The dysfunctional tv families we love from a distance

These families are full of lying, cheating, murderous siblings and parents. Whilst they make for compelling viewing, we are glad we aren't part of them!
Every family has an outcast: the black sheep, the trouble-maker, the peace-keeper, the busy-body, the grumpy grandpa, and even that one sleazy uncle. What most families don’t have is a professional lying, cheating, stealing, blackmailing, murderous backstabber... much less 6 of them. Most families, criminal or not, wouldn’t go as far as to seek vengeance on their own kind but these ruthless, twisted and dysfunctional TV families do – and we can’t take our eyes off them. They’re criminally good!

The Cody family in Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Talk about mother issues! Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Ellen Barkin) is the family matriarch and maternal crime boss. When she’s not cleaning or baking her famous pies, she’s hatching a plan for their next heist. Like a lioness protecting her cubs, Smurf keeps a close watch on her four wayward sons with a borderline incestuous eye; Baz, the charming but manipulative leader; Pope, the psychopathic ex-con; Craig, the drug-fuelled adrenaline junkie; and Jake, the closeted brawler. In this combustible mix lands their 17 year old grandson and nephew, Joshua “J”, whose mom recently died of a drug overdose. If you can’t beat the family business, join it, and that’s exactly what J does. Based on the acclaimed Australian film of the same name which starred Jackie Weaver in her Oscar nominated performance, this eye-popping TV series has possibly the most dysfunctional family to ever hit the small screen – a big claim when you consider who’s on the list below.

The Lannister family in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Incest. Patricide. Poison. Betrayal. Revenge. Murder on the toilet. Naked Walks of Shame. Whoa, House Lannister takes power struggles to the next level. Their lineage is one of homicide and hatred, passed down from father (Lord Tywin) to daughter (Cersei) to grandson (Joffrey). Even the best of them (Tyrion and post-2016 Jaime) are still capable of despotic acts. If you sleep in Casterly Rock, sleep with one eye open. "You have to give it to the Lannisters – they may be the most pompous, ponderous c***s the gods ever suffered to walk the world, but they do have outrageous amounts of money." – Renly Baratheon. And we sure do love to see them pay their debts. 

The Rayburn family in Bloodline

Source: Sony Pictures Television

Are people born evil... or can good people be forced to do evil things?

The Rayburns are pillars of the community – wealthy and respected. They even own one of Florida’s most picturesque guesthouses. They must have it all together. Right? Wrong. Their glass house hides an abundance of secrets, and one by one, they’ll all rise to the surface. Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn deservingly won an Emmy for his role as the black sheep of the family, delivering a virtuoso performance; blisteringly restrained yet lined with an undercurrent of pure menace. When estranged son Danny returns home, a chain reaction is about to ignite the whole clan – including the parents (Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard) and his 3 adult siblings (Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini and Norbet Leo Butz). Most family secrets are unhealthy, but the Rayburn family secrets are deadly. 

The Soprano family in The Sopranos

The Sopranos

Tony loves to give gifts: two in the back and one in the head. Bada Bing! Here is a TV dad that re-wrote the rule books – he loves his family, but we wouldn’t put it past him to give one of them a gift at point blank range. While the Sopranos’ home life seems relatively normal – eating pasta, bickering over the TV – it’s when Dad leaves to ‘go to work’ that the real bad-ass action begins. Dad always has a tough day at the office, usually involving the disposal of a body. 

The Gallagher family in Shameless


If this is what family life is like, we want in! Endless partying, hard-drinking, pill-popping, bed-hopping, smashing things up, punching people’s lights out...  and no-one ever seems to vacuum. The most unstable influence in the family is the one meant to be setting a good example – father of the tribe, Frank Gallagher. Frank is never going to win ‘dad of the year’, in fact he rarely even makes it home at night. Dysfunctional as the Gallaghers are, there is a whole lot of love going on in their ramshackle, rundown house. They stick together, they stick up for each other and sometimes they even stick a knife in each other. Let the chaos continue.

The White family in Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad
Source: Sony Pictures Television

It’s been said that at its core, Breaking Bad is really all about family. And that Walter White, no matter how damaging his actions are, has always been driven by the desire to provide for this wife and children. Walt does some truly horrendous, unforgivable things, but when perceived as being in the vein of protecting his family his motivations are at least somewhat agreeable. But no excusing his heinous actions. Shakespearean in scope and like a Greek tragedy in scale, the saga of the White family reveals the sins of the father are passed on and on. The sheer effort of trying to save his family is precisely what leads him to cause their downfall; an irony of ironies.

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