Family conflict is at the heart of the majority of TV shows. It’s a subject matter that is endlessly compelling, incredibly dynamic, and often relatable. We all have a family of some sort, and it’s not always sunshine and roses.
Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday for many, so whether you’re looking to connect with your family some more, or you just want something to quietly pass the time, why not sit down this year and check out a good TV show? Some of the best shows about dysfunctional families explore complex dynamics within groups, and feature unforgettable scenes that stay with viewers long after the season is over.
Updated on August 1, 2023, by Hannah Saab:
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 16 recently gave viewers one wild episode after another, as the gang continues to showcase how dysfunctional their family is. With the popular FX series leaving fans wanting more, it’s the perfect time to discover more dysfunctional family shows worth binge-watching.
12 ‘Kevin Can F**k Himself’ (2021 – 2022)
We’ve all had those moments where a family member is annoying us so much, part of us wishes unfortunate things on them. Well, in Kevin Can F*** Himself, Allison (Annie Murphy) learns that’s easier said than done – those looking for dysfunctional family comedy series should check this one out.
In this smart, inventive takedown of the traditional American sitcom, a sitcom wife decides she’s had enough of her husband, Kevin (Eric Petersen), stealing her own life, and she’s going to do something permanent about it – she’s going to kill him. The show takes some twists and turns over the course of its two-season run, but one thing that is consistent is the focus on the family dynamics we’ve come to know after decades of sitcom storytelling.
Watch on Prime Video
11 ‘Bates Motel’ (2013 – 2017)
Perhaps the most well-known, and most iconically toxic familial relationship in all cinema, the mother/son duo of Norma and Norman Bates is one built on guilt, manipulation, and plenty of death. While in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho, we get hints of their history, the Bates Motel television show dives into it headfirst.
In one of the darkest family drama TV shows, Norma (Vera Farmiga) and her teenage son Norman (Freddie Highmore) move to a small Oregon town and buy a motel for a fresh start after the death of Norman’s father. Once there, they both begin to make friends, and piece together the pieces of a new life for themselves. However, it doesn’t take long before the bodies start piling up, and their dark relationship begins to take form. Some may think that this kind of reinvention of a bonafide classic is blasphemous, but Bates Motel carves its own path and becomes a show where you get so invested in Norman and Norma, that it’s possible to forget where their story is heading.
10 ‘Family Guy’ (1999 – )
An iconic animated series that needs no introduction, Family Guy is a sitcom that parodies American culture. Created by Seth MacFarlane (who also voices several of the characters), the long-running animated show for adults revolves around the dysfunctional Griffins, made up of the dim-witted blue-collar worker Peter (MacFarlane), his stay-at-home wife Lois (Alex Borstein), their always-rejected daughter Meg (Mila Kunis), the bumbling Chris (Seth Green), and the talking dog and baby duo, Brian and Stewie (both voiced by MacFarlane).
An animated series meant for adults, the show embraces political incorrectness, striving to be as offensive as possible when mocking traditional American values, current events, and pop culture. The family members are more often than not, hurting each other in the process of fulfilling their individual narcissistic desires. So much for the American dream.
Watch on Hulu
9 ‘All in the Family’ (1971 – 1979)
Created by TV legend Norman Lear, All in the Family is one of the most iconic and beloved sitcoms of all time (and one of the classic TV shows about families). Its dysfunctional family dynamic has been the basis for an entire generation of sitcoms that followed it, even if none could touch the original.
In the iconic series that captures the spirit of the ’70s, the Bunker family was composed of Archie (Carroll O’Connor), the conservative, bigoted patriarch, Edith (Jean Stapleton), his kind, soft-spoken wife, Gloria (Sally Struthers), their forward-thinking daughter, and Michael (Rob Reiner), her hippie boyfriend. Most episodes were composed mainly of Archie arguing with Michael and Sally about some hot topic of the day. It’s a rare show that was very much a product of its time, but also feels modern in retrospect.
Watch on Prime Video
8 ‘House of the Dragon’ (2022 – )
Game of Thrones proved that in Westeros, you can’t trust anyone, especially when the Iron Throne is up for grabs. The prequel series House of the Dragon doubles down on this theme, but emphasizes the distrust among those you should be able to trust the most: your family. House of the Dragon takes all the tension and conflict we know and love in Westeros and focuses on a smaller group of characters.
At this time in Westeros’ history, the Targaryen family is in power, and they are willing to do anything to keep it. So when the question of succession arises, two factions form, each determined to wage a civil war for the Iron Throne.
Watch on Max
7 ‘Shameless’ (2011 – 2021)
If you think your family is embarrassing, just watch a couple of episodes of Shameless, and you’ll see just how bad it could be. The Gallagher family is a lot of things: dysfunctional, feisty, and incredibly loyal. Whether they’re helping each other through their problems or causing them, each of the Gallaghers prove that blood is thicker than water.
The patriarch Gallagher, Frank (William H. Macy), lives with alcoholism and has very few inhibitions to keep him from doing whatever he wants. His daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is left to take a parental role in the family and looks after her five siblings while still maintaining her own life. There’s honestly something really sweet about this trashy Chicago family, so much so, you actually may wish you could be more like them.
Watch on Netflix
6 ‘Mad Men’ (2007 – 2015)
Mad Men is a show about very complicated people in a deceptively complicated world. On the outside, the world of 1960s New York City is bright, colorful, and full of hope. But inside the homes of its residents is conflict and tension and change. The Drapers are no exception.
Its suave and toxic leading man, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a character who leads multiple lives, and keeps them separate. As an ad executive, he thinks he’s capable of selling lies without a false note, but unfortunately for him, he’s not as good as he thinks he is. The drama of Don’s personal and professional lives converge in ways that are unmatched to this day. If you want potent, genuine family drama, you don’t need to look any further than Mad Men.
Watch on AMC+
5 ‘Arrested Development’ (2003 – 2019)
We’ve all had times when we feel like we’re the only person holding our wacky family together – the comedy of Arrested Development comes from exactly that. The show follows the Bluths, a family too rich for their own good. When the patriarch George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) gets arrested, the smartest member of the family, Michael (Jason Bateman), has to try and hold their empire together amid criminal investigations.
There’s something lovable about how the Bluths just constantly make the worst possible choices at every turn. When they’re not making regrettable business decisions, the various Bluths are bickering and arguing with each other about mundane topics. They are a truly dysfunctional family, but there’s something sweet about how, no matter how hard they may try, they all need each other.
Watch on Netflix
4 ‘Yellowstone’ (2018 – )
Yellowstone is one of the most popular shows on television. Sure, a lot of people watch it for the neo-Western aesthetic and storytelling, but just as many watch for the intense and dynamic family relationships at the core of the show.
In a way, Yellowstone is like Succession on a ranch, but with more killing and more horses. The Dutton family has owned the Yellowstone ranch in Montana for generations, several of which are being explored on Yellowstone‘s Paramount+ prequel shows, and the current patriarch, John (Kevin Costner), is willing to do whatever he has to do to keep it, in the hopes of passing it along to one of his children. Yellowstone is a show about legacy and the lessons we can learn from America’s long, complicated history.
Watch on Peacock
3 ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ (2005 – )
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia holds the distinction of being the longest-running live-action sitcom of all time, with fans always clamoring to see more of “The Gang’s” antics. The gang is made up of the dysfunctional family, Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito), Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Dennis Reynolds’ (Glenn Howerton) legal father, and Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day) and Ronald “Mac” McDonald (Rob McElhenney), who may as well be direct relatives by the way they match each other’s wackiness.
Together, the rowdy group runs a seedy bar called Paddy’s Pub, but are mostly coming up with wild projects and ideas to pass their time. From putting on a gut-busting play for a surprise proposal from Charlie to the Waitress to buying a “P. Diddy-style shrimping vessel” to get a taste of the high life, the gang has no shortage of zany (and often politically incorrect) ideas and activities on the popular show.
Watch on Hulu
2 ‘Succession’ (2018 – 2023)
Inspired by the real-life Rupert Murdoch, Succession revolves around Max’s dysfunctional family led by Logan Roy (Brian Cox), a corporate magnate and the head of a multimedia empire. When it seems like his time at Waystar Royco may be coming to an end, his children all vie for his attention, and to be named his successor.
The Roy children are all different kinds of detestable and their clashing personalities end up creating one of the most riveting TV shows about family problems. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is power hungry, Roman (Kieran Culkin) is morally imbalanced, Shiv (Sarah Snook) is very identity conscious, and Connor (Alan Ruck) is the special kind of rich weirdo who thinks he should run for President. Succession‘s portrayal of the tumultuous lives of the Roy family is nothing short of modern Shakespeare. The show elevates the power struggles and interpersonal conflicts to the level of high art.
Watch on Max
1 ‘The Sopranos’ (1999 – 2007)
Generally considered the greatest TV show of all time, The Sopranos is an incredible family drama, following Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) as he tries to balance his personal family life with his professional life of organized crime. Part of what makes the show so fascinating is how the rest of the Soprano family (one of the most famous dysfunctional TV families) struggle to come to terms with the actions of their patriarch. On the one hand, it provides them with all the luxuries they could ask for, on the other, they are complicit in heinous criminal acts.
We all have tested the boundaries of how far we are willing to go for our family. Sure, not everyone’s father is a mob boss, but the art of The Sopranos is how it transcends the constraints of the crime genre and becomes something so much more.
Watch on Max
NEXT: The Best Movies About Dysfunctional Families That Makes Audiences Feel Grateful About Theirs