The show: Mad Men (AMC, 2007-’15)
The dysfunctional clan: The Drapers
How dysfunctional were they? As quintessential depictions of family dysfunction amid the pre-counterculture, overly idealized version of 1960s suburbia go, Mad Men is like a John Cheever story come to life. It’s hard to decide which member of the Draper family is most damaged: Philandering workaholic/alcoholic Don (Jon Hamm); emotionally frigid, depressed matriarch Betty (January Jones); or tempestuous, troublemaking daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka). It’s definitely not little Bobby, whose greatest transgression may be that he was played by, like, four different kid actors over the course of the show.
The show: Malcolm in the Middle (FOX, 2000-’06)
The dysfunctional clan: The Wilkersons (We think.)
How dysfunctional were they? The titular middle child of this sitcom’s ostensibly surname-less brood is both an off-the-charts genius and a relatively normal everykid compared to the screwballs who make up the rest of his overbearing family. When mom Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) isn’t busy shaving dad Hal’s (Bryan Cranston) furry back, she’s seemingly preoccupied with emasculating him and their sons. In retaliation, oldest son Francis (Christopher Masterson) becomes arguably her biggest enemy, torturing her by marrying an Alaskan native named Piama (Emy Coligado) and pretending that he’s an unemployed ne’er-do-well. Now that’s love.
The show: Mama’s Family (NBC/syndication, 1983-’90)
The dysfunctional clan: The Harpers
How dysfunctional were they? This spinoff of The Carol Burnett Show focused on disgruntled family stalwart Thelma Mae Crowley Harper (Vicki Lawrence), who opened her home (and thus invited all manner of vintage hijinks) to her dimwitted son Vint (Ken Berry) and two kids from his first marriage after he wed second wife Naomi (Dorothy Lyman) and lost all his money in a bad business deal. A kind of down-south riff on All in the Family, Mama’s Family epitomized, for better or worse, what happens when white trash meets southern Gothic.
The show: Married… with Children (FOX, 1987-’97)
The dysfunctional clan: The Bundys
How dysfunctional were they? Offering an odious rebuke of the picture-perfect families monopolizing the sitcom landscape, Married… with Children’s blue-collar Bundy family incurred the ire of the Parents Television Council, as the group declared it the least family friendly show on TV for both the 1995-’96 and ‘96-’97 seasons. Those badges of dishonor came separate from Michigan mom Terry Rakolta’s 1989 boycott of the show, which she launched after watching an episode where dad Al (Ed O’Neill) leers at a naked model while enlisting his friend Steve (David Garrison) to help him buy a bra for wife Peggy (Katey Sagal). Rockwellian, the Bundys were not.
The show: Raising Hope (FOX, 2010-’14)
The dysfunctional clan: The Chances
How dysfunctional were they? Your mother is named Virginia Slims (Martha Plimpton), and the baby you didn’t know you fathered with a serial killer (Bijou Phillips) is named Princess Beyoncé. Congrats, Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff)! Your family is truly defective, and your family name is truly ironic, because your life doesn’t stand one.
The show: Revenge (ABC, 2011-’15)
The dysfunctional clan: The Graysons
How dysfunctional were they? Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) strong-armed wealthy Conrad (Henry Czerny) into marrying her by faking a pregnancy. Then she cheated on him with David Clarke (James Tupper), only to enlist Conrad’s help in framing David for a plane crash he didn’t cause. When Victoria felt compelled to come clean, Conrad instead promised unlimited political donations to the prosecutor who got David sent to prison. Later, Victoria had David’s daughter Amanda (Emily VanCamp) institutionalized by promising to ferry a steady stream of deep-pocketed clients to her court-appointed psychiatrist. By the way, this is all just the backstory in place before Revenge’s first episode even aired. The fun is seeing who even survives.