The Best TV Families of All Time, Ranked
Great television families come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have certain vital ingredients: a large dose of humor, the ability to tug at our heart strings and, of course, a healthy amount of dysfunctional behavior.
Whether it’s the Bradys in “The Brady Bunch” or the Tanners in “Full House,” on-screen families can provide us with just as much comfort as our real-life relatives. But not all TV tribes are created equal. It takes something special to stand the test of time and secure an audience that will come back year after year and long after the final episode airs.
Get ready to reminisce: Here are our 15 best TV families of all time, ranked.
15. The Bradys (“The Brady Bunch” 1969-1974)
In an age where it wasn’t commonplace to see blended families on TV, Mike (Robert Reed), Carol (Florence Henderson) and their six kids were ahead of their time. As expected when two families become one, things didn’t always go smoothly, but the Bradys always managed to figure things out.
With so many kids, there’s a character everyone can relate to on some level, from Jan and her middle-child angst to Peter being teased for being in the glee club. Miraculously, all the chaos that goes hand in hand with a large family never snuffed out the flames of passion between Mom and Dad.
14. The Huangs (“Fresh Off the Boat” 2015-Present)
It shouldn’t have taken until 2015 — 20 years after the demise of Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” — to see an Asian-American family at the heart of a sitcom, but “Fresh Off the Boat” was worth the wait. The Taiwanese-American Huangs challenge stereotypes about Asian-Americans and shine a light on some of the most absurd aspects of American culture.
Jessica (Constance Wu) is TV mom gold, giving us gems like “It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight, the one thing that we can all agree on is that I am hot.”
13. The Conners (“Roseanne” 1988-1997; “The Conners” 2018-Present)
The Conner family made us laugh for nine seasons with liberal, feminist, outspoken mom Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) at the helm. She and husband Dan (John Goodman) may not have been the best role models for their kids — remember when they found their pot stash and smoked it? — but that’s why we loved them. And we loved them until the much-hyped 2018 remake got canceled following Barr’s racist tweet.
The Conners are back on our screens today — minus Barr — but the show will never be as groundbreaking as the original “Roseanne,” which portrayed working-class Americans struggling to make ends meet, pushed the envelope with its storylines (gay marriage was still controversial on TV in the mid-1990s) and introduced us to characters we couldn’t help falling in love with.
12. The Gilmores (“Gilmore Girls” 2000-2007, 2016)
“Gilmore Girls” broke the mold of TV families by placing an almost completely female unit at the crux of the show, challenging the idea of the “perfect” family so often portrayed in sitcoms as Mom, Dad and two kids. Lorelai (Lauren Graham) may have become a single mom to daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) at age 16, but she defies every unfair stereotype young moms are subjected to.
Girl power aside, the show’s laser-sharp dialogue, stacks of pop culture references and important life lessons (“I’m attracted to pie. It doesn’t mean I feel the need to date pie”) make “Gilmore Girls” ideal for binge-watching. By making us laugh and cry in equal measure, it’s the definition of comfort TV. And its 2016 miniseries answered some much-needed questions that had left us hanging.
11. The Tanners (“Full House” 1987-1995; “Fuller House” 2016-Present)
For a tear-jerking family sitcom, you can’t beat “Full House.” It revolved around single dad Danny (Bob Saget), whose three daughters learn a meaningful lesson during every episode.
Danny didn’t quite go it alone though — live-in uncles Jesse (John Stamos) and Joey (Dave Coulier) lent a hand, and their mismatched parenting approaches provide much of the show’s comedy. As expected, most of the “aww” moments come when the family pays tribute to the girls’ late mom, Pam.
And audiences loved the family so much that Netflix launched a reboot “Fuller House” in 2016, which just finished its fourth season.
10. The Huxtables (“The Cosby Show” 1984-1992)
It wouldn’t be fair to let Bill Cosby’s spectacular fall from grace ruin our memories of the Huxtables, one of the coolest, most important TV families of all time. Clair (Phylicia Rashad), Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe) and Rudy (Keshia Knight Pullam) deserve recognition for giving audiences a “perfect” family that didn’t look like the Bradys.
In the late 1980s, every adolescent girl wanted to be Denise, date Theo and have an adorable little sister like Rudy. And we all secretly wished our families were as much fun as the Huxtables.
9. The Barones (“Everybody Loves Raymond” 1996-2005)
Dig a little deeper beneath the surface of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and it’s clear that this sitcom is more than family members yelling at each other, episode after episode. Sure, husband Ray (Ray Romano) and wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) squabble all the time, but it’s a symptom of deeper friction — partly stemming from the fact that Ray’s parents live right across the street, trapping him between the roles of husband and son.
The show makes comedy out of everyday life, finding humor in the most mundane family activities, from writing thank you cards to playing golf. The characters never change — but that’s exactly why we love them.
8. The Arnolds (“The Wonder Years” 1988-1993)
Unapologetically nostalgic and sentimental, “The Wonder Years” is a light-hearted coming-of-age show centered around suburban adolescent Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage). But it’s the whole Arnold clan — Kevin’s brother Wayne (Jason Hervey), sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo), dad Jack (Dan Lauria) and mom Norma (Alley Mills) — that makes the show a timeless classic.
And it always manages to provide a reminder of the importance of family and how our loved ones can teach us lessons and guide us through life’s most difficult moments, even when they’re bugging the hell out of us.
7. Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche and Rose (“The Golden Girls” 1985-1992)
Only 50 percent of the unforgettable TV foursome are related by blood, but “The Golden Girls” deserves its place on this list because, sometimes, the family you need isn’t the one you’re born into. The tension between pint-sized mama Sophia (Estelle Getty) and her strong-willed daughter Dorothy (Beatrice Arthur) is an ongoing theme throughout all seven seasons, but Blanche (Rue McClanahan) and Rose (Betty White) are much more than roommates.
Love interests and other family members come and go, but the strongest bonds are between the four women themselves, setting an example of compassion, loyalty and support for more traditional families to follow.
6. The Crawleys (“Downton Abbey” 2010-2015)
You might think you don’t have much in common with Lord and Lady Grantham and their privileged daughters, but you don’t have to watch “Downton Abbey” for long to feel empathy toward the wealthy family living in England in the early 20th century. Yes, they might have butlers and cooks and lady’s maids at their beck and call, spend their free time off hunting and attending society balls, and occasionally wear tiaras to dinner, but they’re not above blackmail, backstabbing or betrayal.
Plus, like all good family dramas, there’s the formidable grandmother — sorry, “Grandmama” — complete with withering put-downs and inimitable facial expressions, played by the wonderful Maggie Smith.
5. The Addamses (“The Addams Family” 1964-1966)
The Addams family certainly doesn’t look like your typical family — unless your family includes a 7-foot-tall guy with scary eyebrows or a disembodied hand. But one of the biggest messages from this show is that how you look doesn’t have anything to do with how weird you are. In fact, it’s the “normal” people in “The Addams Family” who are the real oddballs.
Aside from maybe giving their kids TNT to play with, Gomez (John Astin) and Morticia (Carolyn Jones) are pretty awesome parents, raising well-mannered, curious, smart, compassionate children. The show also stands out for its fabulously spooky music, stylish set design and flawless makeup.
4. The Pearsons (“This is Us” 2016-Present)
“This Is Us” appeals to its audience on many levels. For starters, it serves up plenty of nostalgia, but never gets schmaltzy. It confirms what we all know (but like to be reassured of anyway): No family is perfect. Its flashbacks also remind us how great the 1980s were, complete with big hair and jean skirts.
Every episode takes us on an emotional rollercoaster and leaves us yearning for more. The characters’ personal dramas and struggles are compelling, and the adoption of Randall (Sterling K. White) as a black child welcomed into a white family is handled particularly well.
3. The Dunphys and The Pritchetts (“Modern Family” 2009-Present)
Still going strong after 10 seasons, “Modern Family” is relatable and hilarious. The lives of the non-conventional Dunphy/Pritchett clan offer plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but also address important issues — adoption, diversity, ethnicity, gender and sexuality — that need more primetime airtime.
The star of the show has to be Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), whose philosophies on life and parenting tips — delivered mockumentary confessional style — are priceless: “I’ve always said that if my son thinks of me as one of his idiot friends, I’ve succeeded as a dad.”
2. The Fishers (“Six Feet Under” 2001-2005)
Against a backdrop of death and grief — the Fishers run a funeral home and deal with the death of the family patriarch in the first few minutes of the pilot episode — “Six Feet Under” is all about embracing life. The complex, tense relationships between the remaining family members and their attempts to deal with their personal emotional shortcomings make this show a particularly accurate study of the human condition.
And it didn’t shy away from groundbreaking storylines, such as the relationship between the gay, interracial couple David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith (Matthew St. Patrick), who adopt two young boys.
1. The Simpsons (“The Simpsons” 1989-Present)
The best animated family of all time, the Simpsons are also the stars of the longest-running primetime scripted series. Dad Homer ( Dan Castellaneta), the model of politically incorrectness, and Bart (Nancy Cartwright), the trash-talking son of every parent’s nightmares, provide most of the laughs, while Mom Marge (Julie Kavner) and sister Lisa (Yeardley Smith) supply the moral guidance and wise words.
Plus, Lisa’s the feminist role model all young kids need to see on their screens. In one of her standout girl-power moments, she challenges the makers of Malibu Stacy to create a talking doll that isn’t sexist, resulting in Lisa Lionheart.