Although we’ve been talking a lot about dads this week (well, really just the one—hi Kirk!), this week’s Power Poll is going out to the moms in TV Land. This was a bit of a challenging assignment - for much of television’s history, mothers were something of a sacred presence on screen. Decades went by before you got to see a mom who wasn’t some variation of excellent—slightly goofy (Lucille Ball) or slightly mischievous (see #4 on this poll) was about as far of a departure as you got from the apple-pie-bakin’ beau ideal of motherhood. Then too, there is the problem of racial and cultural representation that has only recently started to be rectified.
Beginning in the 90s, TV got a lot less precious with its mothers—and that’s lucky for this Power Poll, because almost none of these teams deserve a good mom. There are obviously dozens of choices for any of these teams, so once you read through this and see where your team is ranked, tell me which moms I should have included instead!
Thanks, as always, to WhiteSpeedReciever for the graphs. An additional thanks to my fellow writers who helped me brainstorm which mothers to include!
#1 - Ohio State: June Cleaver
Last Week: 1 High: 1 Low: 1 First Place Votes: 12 Last Week: 1
June Cleaver. The woman. The myth. The legend. The mom that no other mom has ever been as good as. The mom that spurs a thousand Boomer forays into the Nostalgia Trap and fond remembrances of the Good Old Days™. The endlessly patient and perfectly pearled mother on the popular sitcom Leave it to Beaver may not have had a lot of outside hobbies, intellectual curiosity, or even much of a life before meeting Ward Cleaver (though in one episode she does mention winning a swimming race at camp and a brief job in retail that ended in apparent disaster), but she absolutely slayed at the motherhood thing. A kindly listening ear to her sons, a supportive wife to Ward, and all done while providing hot meals, perfectly frosted cakes, and an immaculate home.
I kind of hate her.
Ohio State is similarly boring in its perfection. The machine is so well-oiled at this point that there’s nothing much to discuss. Games are won, by a lot. The talent outweighs all opponents, by a lot. There may not be a lot of heels and pearls around the Ohio State football complex (though far be it from me to question Ryan Day’s coaching methods or fashion sense), but they seem to have “icon” status on lockdown.
(Thanks WSR for June’s nom)
#2 - Penn State: Lorelei Gilmore
H: 2 L: 4 LW: 3
Oh Lorelei. Gilmore Girls was a show pitched to teenaged girls and Lorelei is what every teenager wished their mother could be. Witty. Hilariously sarcastic. Fashionable. And, most importantly, pretty chill about pretty much all rules. There’s no doubt that Lorelei is a great TV character and that she possesses some admirable qualities… but watching the show as an adult, it really hits you that Lorelei is in fact quite immature. She is mostly a good mother to her daughter, Rory, and her heart is in the right place regarding her. But in her other relationships, she is often spoiled, dramatic, inconsiderate, short-sighted, and even cruel. An icon of the early 00s she may be, but she’s far from perfect.
Penn State is also far from perfect, but overall, they’re getting the job done, and so far, their inconsistencies and flaws haven’t caused the magnitude of consequences that they could. For now, they’re bopping along in their kicky bucket hats and cool-girl Jeep Wrangler, tossing quips and collecting Ws, and making most of us wish that our teams could possess some of that cool-mom magic.
#3 - Michigan: Betty Draper Francis
H: 2 L: 8 LW: 2
Ooooo Betty. Mad Men fans loved to hate the icy beauty queen, whose mothering was… well, she kept the kids alive, didn’t she? Unfortunately for Sally, Bobby, and Baby Gene, that was about the extent of it. On the outside, Betty was the picture-perfect suburban housewife, a June Cleaver in cool blues. She looked like Grace Kelly, and smoked like a chimney. When a flirtatious man at the stables (oh, Connecticut) told her she “was so profoundly sad,” she brushed him off with the perfect “I’m not. It’s just that my people are Nordic.”
Betty was a more complicated character than she often got credit for, both in the world of the show and outside of it. She could be bullying and emotionally neglectful of her children, but she was also a victim of the tight confines of her society and her place in it (as well as of her incorrigibly unfaithful husband.) Even with all of her shortcomings, it was hard not to like her a little bit when she slapped a rival mom in the produce aisle of the supermarket, or when she flew to Reno to finally rid herself of Don’s worthless baggage.
Like Betty, Michigan often looks the part, and often is granted the benefit of the doubt–to wit, they are currently ranked #5 in the country, a ranking that hardly stands up to much scrutiny. But in the rarified air of
suburban Connecticut the upper echelons of the rankings, no one is inquiring about things too closely. Only those really paying attention are able to see that beneath the shiny veneer, it’s possible that Betty Michigan is struggling with some pretty major issues.
#4 - Illinois: Endora
FPV: 1 (what?) H: 1 L: 8 LW: 4
First of all, I just want us to take a moment to recognize how profoundly wild it is that Illinois is #4 in this esteemed poll. Is it witchcraft? Who can say?
I didn’t mean for this poll’s top half to be so mid-century heavy in its allusions, but here we are with another Mom of the 60s - but this one’s got a twinkle in her eye, extreme disdain for her foes, and a penchant for absolutely f*cking shit up. Endora was a prominent side character in the 1960s hit show, Bewitched, and never really got over the fact that her witch daughter, Samantha, married an unexceptional mortal man, Darrin. She seems to deal with this disappointment by placing near-constant hexes and spells on him designed to humiliate and humble him.
While Illinois, and certainly Bret Bielema, lack Endora’s flamboyant and fabulous fashion sense and flair for a dramatic exit (although I suppose last year’s OT-straveganza might qualify–or this special moment on the Hog Walk ), they certainly share her ability to shake things up and perhaps even curse opposing teams and their coaches. A shocking loss to Illinois to begin last season spelled the beginning of the end for one Scott Frost, and a walloping of Wisconsin two weeks ago led to the surprise immediate firing of long-time coach Paul Chryst.
Then too, there is the matter of Artur Sitkowski. There’s absolutely nothing magical about his play, but we’d contend that only the most powerful witchcraft or Iowa’s abysmal offense could have launched a victory out of that ill-directed arm of his.
#5 - Purdue: Sophia Petrillo
H: 4 L: 6 LW: 6
“Picture it: Sicily, 1912…” This is actually Sophia’s second appearance on a Power Poll in recent years, but you know our girl is evergreen. A pint-sized Italian mama serving up sass, life advice, tough love, and pasta (natch), Sophia is physically small, but definitely mighty. The other characters on the show love her as a mother and a friend, but also are always a little afraid of her stinging barbs.
Like Sophia, Purdue has for many years, and even at times this season, appeared to be little more than a frail old woman with a weird bamboo purse (metaphorically, of course.) But just as Sophia’s unassuming appearance does not fully prepare one for her verbal savagery, Purdue has been known to land those who underestimate them flat on their asses. In 2022, most teams know better than to completely discount the Boilermakers, and last week’s tussle with Maryland shows that they’re at least as tough as a little old lady with a butcher knife.
#6 - Minnesota: Violet Bridgerton
H: 5 L: 7 LW: 7
Of all the entries on the list, this is the one least likely to land with any of you, but I’ve been re-watching Bridgerton when I cook in the evenings, so I’ve got the Regency ton on the brain. Besides, I’m sure a few of you were forced to watch this during the High Pandemic, whether you’ll admit it or not. Violet, the widowed matriarch of the titular Bridgerton clan, is a kind and affectionate mother to her eight alphabetically named children. Given the focus of the show, Violet is most often seen as an advisor and advocate for her children in their various love affairs. For the most part, she is good and sensible in this role, with the notable exception of her utter failure to prepare her daughter for the realities of marital sex. Why a woman who had eight children would be unable to explain this feature of marriage, I am not sure, but I believe we are supposed to marvel at the repression on display. Glaring omission though it was, I suppose there are worse ways to learn about it than with the help of Regé-Jean Page.
Anyway, PJ Fleck, like Violet Bridgerton, is easily the most fashionable of his set, and is considered something of an aspirational figure among his peers. Of course, his set is the Big Ten West, and that’s considerably less glamorous and prestigious than high-society London, but God places us all in our spheres, doesn’t he? Minnesota was looking to be the belle of the ball early on, but an unexpected loss to Purdue took the shine off the Gophers faster than that of a young lady caught walking unchaperoned in the orangery with society’s most notorious rake. Coach Fleck will need to harness Violet-level scheming to salvage hopes for an advantageous union with Ohio State in the CCG.
#7 - Maryland: Moira Rose
H: 6 L: 9 LW: 5
I almost quit writing this and just made the rest of this poll Schitt’s Creek gifs, but for you guys, I kept going. I’m not sure whether that’s a net positive or not.
Moira Rose is the somewhat reluctant matriarch of the down-on-their-luck Rose clan, brilliantly portrayed by Catherine O’Hara. Moira is a washed-up soap opera actress and permanent Theatre Kid, topping her heavily lined eyes with an ever-evolving assortment of wigs and “chapeaus.” While Moira is not ill-disposed toward her children, she has clearly never been especially interested in mothering them, and at one point cannot remember her daughter’s middle name. Her relationship to reality is not always the strongest, and her absurd affectation and weirdly ornate vocabulary add unforgettable drama to any scene involving Moira (which is just as she would have it.)
To get the obvious out of the way, Maryland’s weird and flamboyant fashion is certainly of a piece with Moira’s own preferences (albeit far more colorful.) But just Moira shows occasional flashes of depth and understanding, so too have the Terps staked a claim to not completely sucking this season. This is largely due to the brilliant performances of Taulia Tagovailoa, a scene-stealer if ever there was one. But while there are flashes of being “for real,” it’s uncertain whether “September Maryland” is actually for real, or whether, like Moira, they’re all flash and little substance.
(Thanks misdreavus for making sure this queen made the list.)
#8 - Wisconsin - Lucille Bluth
H: 5 L: 12 LW: 13
Yes, yes, I know - Lucille is far too good for Wisconsin. As a character, you’re absolutely right – she’s a comedy queen, and the Badgers don’t deserve anything nearly so nice. However, let’s evaluate her as a mother… and by that measuring stick, she’s a much better fit for the middling Badgers.
“Middling” is actually a generous description of Lucille’s mothering skills, a shortcoming that garners frequent comment throughout the show. From outright admitting “I don’t care for Gob” (her eldest child) to making endless comments about daughter Lindsay’s weight, Lucille is a frequently drunk nightmare of a maternal figure. She does dote on her youngest son, Buster, but this has equally unsatisfactory results, as Buster has grown into an incredibly helpless and diffident adult. Perhaps it’s to be expected though, what with his eleven months in the womb.
The Jim Leonhard experience has been incubating in Madison for awhile as well. After Paul Chryst’s unceremonious removal two weeks ago following bad losses to Ohio State (somewhat forgivable) and Illinois (less so), the Badgers’ reins were handed to much ballyhooed coordinator, Jim Leonhard.
It turns out, there may have been good reason for those hoos to be so ballied. There were real questions about how the team might respond after an emotional week, but the response was an absolute slaughter of Northwestern. The Wildcats are admittedly a horrifying wreck at the moment, but the Badgers appear to be as excited to play for Jim Leonhard as Lucille Bluth is about a vodka breakfast.
RIP Jessica Walter, you absolute treasure. (Last year, we started the season with an Arrested Development Power Poll if you miss her too.)
#9 - Nebraska - Cersei Lannister
H: 8 L: 12 LW: 12
Oh boy. Living on the edge here with this one. You see, Cersei Lannister, Lady of Casterly Rock, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms… has some pretty gross baggage. And by that, of course, I mean that very unfortunate haircut. It’s not good.
Also, the incestuous relationship with her twin brother. And complicity in the attempted murder of a child. And the actual murder of like a zillion other people throughout the series. She’s not great, is what I’m saying. In fact, she has really only one redeeming quality, and that is that she appears to love her three children. This is not to say she’s a great mother–her oldest son is one of the most hateable characters to ever grace television screens, and she’s much to blame–but she does, at least, care about them. Unfortunately, that love drives her to do terrible things, and ultimately results in the death of all three of them.
Like Cersei, Nebraska has had plenty to be ashamed of in recent years. While not literally stripped naked and sentenced to walk across the city while a creepy nun in the Faith Militant chants “Shame! Shame!” in one’s wake, it has felt its fair amount of exposure, humiliation, and ridicule. Furthermore, the desire to “keep it in the family” with the hiring of Scott Frost met a dark end earlier this season, with his firing only three games into this season. As the possibilities of the past recede ever further, will Nebraska go too far in attempting to regain its college football power?
#10 - Michigan State: Selina Meyer
H: 7 L: 12 LW: 8
Ok, we’re really getting into the rotten moms now. Sorry MSU. Selina Meyer, while absolutely hilarious and a true master of profanity, is very, very, very unfit to be a mother:
Herself the product of terrible mothering, Selina’s only use for her daughter, Catherine, is as a political prop to make her occasionally appear maternal to the voting public. During these scheduled meetings and appearances, she constantly belittles Catherine for everything from her appearance to her life choices, and the audience sees little mystery behind Catherine’s permanent hangdog vibe.
It’s probably a little bit mean to compare the Spartans to Selina’s mothering, but they haven’t won a game in a month, and things are looking kind of concerning. Mel Tucker made a splash by opportunistically plucking from the transfer portal, but now there are those wondering if there’s any substance behind the photo ops. With a surging Wisconsin on the schedule next, Spartan fans better hope that this wasn’t all just an act.
#11 - Indiana: Mother Olivia Jefferson
H: 8 L: 13 LW: 11
To most other people, George Jefferson’s mother, Olivia, is a sweet, gentle old woman. She appears harmless, kind, and a model of maternal affection toward her adult son, George. But to her daughter-in-law Louise, Olivia has another side altogether - that of a critical, impossible-to-please nitpicker. Olivia apparently has never believed Louise to be good enough for her son, and she never hesitates to let her know it, all while keeping much of this tormenting hidden from the observation of others, preserving her reputation as a kindly elder.
Indiana, likewise, appears to be mostly harmless to many observers. After the brief triumph of 2020, when Indiana’s efforts to win their division were rewarded with Ohio State playing in the CCG, IU has apparently decided to revert to its true nature of being not-so-nice. So far, it has only really picked on one opponent - Illinois. To everyone else, Indiana seems to be committed to being a sweet, harmless presence in the Big Ten football landscape, offering little resistance and supporting the W-L records of other teams.
#12 - Iowa: Marie Barone
Last Place Votes: 2 H: 8 L: 14 LW: 9
While some of the other mothers in the bottom half of this list are here because they are not very good mothers, or are negligent or indifferent to their children… Marie Barone is here because she is TOO attached to her children. The busybody monster-in-law in Everybody Loves Raymond, Marie is not necessarily a bad person, but she possesses certain… blind spots, shall we say, regarding her sons, Raymond and Robert. She particularly babies Ray (hence the title of the show), but essentially believes both of her sons to be infallible, and treats them like they are children. Unfortunately for Ray’s wife, Debra, Marie lives across the street from them, guaranteeing that her criticism of Debra and coddling of her son will continue to be a constant presence in their lives.
While Kirk Ferentz lacks Marie’s cooking skills (I mean, probably… I guess I don’t know that! Perhaps the man can make a mean spaghetti and meatballs too), he certainly shares her overparenting traits and inability to cut the apron strings with his boy, Brian. As together their unhealthy dynamic drives the Iowa offense into the ground (literally, it would gain more yardage if it were digging a hole than it does proceeding down the field), Iowa fans, like Debra Barone, are left exasperated and unamused. I’m not sure if you’re aware, you guys, but you did win ten games last year. Ungrateful!
#13 - Rutgers: Peggy Bundy
H: 10 L: 13 LW: 10
Peggy Bundy’s birth name was Margaret Wanker, and with that, I end my comparison to Rutgers. Only kidding, of course. There are plenty more reasons why Peggy and Rutgers are a match made in ultra-tacky heaven. As the matriarch of the Bundy clan in Married, With Children, Peggy is an almost-total failure as a wife and mother. Though she refers to herself as a “housewife,” Peggy is absolutely uninterested in running her household, preferring instead to eat bonbons while watching daytime television. She also refuses to cook, clean, do laundry, or otherwise contribute to the household–in fact, she actively depletes resources by spending lavishly despite her husband’s modest income.
Rutgers can probably be credited with slightly more effort than Peggy puts forth, but not significantly more success. After a burst of inspiration last week against the hapless Cornhuskers, Rutgers squandered their resources, losing by one point after an utterly unproductive second half. While I didn’t spot any bonbons being consumed on the Rutgers’ sideline, I also can’t rule it out, as they seemed pretty unmotivated late in the game. Offensive Coordinator Sean Gleeson paid for this desultory performance with his job, leaving him plenty of time for Oprah and the Home Shopping Network.
(H/t to RockyMountainBlue for Peggy’s nom)
#14 - Northwestern: Roseanne Conner
LPV: 11 H: 13 L: 14 LW: 14
To address the obvious - yes, I’m aware of the deep irony of choosing a groundbreaking working-class mother to represent Northwestern, a bastion of butler-having privilege. But I still think it works. Walk with me.
When Roseanne debuted in 1988, it was hailed for daring to depict a working-class family, rather than the predictably “comfortably middle class family” that had been the hallmark of television families for as long as television had been around. Roseanne was a caring and loving mother, but as far from June Cleaver as one could get - she was also loud, uncouth, bossy, and controlling. The family dealt with unglamorous subjects like poverty, obesity, and job insecurity that resonated with millions of Americans. It was the story of a family that faced hard things, but persevered against these odds.
In a football sense (and only in a football sense), Northwestern has its own history of being a have-not. Then, against all odds - a savior. Pat Fitzgerald. Taking his team to unparalleled heights, it seemed the Wildcats had overcome their past and difficult circumstances. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. As with the millions of Americans who live in poverty and as Roseanne took pains to illustrate, disaster is ever a hair’s-breadth away. Northwestern football had little room for error. And much like Roseanne Barr, the actress who created and portrayed the fictional Roseanne, whose unsavory and racist comments made her a pariah and caused the swift cancellation of a reboot of her show in 2018, Pat Fitzgerald seems to be taking down his own empire from within. Stuck in the past, unrepentantly clinging to his own ways, it seems that PF has lost the plot, and is ready to sacrifice everything rather than evolve.
(H/t to WSR for the Roseanne nom)
Which TV Mom is your favorite?
This poll is closed
Betty Draper Francis
Someone else I’ll vociferously defend in the comments
Do you want to see a TV Dads Power Poll this season?
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