It seems that television series’ often revolve around romantic pairings or the relationships between friends and coworkers. But every so often, a series will provide us with inspiring mother and daughter duos that portray the often complicated, but loving, bonds that they share.
It’s true that no mother-child relationship is perfect on screen (or in real life), and tensions can fly between on-screen moms and daughters. But this is all a part of what makes these shows so interesting and easy to relate to. Through the years, several television shows have managed to capture mom-daughter duos beautifully, providing viewers with an opportunity to watch both realistic stories between parents and their children play out on screen, as well as conveying what makes these kinds of relationships so unique and important. From the 1980s moms and daughters featured on shows such as the Golden Girls and The Cosby Show, to more recent series such as Downton Abbey, we’ve highlighted some of television’s most memorable mother and daughter pairs from the past couple of decades.
10. Joyce Summers and Buffy – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) was a loving and protective mother to daughter Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) on this cult action television series, although throughout the series the two did not always have a flawless relationship (especially before Joyce learned that her daughter was a vampire slayer; understandably, she didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with Buffy about some of her unpredictable behavior.) When her daughter’s true identity was finally revealed to her, Joyce coped with it admirably. Although she was often sarcastic and slightly cynical, Joyce was also a warm and loving mother and became a maternal figure to Buffy’s friends Willow and Xander.
9. Reba Hart and Cheyenne Montgomery – Reba (2001-2007)
The main character of the series, Reba (Reba McEntire), was a witty and sarcastic single mother. She was very warm towards all of her kids, and stories on the show were often centered around her relationship with her kind but ditzy and shallow daughter Cheyenne (Joanna Garcia), a young mother who lived with her along with her husband and their baby. The two celebrated and supported each other’s achievements as they grew through the years.
8. Susan and Julie – Desperate Housewives (2004-2014)
Mom Susan (Teri Hatcher) and daughter Julie (Andrea Bowen) had a close relationship throughout this long-running series. However, ditzy and clumsy Susan often acted more like the daughter figure on the show, while her smart, studious daughter Julie frequently was more of the parent figure. Susan was the clumsier and more accident-prone of the four female friends featured on the show, and her relationships with men, particularly Mike, throughout the series often made her seem immature. Sometimes her daughter was left to pick up the pieces.
7. Nora and Kitty – Brothers & Sisters (2006-2011)
Mom Nora Walker (Sally Field) was the widowed housewife and matriarch of a large family (she had 5 children and several grandchildren on the show). The series centered on the wealthy Walker family and their lives and problems including romantic relationships, their money, and the relationships between siblings. Throughout this series, Nora managed to hold together a large family of adult siblings who often argued amongst themselves, and her relationship with her daughter Kitty (Calista Flockhart) was a central part of the show.
6. Mary Margaret and Emma Swan – Once Upon a Time (2011-current)
This television series is about fairy tale characters that are stuck in the “real world” thanks to a curse. Mom Snow White, or Mary Margaret as she’s sometimes known (Ginnifer Goodwin), finally reconnects with the daughter, Emma (Jennifer Morrison), that she was separated from since her birth. Although Mary Margaret is nearly the same age as her daughter (the curse she was subjected to conveniently prevented her from aging over the years), despite their similar ages, she attempts to foster a relationship with Emma, often doling out advice (with varying success – it’s not easy, after all, to forge a relationship with your long-lost, adult daughter). The two are slowly building a relationship while they manage to work together against the various obstacles that the fantasy world throws their way.
5. Claire and Denise Huxtable – The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
Although on-screen dad played by Bill Cosby was the center of this 1980s sitcom about an upper middle-class Brooklyn family, mom Claire (Phylicia Rashad) and daughter Denise (Lisa Bonet) shared a strong bond that was often featured in the show’s family-centric storylines.
4. Cora Crawley and Lady Mary, Edith and Sybil – Downton Abbey (2010-current)
The historical soap opera Downton Abbey features the daily life and struggles of an early 20th century aristocratic family. Mom Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), a wealthy American who married the Earl of Grantham, provides a steady presence and often offers up advice for her daughters as they navigate their lives under the strict social expectations of the time. Her daughters aren’t always the warmest toward her, but Cora nonetheless provides a loving and supportive presence in their lives.
3. Roseanne and Darlene – Roseanne (1988-1997)
Crass, controlling, distinctly blue-collar Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and her on-screen daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) shared the kind of parent-child relationship that many viewers could relate to. The show often tackled controversial real-life issues and Roseanne’s relationship with her daughters was central in many of these storylines. She often clashed with Darlene, but at the end of the day their shared sense of humor helped them manage to work things out.
2. Sophia and Dorothy – Golden Girls (1985-1992)
In this late-1980s sitcom centered around four women, mom Sophia (Estelle Getty) moved in with daughter Dorothy (Bea Arthur) and her roommates. In the show, Sophia played the classic Italian mother from Brooklyn. Her frequent insults and unabashed remarks were often directed towards her daughter’s lack of love life. However, despite all of the criticism she had towards her daughter, it was clear throughout the show that she loved her daughter along with their roommates Rose and Blanche, and Sophia often doled out advice to the ladies. Interestingly, in real life the actress who played Dorothy was one year older than the actress who played onscreen mom Sophia. Sophia was aged for the show thanks to some strategic makeup, hair and clothing choices.
1. Lorelai and Rory – Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
A warm mother-daughter relationship was front and center throughout the seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. Over the years, viewers watched mom Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), who were relatively close in age because Lorelai gave birth at age 16, “grow up” together. Inn-owner Lorelai had many relationships and friendships throughout the years, but none was ever more important than her connection with daughter Rory. Rory, meanwhile, a book-smart prep school-turned-Yale student, also went through her fair share of growing pains but managed to always find a way back to her mom. Although the two clashed occasionally, most of the time they were best friends, enjoying each other’s company and sharing quick-witted, spot-on jokes about everything from small town politics to pop culture. By the time the series ended, the mother and daughter duo may have each gone their own way into separate new lives, but the bond that they shared on screen for all of those seasons immortalized the two as one of the most well-known mother-daughter duos on television.