In the fantasy world of television, some shows have parents so perfect and well-adjusted that they make viewers envious. Other shows have unbelievably terrible parents who are toxic to their children.
The perfect parent doesn't exist, but from clueless parenting to child neglect and money laundering to committing homicide, these TV parents don't exactly shine in glory.
1. Marty and Wendy Byrde – Ozark
Marty Byrde, a former financial advisor who launders money for a Mexican drug cartel, finds himself in danger and must move his family to the Ozarks. Wendy Byrde, his unfaithful, untrustworthy, scheming wife and partner in crime, actively works to undermine Marty when she believes it's to her benefit. If that isn't enough, they eventually get their young son and daughter involved in the illegal family business, which inevitably includes committing murders to stay one step ahead of the law.
2. Gemma Teller Morrow – Sons of Anarchy
As the wife of the SAMCRO biker club's president, Gemma Teller Morrow holds sway over the club's business and tries to exert an even greater influence over the life of her only surviving adult child, her son Jax Teller. Gemma loves the club, but family is her top priority, and she will do anything to protect them, including feeding her ex-daughter-in-law's addiction to killing her second daughter-in-law. It's also implied that she may have had a hand in the death of her first husband, her son's father.
3. Cersei and Jaime Lannister – Game of Thrones
It's no secret that the brother and sister duo, terrible people who caused harm to others, did so for no other reason than they could do so and get away with it. The big secret between them – siring three children together – makes their behaviors even more appalling. Jaime couldn't claim the children as his own for obvious reasons, not to mention Cersei's marriage to a king. But Cersei's vice-like grip on their three children leads to tragic endings for each of them.
4. Frank Gallagher – Shameless
Despite his numerous offspring, Frank Gallagher isn't exactly father material. He's hardly ever around when his children need him most, leaving the primary parenting responsibilities to his eldest daughter, Fiona. When Frank's around, he's either too intoxicated to function, manipulating the people around him to his benefit, or plotting to steal from his children. Frank has moments of being a stand-up guy, but overall, he's a deadbeat dad.
5. Livia Soprano – The Sopranos
Before becoming an unhappy, vindictive grandmother, Livia Soprano was an unhappy, vengeful mother of three. At least two of her children, Janice and Tony, became highly dysfunctional adults. She takes sadistic pleasure in causing mental anguish to others, then plays the martyr when confronted about it. She even convinced her brother-in-law, Tony's uncle, to put a contract on her son's life. When she suddenly died, Tony could hardly mask his delight at the news.
6. Cal Jacobs – Euphoria
Anyone wondering why teenager Nate Jacobs is such an emotionally damaged bully needs to look no further than his father. On the outside, Cal Jacobs is a model citizen. He's a wealthy, successful businessman with significant influence in the community. Behind closed doors, he's a closeted serial philanderer who records his hookups with other men and trans women. While he's controlling and abusive to his sons, Cal isn't above menacing teenagers he perceives as a threat to Nate.
7. Walter and Skyler White – Breaking Bad
Walter White started as a good guy, a husband, a father, and a high school chemistry teacher. When a cancer diagnosis turns his world upside down and threatens financial ruin, he uses his knowledge and skills to become an illegal drug manufacturer. The power and money intoxicate White, who repeatedly puts himself and his family, by extension, into precarious positions. When Skyler joins the act, she aids and abets her husband's dangerous and illegal conduct. Talk about the most cringe-inducing TV parents.
8. Nancy Botwin – Weeds
As a widow with two sons to raise, it's natural for Nancy Botwin to feel her world turned upside down. What's not remotely normal? The decision to sell weed to support her family. Like Walter White, the money and power takes her to exponentially dark places. Her decisions put her kids at risk, dragging them down the rabbit hole with her. She loves her kids but has a strange way of showing it.
9. James and Tasha St. Patrick – Power
James and Tasha St. Patrick have all the appearances of respectability: a long marriage, two kids, successful owners of a popular nightclub, and a penthouse apartment with a private elevator. In reality, James, known as Ghost, is a powerful drug lord, with Tasha as his accomplice. Both prove their willingness to kill to protect what's theirs. Still, their secret enterprise begins to affect their family with tragic consequences for both St. Patrick children.
10. Mr. de la Cruz – 13 Reasons Why
Montgomery “Monty” de la Cruz's father is such a terrible human being and father that he doesn't even have a first name. Monty, a bully with a sadistic, violent streak, is perpetually angry. When viewers get a glimpse into his home life, they discover why. Mr. de la Cruz is verbally and physically abusive to his son and virulently homophobic, making Monty hide that he's gay. A father who attacks his son with a hammer doesn't deserve the title.
11. Norma Bates – Bates Motel
Being a loving single mother wasn't a problem for Norma Bates, who always did her best under the most trying circumstances. But her preoccupation with her son Norman only worsens his already fragile mental state. Instead of getting Norman the professional help he desperately needs, Norma further intertwines him into the drama that always follows her.
12. Barry and Nora Walker – 13 Reasons Why
Even before their divorce, Bryce's parents weren't very present in his life. As a wealthy couple and pillars of the community, they frequently traveled, leaving their son up to his own devices. While Bryce often hosted unsupervised, alcohol-fueled parties at the Walker mansion, he serially assaulted teen girls too intoxicated to give consent. Instead of confronting their son about his behavior, they defended him.
13. Tony Soprano – The Sopranos
The conflicted mob boss tried to keep his family life separate from his criminal life, but if his son or daughter crossed him, the menacing mafia don in him came out. When daughter Meadow starts dating a biracial college classmate, he tries to intimidate the young man into not seeing her anymore. Tony also comes down hard on his son, Anthony Jr., threatening to push him through a plate glass window on one occasion after the boy displeased him.
14. Logan Roy – Succession
Logan Roy‘s miles-long mean streak meant he didn't suffer fools gladly. He had no time for and even less patience with subordinates, competitors, and perceived enemies. This group also comprises his children, whom he pits against each other in a corporate deathmatch to determine who'll gain control of his media conglomerate after he steps down. One moment, Logan tells his children how much he loves them, followed by a withering criticism that they aren't serious people.
15. Lady Browne – Call the Midwife
The emotionally distant mother of the down-to-earth Camilla Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne Noakes, aka Chummy, hardly had a kind word for anyone, especially her daughter. She didn't approve of her daughter's looks, wardrobe, occupation as a midwife, or her choice of husband, a police officer. Only after her terminal cancer diagnosis could Lady Browne let down her guard for a little, but too late to undo a lifetime of indifference.
16. Adora Crellin – Sharp Objects
The matriarch of a wealthy Missouri family has an air of respectability women from her station in life have. Her outward gentility belies a troubled, neurotic woman suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. She causes the death of one daughter by slowly poisoning her. She nearly causes the death of a second daughter using the same method. It's Adora's connection with the third daughter that's truly horrifying.
17. John Winchester – Supernatural
After a demon murders his wife, John Winchester has two very young sons, Sam and Dean, to look after and protect. Rather than raising his sons to have normal lives, he trains them to become demon hunters like himself. By teaching Sam and Dean about fighting dark forces from an early age, they miss out on rites of passage, like going to the same school for over a few months, making friends who aren't other demon hunters, and having normal adult relationships.
18. Harry Morgan – Dexter
Harry adopted Dexter after witnessing the brutal murder of his mother. When Dexter began to exhibit signs of homicidal sociopathy, Harry consulted with a neuropsychiatrist. Together, they developed the Code of Harry, a set of rules for Dexter to follow that allowed him to kill criminals who evaded justice. It's shocking to imagine a father who saw those murderous teachings as a rational choice.
19. Donna Shellstrop – The Good Place
With a TV mother like Donna Shellstrop, Eleanor didn't stand a chance in life, much less the afterlife. Donna repeatedly forgot her daughter's birthday, stayed drunk, and even went so far as to fake her death to avoid paying a large debt she couldn't afford to pay. When Eleanor discovers her mother didn't die, she finds that Donna surprisingly cleaned up her act and became a respectable wife and stepmother. It's a slap to Eleanor's face that she manages to be a good mother to another child.
20. Neil Hargrove – Stranger Things
Billy's dad and Max's stepfather run the household with an iron fist, with an emphasis on fist. Neil's more than just a strict disciplinarian; he's abusive to his family, especially his son. Because Billy possesses model-good looks, Neil cruelly berates and taunts him with homophobic slurs. When Neil divorces Max's mom, it's a relief that a bully has been removed from their home, even though his absence sinks them into poverty.
21. Stannis Baratheon – Game of Thrones
In his desperate quest to be seated on the Iron Throne after the death of his older brother, King Robert Baratheon, Stannis proved his ability to do the unimaginable. When his younger brother laid claim to the throne, Stannis used blood magic to have him killed. He even sacrifices his daughter's life to gain a competitive edge in battle. Family ties mean nothing to the Lord of Dragonstone.
22. Frank and Estelle Costanza – Seinfeld
The fact that Frank and Estelle remain married after so many years is impressive, considering how they always seem to get on one another's last nerve. The only person they drive more crazy than each other? Their son George. Frank and Estelle are the original overbearing helicopter parents, even though their son, well into adulthood, can manage his own life.
23. Mr. Savage – Only Murders in the Building
While Charles-Haden Savage's dad only made a brief appearance on the show in flashback, it was unforgettable. The unnamed Mr. Savage doted on his young son and shared his dreams of being an actor. However, he would leave young Charles-Haden outside of a high-rise building for hours while he went on “auditions” to cover up his dalliances with a woman who wasn't his wife. Seriously, who does that?
24. Ted and Karen Wheeler – Stranger Things
Mike and Nancy's parents exemplify Americana right down to the wood-paneled station wagon in the driveway. They're also two of the most clueless adults in Hawkins, Indiana. While their kids run from bad guys with weapons, fight otherworldly monsters, and save the world, Ted and Karen barely look up from their newspaper to see what's happening. Mike even hid Eleven in their basement without them knowing it. If ignorance is bliss, they're the happiest couple alive.
25. Al and Peggy Bundy – Married With Children
When it comes to lazy, neglectful, self-absorbed parents, the Bundys take the crown. Al's an unhappy shoe salesman who'd rather reminisce about his glory days as a high school football player than invest quality time with his kids. Peggy's a stay-at-home wife and mother who does little besides sitting on the couch, watching television, and eating bonbons all day while her kids get into trouble. On the upside, as TV parents, they're more comedic than malicious and are fun to watch.