Feminist-Friendly Marriages on Television… Or Not

This is a guest post by Ashley Lauren. When she’s not watching television, Ashley Lauren teaches high school English in the suburbs of Chicago. She writes at Small Strokes, and is also a senior editor at Gender Across Borders where she writes about global feminist issues. You can find out more about her and read more of her writing at http://ashleysamsa.com.

One year ago, I got married. As a heterosexual woman who has identified as a feminist for her entire life, the idea of marriage posed many philosophical issues for me, mostly because marriage has historically been an institution into which women have been placed, often against their will, and subsequently erased. However, knowing that I wanted to spend my life with this man and always being open to a challenge, I decided to take the plunge. And, believe it or not, fighting against patriarchal norms that come with the idea of marriage has been a piece of (wedding) cake compared to what it has taken for me to define myself as a wife in the face of what pop culture tells us wives in heterosexual relationships are supposed to be.

Of course, there are a wide variety of problems with portrayals of marriage on television. Where are positive images of same-sex marriage? Interracial marriage? Romantic cohabitation? The list goes on.

When it comes to pop culture – television shows, specifically – gone are the days of June Cleaver vacuuming her home in high heels and pearls and making sure dinner is on the table for her husband when he gets home from work. Gone also are the days of positive images of marriage across race and class lines. We rarely see independent, successful women in mutually respectful relationships with men – the marriage model in Mad About You, a great example of a married couple living in the city and working out the day-to-day issues of marriage with humor and equity, is a rarity on contemporary television. Nor do we have many examples of successful, Black couples working together to raise families – partners like the Huxtables of The Cosby Show and the Winslows of Family Matters are sadly absent on television today.

Now, when we tune in to family sitcoms, we’re greeted by a mostly white, heterosexual landscape of nagging wives and useless husbands. Family sitcoms have come to imitate the likes of Everybody Loves Raymond, where the golden boy who can never seem to let go of his mother marries a hot woman who immediately turns into a nag. We then watch the husband bumble around, making serious but always-forgiven errors as the wife tries to get him to help with the kids, or around the house, or understand that something he did was hurtful. There are, of course, variations on this theme, but for the most part, we see a doofy husband and a wife who can’t seem to stop telling her husband how awful he is. Even in shows depicting better marriages where wives are respected, like The Simpsons or Home Improvement, we still find husbands who can’t seem to get anything right. And don’t even get me started on TV melodramas like Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy.

Sitcoms like Friends or the more modern How I Met Your Mother show marginally more positive images of marriage, with Monica /Chandler and Lily / Marshall functioning as independent adults in a loving and committed relationship. But while those characters have good marriages,, both shows are fundamentally about how great it is to be single in New York City. The take-away is, “When you get married, your fun single life is over” The solution, according to popular sitcoms, is to marry within the group.

Many of the other shows on television celebrate seriously damaged single protagonists. In The New Girl, we see a female lead who is single and seriously emotionally stunted either because of a bad breakup a demanding job that renders them incapable of having a functioning. In Whitney, we finally see romantic cohabitation without marriage, but “relationship boredom” soon drives her to clichéd measures to keep the romantic fires burning. While it’s great to see leading ladies on television, single women with positive views of relationships and healthy commitments to their work would be a lot better than these lackluster characters..

If sitcoms leave something to be desired in the way of positive images of marriage on television, reality TV marriages leave us completely lost. When we watch the likes of Nick and Jessica, Tori and Dean, or the Kardashian sisters and their husbands try to make a life together, we see very clearly how women become wives for “real.” Judging from reality TV, wives are apparently supposed to be pretty, needy, and a little bit dumb. After the couples fight, we’re graced with a scene in which the wife apologizes for being “hysterical” or “over reacting.”.

Where are we, as feminist partners, to turn for decent relationships on television? More recently, there have been several television dramas that have done a good job of depicting committed relationships in a positive light. The Bartlets of The West Wing and the Taylors of Friday Night Lights portray relationships where both partners are not only career-driven but also dedicated to their lives together. Of course, these shows are no longer on the air. Modern Family is a decent pop culture example of functioning couples – we are finally seeing a gay couple raise a child in primetime television! – but in the marriage of homemaker, Claire, and husband, Phil, stereotypes abound. Three stereotypical, teenage children with the “cool dad” and stay-at-home mom do not show what it is to be married and have children in the modern world.

Why does this matter? Because finding positive images of relationships in which women are independent without being nags is not only important in garnering tips on how to make a modern marriage work, but also sets the cultural tone for gender equality in marriage. Unfortunately, if we’re looking to pop culture for examples of successful partnerships and gender-egalitarian marriage, television isn’t the place

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59 Responses to Feminist-Friendly Marriages on Television… Or Not

  1. Shoshie says:

    Mr. Shoshie and I really like Raising Hope. The husband and wife in that show (35 year old grandparents of Hope) are pretty goofy, but make things work. They are heads of a loving household and a frequent theme of the show is that, even though they screw up and don’t have much, they pull shit together and act like a family, usually with more success than less-goofy and wealthier families.

  2. Brian says:

    Weird to see the blatantly false idyllic past nonsense on a progressive website. The doofy husband is just The Honeymooners repackaged. The comparative dearth of relationship examples is an artifact of comparing 60 years worth of hand selected examples to 1 year’s worth.

    And while it’s important to note that the Claire/Phil example isn’t the only way to be married with children in the modern world, families like that aren’t particularly uncommon either. No need to invisiblise them to call attention to other models.

  3. Parks and Recreation has a great, realistic marriage in Andy and April? But then again Parks wins on MOST social issues.

  4. Mike says:

    One thing I think Modern Family gets right is that it decouples the statuses of breadwinner (Phil) and head of family (clearly Claire), and to my knowledge this isn’t commented on at all but accepted as just what works best for their particular family. I’m used to depictions of families where “I earn the money, so I make the rules” holds. I can’t think of any recent examples, but it was often played for laughs in Married With Children. This allows Claire to be a much stronger role model, and in general it breaks up the cycle where men are in charge so they get the opportunities so they make the money so they’re in charge, etc. I haven’t caught the last few episodes yet, but hopefully they’ll flesh out her doing more things outside of the household with the running for office arc they’ve got going on. (Between this and Parks and Rec, “strong female leads running for office” seems to be a thing this season.)

  5. Andie says:

    I always kind of liked Lois/Hal in the early years of Malcolm in the Middle. I never got the feeling that Lois was the nagging wife.. more than she HAD to assert herself in order to not be lost in a sea of testosterone. Hal was a doofus, but not as bumbling as other Dads on T.V. He wasn’t constantly screwing up, he was just more hands-off and laid-back, and generally goofy, but not incompetent in his parenting and husbanding.

    Dan and Roseanne Conner had a pretty egalitarian relationship as well, from what I recall.

    I don’t watch enough current T.V. to really comment on what is on now.

  6. Kristen J. says:

    Well, I blame the lack of drama. There’s enormous amounts of drama in the pre-happily ever after stage, but relatively little drama in happiness. Not much interest in plotlines involving people talking about the interesting thing they saw on the news or how shitastic their boss was at work or their dreams of constructing the world’s smallest functioning catamaran, and yet those are the everyday joys of romantic partnerships…having someone to share your life with.

    That’s sort of what killed Mad About You isn’t it? They ran out of interesting things to say about daily life and decided to have the characters start treating each other poorly. Perhaps you can create drama by external events (see many scifi shows), but then the relationships will never be central to the story.

    Still, the Cosby Show did it, so I have hope that someone will catch lightening in a bottle again. Meanwhile, the Cosby Show is on Netflix streaming.

  7. EG says:

    We’ll always have Nick and Nora Charles!

  8. Marilyn says:

    I tried to like Modern Family when it came on, but I had to drop it after the first season. Though I appreciate the inclusion of a gay couple raising a child, I noticed a similar dynamic in all three households – every household had a homemaker. Am I seriously being expected to watch a show titled “Modern Family” with the exact same dynamics being rehashed – every house has a homemaker, and every “husband” is a professional – lawyer, real estate, and business owner. Oh, and the fact that the gay couple adopted a child from Korea – well, considering the history of colonization and exploitation that happens when white couples “save” children from “primitive” countries…that was a little hard for me to swallow.

    I thought about Malcolm in the Middle, too. But, though I really like that show as far as it portrays a lower-class family, and class issues in general, and though both parents worked, we are still presented with this dynamic where Hal is bumbling and forgetful and Lois is overbearing and controlling. It’s softened quite a bit, but it’s obvious that they used the “stupid husband/nagging wife” dynamic as a platform for crafting the marriage between the characters.

  9. Melissa says:

    Although The Office thoroughly bugs me, and the way the characters of Pam and Jim are written drives me up a wall, I do think they have a pretty healthy, egalitarian relationship.

  10. wsn says:

    I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, but I hear Up All Night is doing good stuff in this area.

    Kevin Fallon wrote about something similar (couples portrayed on TV as if they actually like each other).

  11. I always liked the relationship between Roseanne and Dan Connor. and, as someone mentioned above, Cliff and Clare Huxtable.

  12. ashley says:

    Grey’s Anatomy is very soapy, but I still love it partially because there are different kinds of relationships portrayed on the show.

  13. FashionablyEvil says:

    We’ll always have Nick and Nora Charles!

    I was thinking of Becket and Castle from Castle. They’re not married, but they have one of the better partnerships on TV.

  14. Andie says:

    Even in shows depicting better marriages where wives are respected, like The Simpsons or Home Improvement,

    Is it me or is this really sad.. Marge and Homer are being cited as a ‘Better marriage’? Really?

    IMO, they are LITERALLY a caricature of the nagging wife/doofus husband trope.

  15. Queen Aeron says:

    Peter and Elizabeth Burke on White Collar are a great couple. Peter can be oblivious at times, but Elizabeth understands that Peter is an FBI agent and is okay with most of the stuff that goes on in their marriage. She supports him and nudges him when he’s being oblivious. She has a successful event planning company and they have shown her being a competent business woman in addition to an FBI. The other nice bit about their relationship is that they don’t have children and don’t seem in any hurry (if at all) to have kids.

    Another great relationship/marriage is Chuck and Sarah on Chuck (and Ellie and Awesome too). Although it started out a bit uneven, Sarah being all kick @ss and Chuck, not so much, their relationship has grown and now they are mostly equal partners. There are some things that Chuck is better at and some things Sarah is better at, but they both are working to make the relationship work without being too sappy. It has been awesome to watch their relationship grow through the 5 seasons.

  16. purpleshoes says:

    I would strongly encourage you to add Up All Night (available on Hulu) to your repertoire. While it’s not perfect, it’s a sitcom about a working mother and stay-at-home father who function as a team. Last week’s episode actually indirectly addressed the “doofy dad needs mom to save him” thing by having the female lead take a week’s vacation and try to “fix” systems that he had set up because as the primary caretaker he was working from information that she didn’t have (like how best to store babywipes for on-the-go diaper changes). The episode ended with them talking about how he’d chosen to be the at-home parent and how his ways of doing things deserved respect, even if they weren’t what someone else would choose. It’s also all been remarkably unpreachy.

  17. Esti says:

    There has definitely been more of a tendency in recent years to skew sitcoms toward either the fun singles script or the nagging wife/buffoon husband model. I think it reflects a general network trend of being more risk-averse with their show choices — the proliferation of game shows and reality shows over the past 10-15 years is part of that, as is the hesitancy about backing interesting scripted programming (with a few notable exceptions, like LOST), and more recently the surge of procedural dramas.

    Among shows still on the air, Up All Night does a good job of flipping the traditional script, with a high-powered lawyer husband who hated his career and chose to be a stay-at-home dad, and a wife who is great at her demanding TV producer job but still a good mother. It’s still got the single-earner family happening, but neither character is a caricature and they’ve made a real effort to explore the work-life balance and gender dynamics at play.

    I also second Jim and Pam on The Office as a good model of a middle-class egalitarian family. Both work outside the home and it’s clear they’re equal partners in all senses.

    And while the show gets a lot of things wrong about relationships, Callie and Arizona’s marriage on Grey’s Anatomy is usually well done and is one of the best long-term lesbian relationships on TV that I can think of.

  18. Kes says:

    Yeah, wtf at The Simpsons as a show where wives are respected? What about the running joke with Selma’s multiple failed marriages? Or Apu’s arranged marriage to a (young)(beautiful) woman whom he subsequently ignored? The only marriage I can think of where the wife seemed to be an equal partner was the Flanders’, and Mrs. Flanders has been dead for years.

    The best marriage on recent TV that I can recall is that between Darnell and Joy on My Name Is Earl. It’s Joy’s second marriage, but presented as largely successful and loving, if not totally healthy, with Joy as the dominant and slightly crazy partner, and Darnell as the gentle and unperturbed supporter.

  19. Shoshie says:

    These aren’t on anymore, but Scrubs also has a wonderful marriage with Carla and Turk and a fantastic non-marriage with Dr. Cox and Jordan. And Mr. Shoshie and I have been watching Stargate: Universe recently, which has some incredibly sweet scenes with Camille and her wife.

  20. Andie says:

    Kes: The best marriage on recent TV that I can recall is that between Darnell and Joy on My Name Is Earl. It’s Joy’s second marriage, but presented as largely successful and loving, if not totally healthy, with Joy as the dominant and slightly crazy partner, and Darnell as the gentle and unperturbed supporter.

    Presents some interesting racial commentary when you consider them as an inter-racial couple.. Joy is dominant, which is potentially a problem, except that it’s seemingly offset by the fact that Darnell is clearly her intellectual superior.

  21. Angel H. says:

    I haven’t had a chance to catch the show yet, but The Crunk Feminist Collective has a good write-up on the relationship between the married couple in Reed Between the Lines:

    http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/reed-ing-gender-between-the-lines/

  22. Tracy says:

    I think the best example of a strong married partnership is in sitcoms today is The Middle. Equal partnership, love, the works.

  23. Roisin says:

    Another one suggesting looking into Up All Night. The stay-at-home dad character is fantastic and there’s no guilt tripping of working-mum. It’s the arrangement that works best for them and they manage to maintain a great relationship.

  24. Eneya says:

    “Medium” has one of the best couples I have seen in a loooong time. By best, I mean realistic people, who are different and have more developed personalities than the usual tiny dichotomy.

  25. vanessa says:

    Eh. There are actually several good options out there right now. Sadly, they are all white. But I’d nominate Raising Hope, Up All Night, and Joel and Julia on Parenthood.

  26. Kes says:

    Andie: Presents some interesting racial commentary when you consider them as an inter-racial couple. Joy is dominant, which is potentially a problem, except that it’s seemingly offset by the fact that Darnell is clearly her intellectual superior.

    That’s a large part of what was so appealing about it for me. Darnell has this whole elaborate back-story involving espionage and international assasination and witness protection, but now he’s content to just live with Joy and Mr. Turtle and the kids and make his crabs. He puts up with Joy’s blatant character flaws with grace and patience, rather than trying to change her.

  27. groggette says:

    Eneya: Medium

    I was just about to say Medium as well. I think all the marriages on that show were realistic and egalitarian. Too bad it falls under the no-longer-on-the-air unbrella :(

  28. scrumby says:

    Kes: The best marriage on recent TV that I can recall is that between Darnell and Joy on My Name Is Earl. It’s Joy’s second marriage, but presented as largely successful and loving, if not totally healthy, with Joy as the dominant and slightly crazy partner, and Darnell as the gentle and unperturbed supporter.

    It’s the same thing as Malcolm in the Middle and to some extent the Simpsons (It’s good to remember that that show was not always the cliched shlock it’s been for the past few seasons.) The nagging wife/buffoon husband trope is heavily invested in making the wife into a surrogate mother to her husband. Your 6 year-old wants to draw all over the walls and you tell them no because it’s a bad idea and you know you’re the one who will have to fix it; they do it anyways and you lecture them and eventually clean it up yourself. Now replace ‘6 year-old’ with ‘husband’ and ‘draw on the wall’ with ‘blow our savings on dune buggies’ and you have your standard sitcom plot. Joy in My Name is Earl and Lois in Malcolm are definitely overbearing, controlling, shrewish women but they rarely turn that on their husbands in a justified way. Those aspects of their personality are amusing because they are excessive and often make the women into the buffoon. It humanizes them and the husbands they obviously love without prompting from and apology and the coos of a canned audience.

  29. Kate F says:

    Medium is off the air now, but I always thought that show did a really good job of showing a realistic, healthy-but-not-perfect marriage and entire family dynamic. The relationship between the parents was incredibly loving and supportive, but not without arguments, and even the arguments were egalitarian rather than one-sided. The wife was not a nag, the husband was not a doofus, and they both worked (or were occasionally unemployed) AND contributed to household and child care duties. It certainly didn’t hit race/class issues, but for a middle-class white family show, they did a great job showing us realistic marriage and family interactions.

  30. rain says:

    I’m going to really date myself, and my perception might be coloured by time and youthfulness, but Frank Furillo and Joyce Davenport on Hill Street Blues.

  31. Katya says:

    We’re watching Friday Night Lights right now, and I love love love the Taylors’ marriage.

  32. zuzu says:

    rain: I’m going to really date myself, and my perception might be coloured by time and youthfulness, but Frank Furillo and Joyce Davenport on Hill Street Blues.

    Yes, and there were other relationships on there that were fucked up, but the fucked-upedness was consistent with the characters and how their jobs fucked them up. It wasn’t due to simple bias on the part of the writers.

    Mary Beth and Harvey Lacey from Cagney & Lacey were also a great egalitarian relationship, where her friendship and partnership with Cagney was respected and Harvey and Cagney were also friends. The Harts in Hart to Hart were also egalitarian, if we’re still doing the 80s. I also have to say that with the exception of Carrie and Big, the relationships with the husbands/boyfriends who stuck on Sex and the City were pretty egalitarian. Charlotte’s first marriage was not, but she realized that she only wanted that because she’d been trained all her life to, but it wasn’t any good for her. Both Miranda and Samantha went outside what they were always told they should want as well and it worked out for them (I’m ignoring the movies).

  33. Chuchundra says:

    EstiAmong shows still on the air, Up All Night does a good job of flipping the traditional script, with a high-powered lawyer husband who hated his career and chose to be a stay-at-home dad, and a wife who is great at her demanding TV producer job but still a good mother. It’s still got the single-earner family happening, but neither character is a caricature and they’ve made a real effort to explore the work-life balance and gender dynamics at play..

    Actually, Chris (Will Arnett) didn’t hate his career. As we saw in the last episode and the “birth” episode, he loved being a lawyer and was pretty good at it. He decided to stay home with his daughter because it was something he wanted to do, which is one of the things I really love about the show.

  34. LotusBen says:

    I agree that most TV is terrible and has paper-thin characters based off stereotypes. But I also think most of what you’re talking about are depictions of reality. Shallow depictions of reality, yes. But, to me, the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough models of healthy behavior on TV for people to turn to for guidance. The problem is that there is not enough healthy behavior in real life for there to be TV shows that could depict it and be relevant at all. Most marriages I have observed in real life have been pretty messed up. Half of them end in divorce anyway, but a lot of the ones that persist aren’t much better. If anything, TV soft-peddles it by not depicting things that marital rape, wife beating, marriages that last for years without any sexual gratification on either side, incest, parents religiously indoctrinating their children, etc. Most husbands DON’T help with housework. Most wife DO nag as a way as having some power in the relationship. At least, that’s what I’ve observed in my 27 years.

  35. Sabrina says:

    Becoming the nagging wife (Everybody Loves Raymond, Married with Children) is my worst nightmare.

    I relate to the antics of Jim & Pam in the Office. Pam’s a working mom, feisty, independent, but still feminine while Jim is the goofy but responsible and manly man.

  36. MozInOz says:

    Wow, LotusBen, that’s appalling. Most of my criticisms of the marriages in my peer group come down to differences of opinion on stuff like how can they live in that mess and why do they buy so much crap (or alternatively, isn’t that guy a tidy-freak and how does he live without a petrified mangelwurzel?).

    Sorry, I don’t see enough TV to have any idea. Scrapheap Challenge doesn’t have a married couple :) But in real life I know more shared-parenting marriages than the contrary, and see quite a lot of respectful working out of decisions. Yes, perhaps people could have better relationship skills but I’m willing to settle for well-managed conflict and apparent absence of major relationship disorders. I don’t want to pry in and find out whether they do things “properly” or not.

    perhaps it’s an age thing – I’m talking about the 30-50 age group, not the 20-30 one, so people are maybe a little more settled.

  37. Henri Bemis says:

    I love the relationship between Allison and Jack on Eureka. Their pasts have all the makings for some really cliche drama (Allison’s relationship with Nathan, in particular, given his and Jack’s sort-of-rivalry), but whenever they have a problem, they’re mature and respectful of each other, and honest, and they express their feelings without being portrayed as overemotional or unreasonable. Even when they’re jealous of each other, they’re never spiteful or underhanded. I think they’re my favorite couple on TV right now.

  38. sabotabby says:

    I keep raving about Treme, but alas, hardly anyone watches it. Along with an number of unhappy relationships that are portrayed heartbreakingly realistically, there is:

    – An older gay couple in a long-term partnership who have what’s probably the most stable relationship on the show. They’re minor characters but they get some great scenes.
    – A younger heterosexual couple that breaks up when the woman leaves for housing and career-related reasons; the man tries to convince her to stay not because of some kind of undying, perfect love, but because staying would be better for her career. She leaves anyway but they remain friends.
    – Later, the same man becomes involved in an interracial relationship with a woman who moves in with him. They both support each other’s musical careers.
    – A heterosexual married couple that, again for career-related reasons, has to live apart. The marriage is obviously losing its spark under the strain of distance and stress. After a traumatic incident, the man realizes that he’s not been the support that the woman needs and makes a commitment to change that.
    – Another heterosexual couple, not married, where the man is a womanizing manchild and the woman initially comes off as a nag. Enough scenes are shown from her perspective, though, that she remains sympathetic. Eventually they manage to work things out in a mature way that allows them both to provide for and support each other and their child.

    I mention this because it’s so very rare to see relationships like this depicted on TV, and every time I watch it, I’m constantly impressed with the depiction of independent, passionate, career-driven characters who compromise and grow as people.

  39. Jen says:

    Someone may have already said this (if so, sorry for repeating), but I have enjoyed the way relationships are portrayed on 30 Rock. Liz Lemon can’t catch a break in her relationships, but she’s not a nag or a cliche. The Avery-Jack dynamic was really cool while it lasted, since they were both very forceful, driven characters who suited each other. Seeing Jack-as-father has also been refreshing (yes, he has a nanny, but he’s no Ray Romano, and there’s no implication that caring for a child is emasculating).

    Thanks for the article from another married feminist!

  40. saurus says:

    I don’t have any role models for good adult relationships, so I have been quite literally using the couple from Medium as my role models, and it’s working out well. They have taught me a lot about how to shed the shit I learned as a kid, like “when you fight, aim for a resolution instead of ‘winning'” and “consider how the other person feels” and “be caring and attentive when your partner is upset” and “balance out the chores”.

    Which does not sound like rocket science, but for people with no role models in this respect, it actually kind of is.

  41. stonebiscuit says:

    They never actually got married, but the relationship of Bill Adama and Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica strikes me as an excellent example of a good adult relationship that is still interesting. It starts very shaky, but over the five seasons of the series it matured and deepened into a love based on mutual respect and friendship.

  42. Azalea says:

    When you get a chance, you should check out “Reed between the lines” on TVOne, a very beautiful example of a successful black couple (with a stay at home/work from home DAD to boot) raising children in a blended fmaily (the older children were from a previous relationship but they all call the husband “Dad”).

  43. Cucumbers says:

    I don’t know if Battlestar Galactica counts much for realism (what with the extermination of the human race and the evil robots and whatnot), but I think Rosalyn’s and Adama’s relationship by the end of the series is a very positive model.

    Athena’s and Helo’s, too.

  44. AndrewJenny says:

    Tracy: IthinkthebestexampleofastrongmarriedpartnershipisinsitcomstodayisTheMiddle.Equalpartnership,love,theworks.

    IMHO, the best show on television. And Sue Heck (the teenage daughter) is a wonderful character: she struggles to fit in and succeed with her interests, but never sacrifices who she is to do it.

  45. Sun and Jin on “Lost” had a good storyline as a couple whose relationship started off equal, became extremely dysfunctional and patriarchal, and managed to restore itself.

  46. DouglasG says:

    I suppose it wouldn’t be fair to count Patty and Graham Chase of My So-Called Life, given that Winnie Holzman was planning to split them up. Perhaps one could have made a case for Patty’s BFF Camille and her husband Andy had they been fleshed out.

  47. SWNC says:

    Andie: always kind of liked Lois/Hal in the early years of Malcolm in the Middle. I never got the feeling that Lois was the nagging wife.. more than she HAD to assert herself in order to not be lost in a sea of testosterone. Hal was a doofus, but not as bumbling as other Dads on T.V. He wasn’t constantly screwing up, he was just more hands-off and laid-back, and generally goofy, but not incompetent in his parenting and husbanding.

    One of the things I really liked about “Malcolm in the Middle” was that both parents were more than a little off-beat. Lois ate a bug in one of the first episodes–I can’t picture the wife from “Every Loves Raymond” doing that. I love the episode where Lois inspires her book club to go on a rampage. One of the things I hate about the “goofy dad/stick in the mud mom” trope is that it denies mothers the chance to be fun, too. Some days, I want to be the wacky one!

    (I also loved Lois because she reminds me so much of my own mother. The whole fearless, “I am going to raise you right if it kills both of us” attitude. She would do anything for her family, but she wouldn’t take any backtalk while doing it.)

  48. When The Simpsons was still really good, Homer and Marge had a pretty good relationship. Homer fucked up all the time, but always fixed it.

  49. Politicalguineapig says:

    Andie: I kind of got that feeling from Lois too. In one of the later seasons, there was an episode where she was fantasizing about having daughters instead of sons, and she was a bit less tightly wound in that episode.

  50. Sandy says:

    Kate F: Medium is off the air now, but I always thought that show did a really good job of showing a realistic, healthy-but-not-perfect marriage and entire family dynamic.

    Agree. Medium did a fantastic realistic marriage.

    Shoshie: and a fantastic non-marriage with Dr. Cox and Jordan

    I found Jordan and Dr. Cox’s relationship unsettling and wasn’t quite sure what to think about the way it was presented. The things they said to each other were often vicious, and my idea of a healthy relationship includes things like kindness and no verbal abuse. I can’t speak with authority there though as I haven’t watched the whole series. The mutual vitriol did seem to work for them. I guess the point was there’s someone for everyone?

  51. Shoshie says:

    Sandy: I found Jordan and Dr. Cox’s relationship unsettling and wasn’t quite sure what to think about the way it was presented. The things they said to each other were often vicious, and my idea of a healthy relationship includes things like kindness and no verbal abuse. I can’t speak with authority there though as I haven’t watched the whole series. The mutual vitriol did seem to work for them. I guess the point was there’s someone for everyone?

    Their relationship definitely changes over the course of the show. And even though they say meaner things to each other than I would feel comfortable with, I think it’s pretty clear that there was underlying love, affection, and respect. I also saw it a while ago, so I may be idealizing it.

    Mr. Shoshie and I have also been known to say things to each other like “I hate your face.” so, y’know…

  52. Raja says:

    Cucumbers:
    Idon’tknowifBattlestarGalacticacountsmuchforrealism(whatwiththeexterminationofthehumanraceandtheevilrobotsandwhatnot),butIthinkRosalyn’sandAdama’srelationshipbytheendoftheseriesisaverypositivemodel.
    It may not be realistic but its one of the best fycking shows on television and 90% better than a lot of the soap opera crap.

    Athena’sandHelo’s,too.

  53. Raja says:

    oops didn’t messed up on the quoting :(

  54. smash says:

    For those discussing the Huxtable household, I think this video of Claire teaching Elvin a thing or two about equality in marriage is worth watching.

  55. Raja says:

    How about Willow and her girlfriend from Buffy?

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  57. eriN says:

    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned Zoe and Wash from Firefly, but then again I doubt many people here are aware of that show (it ran for one season on Fox in 2002, and I only just saw it last year, myself.) It was a healthy, interracial marriage between two competent people which is rather refreshing compared to what is typically depicted on television today. Or perhaps the fact that it’s Sci-fi means it doesn’t count…

    Also, while I do love, and have grown up watching the Cosby’s, I do find it somewhat odd that, while it was IMPLIED that Claire was a lawyer, we didn’t hear her talk about work much, and more often than not she is depicted as being more domestic than professional.

  58. The Dormouse says:

    Zoe and Wash from Firefly are where it’s at! I loved how they were so very much the calm center of the ridiculousness that was Serenity. You could always count on them to be loving and sweet with each other. Nothing makes me cry with joy more than the episode where Wash is taken captive by one of Mal’s enemies and he tells Zoe to choose between Wash and Mal. When Zoe just picks up her husband and walks off with him as if it was ridiculous to ever think she would have trouble picking between her husband and her captain my heart absolutely melts.

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