishers, the Ingalls, the Connors, and the Camdens.
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Sep 24, 2009
I love the Huxtables, but none of the others. However, other than the Cranes (Frasier) I can't think of any other families that would make the list.
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Sep 24, 2009
Or the Frasier gang!
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Sep 24, 2009
The Cohens on the OC!
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Sep 24, 2009
Good list. The only family I'd add are the Connors from Roseanne.
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Sep 24, 2009
Top five families without the Bundys? silly
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Sep 24, 2009
Off the Top of my head The Bluths and The Banks
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Sep 24, 2009
You forgot the Gilmores!
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Sep 24, 2009
There's some others that you forgot. Growing Pains and Roseanne and Who's the boss. I loved family ties. There was full house and family matters. There use to alot of great family shows what happend?
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Sep 24, 2009
The Taylors are the greatest
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Sep 24, 2009
The Simpsons is one of those shows- rare shows- that you can watch a hundred times, per episode, as most of us have since we were kids and still discover new jokes and puns we missed the first time around. Family Guy is funny, but has no heart. It's all about making you laugh like anyone would if you saw some guy fall on ice, but, unlike Family Guy's mentality, you'd then help the guy up and make sure they were okay. Peter would fart in the guy's face, a la Meg.
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Sep 24, 2009
The Ewings and The Bundys.
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Sep 24, 2009
The Ewings and The Bundys.
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Sep 24, 2009
get the simpsons off the list then we'll talk
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Sep 24, 2009
Only watched "The Simpsons" (Only 13 seasons then i say "Ok enough for me!!")



XO XO



:):):):)
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Sep 23, 2009
I have a fondness for "families" that are actually not related in any way, such as the cast of Bones and Crossing Jordan. They're co-workers, not relatives but they are family to each other.
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