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Who's the Better TV Mom: Meredith Baxter (don't forget the Birney) or Judith Light?

June 6, 2004

They were just two blowsy blondes caught up in the honeyed web of 1980s must-see TV. Later, after their respective shows came to a close and their TV family co-stars went on to experience various forms of personal turmoil, they competed for the affections of America's Lifetime Television viewers by setting out to prove who was the more battered/cheated on/cancer stricken/dead-son-having victim.

When a TV actress raises her TV family, how much influence can we pin on the real woman behind the prime time magic? What role did Judith Light play in Danny Pintauro's gayness? Did Meredith Baxter tell Justine Bateman that she was looking a little chunky, effectively causing her TV daughter's downward spiral into the world of anorexia? Where can I seek social justice for my hardship and suffering caused by Tina Yother's band?

Let's examine two fixtures of Reagan-era television: Family Ties and Who's the Boss? Two mothers each face their own challenges in order to give their kids the best they can in these troubled times. During their respective tenures as TV moms, Meredith Baxter and Judith Light took it all in stride: joy, sorrow, laugher, tears. Let us not forget teen angst and puberty issues (excluding acne...jesus, a woman can handle only so much). They undoubtedly played a seminal role in the real-life outcome of their TV kids. Having spent several minutes languishing over the evidence, I have reluctantly assigned myself the unenviable task of declaring once and for all which woman is the better "mother."

(Whether or not you think television is the right hand of the devil, it is truly a testament to all that is Good that the Full House mom's death (let's hope it was suicide) allowed her to avoid enduring the one liner witticisms of the Olsen trolls or Dave Coulier's fucking Popeye schtick.)

Family Ties

The Moms: A Brief Character Sketch

Meredith is the Tie that Binds

Elyse Keaton is the standard issue former hippie who breaks all of society's molds by becoming the no-nukes wife-mother-architect raising three kids (later it became four when the show started to suck. Hi, Andy!) She, along with her sensitive-liberal-husband Steven, seek to instill the values of peace and harmony within all of their children. Sometimes Skippy and Nick throw the gang for a loop or Tom Hanks shows up as the drunk uncle, but it was all in good fun.

She receives extra points because the Family Ties' theme song, "Without Us," is performed by Johnny Mathis and Deniece "Let's Hear it for the Boy" Williams.

Judith is the Boss

Who's the Boss Angela Bower, everyone's favorite single mom and power bitch ad exec needs help cleaning her house and raising her little shitstain of a son, Jonathan. Enter Brooklyn homeboy Tony Micelli played by Tony Danza (they had to keep the name thing simple for him.) With Tony comes his tough-as-nails (ooooohh) streetwise daughter, Sam, dutifully played by Alyssa Milano during her pre-veneers, uh, formative years. The kids grow up and Tony's relationship goes beyond doing windows. And who can forget Angela's own slutty mom, Moan-a?

The Keaton Household

Alex (Michael J. Fox)

Michael J. Fox Alex was the epitome of the young Republican, always a thorn in his hippie parents' sides. Despite the appearance of Courteney Cox (fresh from the Masters of the Universe movie) in episodes 126 on, Michael J. Fox ended up marrying Tracy Pollan, TV Girlfriend from episodes 76 - 98. Meredith witnessed their young love in bloom and couldn't help but think she had been a part of it. Of late, we have been inundated with his media-documented fight with Parkinsons. A mother can love, but she can't always save. Christoper Reeve is pissed about the competition.

Justine Bateman

Mallory (Justine Bateman)

As the middle child (until Andy, see below), Mallory was rather misunderstood. She liked boys. And shopping. And so what if Nick was a little on the simian side. She was frequently made to feel like she took a backseat to her brother's rising star. Did this influence Justine's fragile self esteem by way of ten years of anorexia/bulimia and acceptance of the starring role in Satisfaction? However, she's also shown her strength -- seen especially when she held her head high despite the embarrassment her real brother brought the family with Teen Wolf Too.

Tina Yothers

Jennifer (Tina Yothers)

No longer a blond, she rocks it hard with her band, Jaded. NBC was basically forced to cancel Family Ties when Tina's beastly girth started to detract from the sets.

Andy (Brian Bonsall)

The arrival of Andy was the equivalent of the ubiquitous prime-time wedding: Quick! Help resuscitate the ratings before we all go down!

Honorable Mention: Skippy (Mark Price)

Poor Skippy was always the unfortunate schlep slobbering after Mallory. I saw Mark Price do his stand up routine at the Punch Line in San Francisco. It's sad when former child actors always have to constantly re-hash their past for the sake of recognition. Is that how Dana Plato felt when she was working at the convenience store before she overdosed?
Skippy Average Customer: "I need two packs of Kools and a pint of Hennessey...Hey! weren't you on that one show with that black midget kid?"

Dana: "No."

Average Customer: "No, you totally were! So, did you sleep with Willis or what?"

Dana: "Yeah, it was...I mean, I don't know what you're talking about. Here's your change. Have a nice day."

The Bower Household

Sam (Alyssa Milano)

As Sam, she started out as a precocious little tomboy from Brooklyn who lacked a mother's touch. However, you'd think that Judith would have stepped up and put a stop to her teen relationship with such riff-raff as one, Corey Haim, the budding heroin addict. Alyssa's foray into the music world might also have been discouraged by a mother who didn't like to see her children Alyssa Milano humiliate themselves. Five of her albums went platinum...in Japan. (Jennifer Love Hewitt - are you paying attention to this?) I guess the Germans were too spellbound by David Hasselhoff to take notice.

Her TV mother also did not have a problem with Alyssa's later choices concerning roles she accepted. After Who's the Boss? bade its final farewell, she ended up starring to Poison Ivy II and other such scintillating Cinemax staples. Let us not forget her brief stint as Jennifer Mancini, younger sister to Michael on Melrose Place. She played -- what else-- a scheming whore. Admittedly, this show was one of my favorite guilty pleasures -- so much that I used to have bubble diagrams and flow charts depicting which characters had traded bodily fluids. As I recall, Amanda and Jake took the respective female and male prizes for most "exchanges." I prepared a similar analysis of 90210. For a seeming eternity, Donna Martin was still a virgin. Was Aaron Spelling trying to hold on to the slippery reins of his daughter's tenous chastity, even as her ass cheeks flopped out of the bottom of her plaid short shorts at the Walsh's tree-decorating party? He certainly didn't skimp on her character getting BEAT UP and, oh I don't know, THROWN DOWN FLIGHTS OF STAIRS by Ray the psycho. But, whew, at least her hymen was kept intact for several seasons...even the fundamentalists could watch with easy hearts. Abstinence is more important than anti-violence after all.

Eventually Alyssa did pull herself up out of the Hollywood gutter to join the hallowed ranks of Carrot Top and David Arquette in the 1-800-Collect commercials. And she's on that witch show with Shannen Doherty. She's a survivor, that one.

Jonathan (Danny Pintauro)

Young Danny Pintauro Jonathan ranks among the most annoying TV children of all time. He's in hot competition with Wesley from Mr. Belvedere and steps behind the Tanner brood. Did anyone not see from 800 miles away how gay this boy was? Although I guess it was a big surprise when we found out about George Michael. Sometimes these things come out of left field. You just can't properly prepare. I mean, all the guys wore neon pink hip hugger shorts in the 80s, right? To listen to Jonathan gush about girls on the show attests to Mr. Pintauro's superb acting chops. Creepy Danny Pintauro

At present, he still goes by "Danny" and looks positively creepy. Most people drop their diminutive nicknames by 9th grade at the latest. Is he afraid that his legion of fame will be forgotten if he opts for the softer, more refined Daniel? How about going with the familiar "Dan?" Whatever you call him, he soldiers on with his side spike and activist agenda. He just completed a run of Shear Madness...in Kansas. We expect great things from Danny in the future. He's not famous enough for 1-800-Collect, but does Pet Meds need a fresh face?

Battle of the Battered

Now that the kids are grown and gone, Meredith and Judith have found new outlets in which to express their nurturing and/or enraged sides. America came to count on its weekly invitation into the Keaton and Bower homes; now the loyal tune in to Lifetime: The Television Channel for Women who have been Abused, Raped and/or Have a Gay Son.

Quickly scanning their respective filmographies, you can note that they match each other stroke for stroke, blow for blow. They've essentially cornered the mini-series markets of Mothers Fighting for Things and Murders Involving Mothers. Check your local Lifetime listings for upcoming presentations:

Meredith Judith
A Mother's Fight for Justice
Other Mothers
Til Murder do us Part
A Mother's Justice
Betrayed: A Story of Three Women
Burning Bridges
Kate's Secret
My Breast
Save Me
Wife, Mother, Murderer
Murder at My Door
Against Their Will: Women in Prison
Betrayal of Trust
A Husband, a Wife and a Lover
Men Don't Tell
Intimate Agony
Meredith Baxter (Birney) Judith Light

The Final Summation

Based on a top-secret scoring system that only I can decipher, I have concluded that Meredith has shown herself more worthy to be called a Mother. Judith, we-ell, not so much. It was neck and neck for awhile, but Meredith began to close the deal with the onset of Michael J. Fox's disease (sympathy vote). She sealed it with her moving portrait of a woman with cancer in My Breast (more sympathy votes). Judith just ended up with a hussy, a homo and a hairy man named Tony.

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