The 10 Most Dysfunctional Families On TV

By: Jonny Hughes

TV would be boring if all the families were squeaky clean and functional. This is why the majority of television shows, whether they are comedies or dramas, are centered around dysfunctional families. Not only does this generate comedy and conflict, but audiences are more likely to identify (although not entirely) as most families face problems. Although they argue, these families often pull together in times of adversity and care for each other which make them sweet and lovable despite the drama. There are countless dysfunctional families on TV, and today we are looking at a handful of the best/most dysfunctional.


10. The Drapers – Mad Men

This is one fictional family that you do not envy in the slightest. The protagonist of the show, Don, is an egotistical workaholic/alcoholic who, as it is revealed, has fabricated his entire identity during the Korean War. The mother, Betty, meanwhile, is depressed, emotionally frigid and struggles with being a parent and her husband’s constant infidelity. The pair split after the truth about Don’s past is revealed. Hardly the most stable household environment, their eldest child, Sally, is lewd in public and has a strained relationship with her mother. Their second child, Bobby, is hardly present on the show (and played by four different actors) but is shown to be distraught by the divorce of his parents. Over the course of the show, Betty learns she is pregnant with a third child, Eugene, who is born in the third season and doesn’t stand a chance, the poor kid.

9. The Fishers – Six Feet Under

The amount of heart-wrenching trauma that the Fisher family goes through over the course of Six Feet Under would make any family dysfunctional, but this family are at their most dysfunctional at the beginning. Instead, these traumas see them undertake enormous character arcs as they begin to face their problems following the death of the father in the very first episode. They own, work and live in a funeral home which is the perfect setting for dysfunction as they face death every single day. The mother, Ruth, is a repressed housewife who never got a chance to be independent, and the eldest son, Nate, is a 30-something with no direction in life and a fear of commitment. The younger son, David, begins the show a closeted homosexual who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, whilst the youngest, Claire, is an apathetic teenager and classic tortured artist.

8. The Wilkersons – Malcolm in the Middle

A brilliant show centered entirely on the dysfunction of the family, Malcolm in the Middle made you appreciate your own family a lot more. Although likeable and (in a few ways) relatable, this is a wild family and it can be exhausting just watching them. The titular character is the most normal, despite being a remarkable child genius. The eldest, Francis, was so badly behaved that he was sent to military school. The second eldest, Reese, is a bully and has little common sense and the youngest (Dewey) is bright but the constant victim. The brothers all raise hell and fight, which drives the hot-headed mom, Lois, up the wall as she tries to keep things together. The dad, Hal, is childish and constantly on the verge of a breakdown, adding to the mania and stress of the show. Despite their character flaws, they care for each other deep down.

7. The Griffins – Family Guy

Very much the Simpson family dialed up to 11 and with extra swearing, the Griffin family from Family Guy is incredibly dysfunctional. Although the style of comedy in the two shows is very different, the family basis is very close and this goes to show how influential The Simpsons has been. In addition to the lazy father, sheltered housewife, underachieving son and ignored daughter, the Griffins brilliantly also have an evil and sadistic baby and an intellectual talking dog who is a struggling writer and heavy drinker. The family clash heavily and are often seen to hate each other (Meg baring most of the brunt), but this is all a part of the dark humor on the show. Despite this, there are also sweeter moments where they are shown to care for each other despite their dysfunctional dynamic and the extreme flaws of a few of the characters.


6. The Bluths – Arrested Development

In most cases, the dysfunctional families that we see on television do not have a huge amount of wealth and this contributes to their problems. This is not true of the Bluths from Arrested Development, who are both incredibly wealthy and dysfunctional and lead extravagant lifestyles. After his father’s prison sentencing, it is down to do-gooder Michael to hold this ever so strange family together. These wild, unpredictable and strange characters make for some fantastic television, but the Bluths are also (somewhat) relatable and (some) familial issues that many are familiar with are explored, as no family is perfect. What adds to the brilliance of Arrested Development is that there are three generations to focus on. There is the manipulative and hyper critical grandmother, the older brother who is a failed magician, the socially inept son, the spoiled sister and the rebellious teen daughter, just to name a few.

5. The Lannisters – Game of Thrones

Boy oh boy, this sure is one depraved and dysfunctional family. Jerry Springer would have a field day with this one! First and foremost is the very disturbing incestuous relationship between twin brother and sister Jaime and Cersai, which has resulted in three illegitimate children—one of whom is the sick and sadistic Joffrey. There is then Cersei and Jamie’s brother, Tyrion, who is an intelligent dwarf with a drinking problem. The father of the three is Tywin, who is an evil, calculating and ruthless man who is embarrassed by his children (particularly Tyrion). What doesn’t help is that this bizarre and dysfunctional family also has a tremendous amount of power and rule the Seven Kingdoms. Whilst Tyrion is likeable (and in some regards so is Jamie, who undertakes a character arc), the rest are despicable, violent and cruel but always seem to get their way.

4. The Sopranos – The Sopranos

One of the key aspects of this fantastic show is that Tony Soprano’s New Jersey mob family is surprisingly functional, but his actual family life at home is the definition of dysfunction. This likely all stems from the fact that the father is a murderous gangster with a whole host of issues, while his wife tries desperately to create normality but is often ignored. His son is a spoiled brat with behavioral problems, whilst his daughter is an angry teen who flaunts her wealth. His nephew is a woman beater with a drug problem. He also has a hateful mother, an overbearing sister and an impulsive uncle who tried to kill him. When this is all combined with the drama that unfolds both at home and in his line of work, it is no wonder that Tony is prone to panic attacks and seeks therapy from the get-go.

3. The Bunkers – All in the Family

The Simpsons and Married…with Children may have popularized the dysfunctional family, but the path was paved by Archie Bunker and his family in All in the Family. Archie is a bigoted working-class father who is the king of political incorrectness, and this was groundbreaking during the ’70s where certain issues had not been explored or depicted in such a manner. His wife, Edith, is sweet and also shown to be wise, but she is also naïve and often defers to her husband who calls her a “dingbat.” Their daughter, Gloria, is good natured and develops into a feminist who is married to Michael, a hippie who Archie calls “meathead.” Gloria often has to mediate arguments between Michael and Archie, who represent the clash between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers. Despite his bigoted views, both the family and audience love Archie and he is a hugely influential television character.

2. The Bundys – Married…with Children

The blue collar and dysfunctional Bundy family helped to establish Fox among the Big Three television networks, going to show that audiences much prefer to watch troubled families. The show is centered on father Al, a once-promising football player turned to a down-on-his-luck shoe salesman who believes he is doomed to fail because of the “Bundy curse.” He resents his family, which includes his lazy and self-indulgent wife (Peggy), his promiscuous and obtuse daughter (Kelly) and socially inept son (Bud), named after his favorite beer. Married…with Children took family dysfunction to the next level, which was not without controversy, as a woman led a boycott against the show in 1989 after Al was shown ogling a naked woman. This actually boosted ratings and the Parents Television Council would later deem it the least family friendly show in the mid-’90s—a badge of honor for dysfunctional families.


1. The Simpsons – The Simpsons

Okay, they are not as dysfunctional as a family like The Sopranos, but the dysfunction of the Simpson’s inspired countless shows that followed. The Simpsons helped popularize the dysfunctional family, as Matt Groening realized that audiences enjoy a family that faces problems and are not squeaky clean since they would be able to identify with them more. President George Bush once stated that he wanted American families “a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons,” which goes to show that they are the classic dysfunctional family. They have a lazy father, a sheltered mother, a poor behaved underachieving son and an ignored daughter, which is the perfect recipe for comedy. They are all loveable characters, and deep down they love each other which gives the show a sweetness which you do not find with your bland and squeaky clean families.