Some of You Are Married
Trapped in your house right now, with the woman that you married, or the man, we’re not sexist here, you might be binge-watching television shows starring memorable, yet flawed marriages and families in a vain effort to distract you from your own marital failures.
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Families on television have been portrayed as dysfunctional in general since the 1950s and, as the disintegration of the formerly bedrock American family has taken place, driven in part by “no-fault” divorce laws established first in California in the 1960s, marriages on television have been portrayed as dysfunctional at worst and as an unnecessary aberration at best.
With the emboldening of women overall in our society and culture, we have been exposed more and more to women — in families and marriages — in positions once occupied by strong male characters.
While male characters have been increasingly portrayed as weak, ineffectual, feckless, ignorant, or just straight-up violent and sadistic.
You Get The Culture You Deserve
And now, in a time of COVID-19, we are struggling to maintain our relationships amidst the fractured media representations of families and marriages for the last 70 years.
The prediction is now that there won’t be a “COVID-19 Baby Boom” but that instead, there will be a “COVID-19 Divorce Boom” as people realize who they actually have committed to spending their lives with.
So, since we never let a crisis go to waste here, we have listed the top ten most disagreeable, dare we say, hateable, television wives.
And don’t worry, ladies, we’ll be doing the men in an upcoming column.
#10 Everybody Loves Raymond – Debra Barone
The saying goes, “behind every great man, there is a woman rolling her eyes.”
Debra Barone deals with Raymond, his mother, and his entire wacky family while always on the edge of divorcing Raymond and not actually helping him get any of his family out of the house.
Because this is a comedy show, Debra never tells anyone where to go, or how to get there, instead, she just takes it, and takes it, and takes it.
And then takes it out on Raymond.
Everyone at work might love Raymond but at home, Debra leads the way in driving Raymond crazy.
#9 Sons of Anarchy – Gemma Teller Morrow
If your wife is a better liar, cheater, scammer and killer than you are, you better watch out or have good insurance. Or maybe both.
As a television wife goes, Gemma Morrow was the ultimate wife and mother that you would rather send back to the place where she came from.
Drunk with power once her husband died and totally into psychological manipulation, she ruled SAMCRO from behind the scenes better than a man would.
#8 Married with Children – Peggy Bundy
Peggy Bundy is the ultimate failed cheerleader who realizes, about ten years too late, that she got knocked up after drinking an entire bottle of strawberry wine under the bleachers, by the wrong high school quarterback.
But instead of leaving him, she decides to kill him.
Slowly and surely, inch by inch, and moment by moment.
While this may be comedy gold, one wonders at what point would Al Bundy snap and just leave the house for a pack of cigarettes and never come back.
#7 Curb Your Enthusiasm – Susie Essman
Sussie Essman is the boldest and most foul-mouthed television wife on this list and has Jeff Essman, Larry David’s best friend, agent, and Mother Superior, completely and totally whipped.
But you know who drives her up the wall? Larry David.
She curses at him. She foments discord in his marriage to Cheryl. She never has a nice word to say about him around Hollywood town.
But, unlike all the other wives on this list, she knows exactly who she is, why she is the way that she is and how she got to be that way, and she’s fine with it.
#6 The Shield – Corinne Mackey
The second most whiny and useless television character on this list is Vic Mackey’s wife Corinne on The Shield. But because there’s so much quality competition, that makes her onlythe fifth most hateable TV wife on this list.
Let’s be real here, unlike some other wives higher up who accept their husband’s criminality and carnality with a level of aplomb, Corinne was always overly gratuitously shocked by how dirty her husband actually was on The Shield.
Unable to come to terms with that level of dirt, she took the kids and ran away. Sure, one of the children was autistic and she was probably under her own brand of unique stress as an emergency room nurse, but come on.
#5 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Vivian Banks
If there were a woman who was ever the anti-Claire Huxtable, then Vivian Banks, or Aunt Viv, would be it. Sure, a university professor she supported her husband Phillip in his career as a judge and lawyer, but her son was a socially awkward, virginal preppie and her daughter was an expensive air-headed bimbo with low self-esteem and Daddy issues.
And then Will Smith came along and turned everything upside down.
Much to Aunt Viv’s dismay. She’s the woman on this list who ultimately embodies the line from the song “Always a Woman” by Billy Joel that “…she can’t be convicted, she’s earned her degree.”
#4 The Simpsons – Marge Simpson
Not to be outdone in the animation realm, Marge Simpson was always positioned as the “voice of reason” on the The Simpsons in counterbalance to Homer’s idiotic stupidity and failures as a husband. And, of course, because it’s cartoons, such a representation has no impact on actual audience perceptions about their real lives.
Marge, however, while standing as a comic foil to Homer, along with the rest of the family, never really amounted to much of her own character.
#3 Sopranos – Carmela Soprano
Carmela belatedly admitted about midway through The Sopranos that she “Always knew who that guy [Tony] was from the first time I met him…” and then she spent six seasons whining about what she already knew.
Always cheated on, never happy, and invariably getting in Tony’s face about everything that didn’t matter, Carmela would defend Tony when the FBI, the therapist or the Mob showed up. She would even take offerings when they were given at his hospital bed from his mob buddies. But at home, she would ride him like a ten-cent mule.
No wonder Tony had girlfriends the entire series.
#2 The Wire – Marla Daniels
When Marla Daniels tells Commissioner Daniels that “You cannot win if you do not play” in response to the idea of running for political office, and then pushes him to become a lawyer, well you can tell that she’s not a great television wife.
Transference is a terrible thing in a marriage, and when Marla’s transference of her ambitions to Cedric didn’t pan out by the third season of The Wire, she dropped him like a hot potato, right into the lap of a sexy red-headed white woman.
#1 Breaking Bad – Skyler White
Number one with a bullet is a woman who is not only hateable as a television wife but just about as useless a television character as you could possibly intentionally write.
Never one to have any curiosity in the slightest about what was actually going on with her husband for all five seasons of Breaking Bad, Skyler was perpetually in the way, perpetually surprised, and at the end of Breaking Bad, perpetually put upon.
As if somehow the marriage she was in was only ever really a one-way street toward her from Walter.
Why Should We Care About This
This list is not all comprehensive, as there are too many television wives to count, from Donna Reed to Morticia Adams, Lucy Arnez to the Sister Wives.
The fact is, many of these television wife characters have been written almost exclusively by male writers, engaging in the process that Melvin Udall defined in As Good As It Gets when he was asked by a female fan how he writes women so well:
“I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
And in a world of COVID-19 quarantining, now is as good a time as ever to question those tropes and characterizations and determine if your favorite television wife matches up in any way to the woman you know in reality.