The job of housewife has had a bit of a bad press over the past few decades. Instead of women accepting that when they get married they will look after the house and raise children (not what we would expect, but mainly a comment on social norms of the 60s) women desiring to be housewives are shot down by progressive feminists who want to rule the World with an iron business suit. It’s neither a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just a differing set of norms that were around fifty years ago. No biggie. Things change.
But where would we be without housewives on our TV screens?
The “traditional” nuclear family with a spin has been the mainstay of sitcoms and dramas for almost as long as TV has been around. Look at Happy Days. The Cunninghams were a decent, middle class family who lived in the suburbs. Aspirational stuff, I think we’ll all agree. But aspiration isn’t funny or entertaining; The Syndicate has shown us that recently. Instead, Garry Marshall took the conventional family and added elaborate and uncontrollable elements to it. Like the Fonz. Or that time that Weezer played in Arnold’s. It’s what made the whole thing entertaining. But at the very centre of the show was the family unit.
Successful sitcoms thrive on taking an already established norm and subverting it for their own gains. Almost forty years after Happy Days first aired, Modern Family is still taking the tried and tested and changing it for their own benefits. Gone is the close knit family, and instead there’s an extended family. A more contemporary take on the same idea. Or Happy Days if they kept it going for another ten years.
But if Til Death Us Do Part has shown us nothing, it’s that the place of a sassy housewife can make or break a sitcom. Else Garnett was a downtrodden yet resilient woman who always had the upper hand over her racist, and frankly disgusting, husband. She knew her husband more than he knew himself. And that was just one of the fantastic things about Til Death Us Do Part. But that’s a story for another time.
A housewife isn’t the be all and end all of a sitcom, but a good housewife can take a mediocre one and turn it into something timeless, so pop on an apron and tickle that foof gently as we look at Six of the most influential housewives of the past sixty years.
#5 – Samantha Stephens (Bewitched, played by Elizabeth Montgomery)
Just edging Lucille Ball out of the list is Samantha Stephens, the witchy wife of Darrin Stephens. Not to be confused with Jeanie from I Dream Of Jeanie, who was essentially the same character just with Larry Hagman instead of the Dicks York and Sargent.
Samantha is almost essentially the same character as Lucy, but where Samantha pushes her into a muddy puddle is that Samantha had to put her with her meddling mother, the witch known as Endora. Not just a normal, fussy mother-in-law. This woman had powers people and wasn’t afraid to use them. Terrorising bosses, house guests, any middle class ideal was a target to be turned into balloons or goats. And it wasn’t just her mother Samantha was fighting, but also fighting to save the status quo of the upper-middle class life that Darrin had established for them. It was a common issue for housewives in the 60s. Although they were completely powerless to implement ideas to get more money into the bank account (although many housewives had “menial” jobs at the constant behest of men), housewives were expected to salvage the more social aspects of the affluent lifestyle: dinner parties, soirees, orgies, things like that.
#4 – Lucille Bluth (Arrested Development, played by Jessica Walter)
On the face of it, Lucille Bluth is a vicious and unloving mother who benefits from her husband’s dodgy dealings by living in the lap of luxury at the expense of misappropriated Bluth Company funds and Saddam Hussein, but as the series plays out and we get to see more of Lucille’s character as she interacts with people coming in and out of her children’s lives, we see that she would do anything to keep her family together.
But only because keeping her family together means that she will always have someone to blame for massive crimes (and some light treasons) because instead of George Bluth being the culprit of the embezzlement and illegal transactions, its actually Lucille who’s the mastermind.
She is a truly evil woman, whose amorality is only outdone by her narcissism. Nothing stands in Lucille Bluth’s way, whether it be the control of the Bluth Company from her son Michael, or her worrying grasp on her youngest son, Buster, she’s a woman who always gets her way. And isn’t that just what every woman should be?
#3 – Linda La Hughes (Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, played by Kathy Burke)
Although not technically a housewife in a traditional sense, La Hughes is a cosmopolitan take on a traditional “odd couple” role, but not because they’re behaviour is such a nightmare to life with that they’ve gravitated towards each other in a way that a Judge would be surprised that the double murder didn’t happen earlier, and also because they’re two totally reprehensible characters that won’t find love with anyone else, so they, unconsciously, settle for each other.
Vain, conceited, arrogant, unreservedly ugly, La Hughes sees the World at fault for not keeping up with her opinions and that nothing will stand in her way for a swing of the pork sword.
Despite being clearly disgusting, Linda has a love/hate relationship with her flatmate Tom. On one hand, she enjoys going out and getting lathered with him, while at the same time hating that she probably won’t find someone while their relationship is so close.
#2 – Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Modern Family, played by Sofia Vergara)
On the face of it, Gloria is a gold digger who has bagged herself a rich, old husband who will look after her for years. She’s beautiful, ditzy and, with her thick Columbian accent, one bad day away from being a vicious killer. Which is how a more boring sitcom might have written it, but that’s not what Modern Family is about. Instead of going down the usual roads of sitcom clichés, Modern Family sticks to it’s main inspiration, stories about the creators’ modern families.
Part loving mother and part protective den mother, Gloria is not to be messed with. Whether it’s standing up for her heritage while her husband (sitcom legend Ed O’Neill) tries to play it down, or decapitating a rat with a shovel before going to Church, and leaving the head as reminder for the other rats, Gloria is a unique character in the World of housewives. Volatile yet loving, there’s no one quite like Gloria Delgado-Pritchett.
#1 – The Animated Housewife
This is a bit of a cheat, because this isn’t just one housewife, but hundreds of them, all from the same template. Wilma Flintstones, Jane Jetson, Marge Simpson, Lois Griffin/Francine Smith/Donna Tubbs Brown. There’s probably hundreds of them that we all know about.
Epitomising the housewives of 60s sitcoms like Elizabeth Montgomery, Pat Priest, Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara Eden, these characters have stood the test of time because they distil what actual women experience each day and inject it with sassy wit or an interesting twist. Like chemistry if chemistry was sexy and word based. With Lois Griffin it was latent violent tendencies, Francine Smith had a seedy past filled with spells in prison and being a roadie and Jane Jetson had a secret smack addiction.
Why this band of women are Number One is for one simple reason: they’ve been successful for over forty years in one incarnation or another, and will probably be successful in another forty because they’re universal and can be twisted and moulded to any situation that’s necessary. Is it a surprise that Seth MacFarlane is going to reboot The Flintstones after taking heavy inspiration from Wilma and Fred in almost all of his creations.