Dysfunctional Family

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"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The entire premise for many Dom Coms is that the lead characters are a family of maladjusted people who generally don't get along. Usually they consist of a Jaded Washout and/or Bumbling Dad father, a mother who is either a paragon of common sense and efficiency or a repulsive harridan (or both, a la Roseanne), and two-three kids who are unhappy, dislike each other, and resent at least one of their parents. Also, the father and his mother-in-law tend to hate each other. The family is generally fairly poor, although not always - Arrested Development is about a large, rich dysfunctional family.

Don't get them wrong, though; for all the family arguments, the typical dysfunctional family never engages in actual abusive behavior - any that did would immediately lose all audience sympathy. Furthermore, when the family is facing a major problem from outside, they will generally pull together to face it. Dysfunctional Families may not get along, but they rarely actually loathe each other, and often receive Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other moments.

In American comedies this was originally a subversion of the Leave It to Beaver/The Brady Bunch almost-too-good-to-believe family, but eventually ballooned into a genre of its own. The Dysfunctional Family has been a British comedy staple since the 1950s.

Contrast with Quirky Household, where the people are merely weird, but generally happy—indeed, more happy than more conventional households.

See also Big Screwed-Up Family, who are more numerous, more dysfunctional, and not (usually) Played for Laughs.

Examples of Dysfunctional Family include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Tsukihime reference: The Tohno Family who, due to their non-human ancestry, were a 'cursed' gene pool of insanity, various psychosis, and sanity-decaying superhuman abilities; their family tree was full of suicides, early deaths, disappearances, and the like. Needless to say, they didn't necessarily get along with each other, although they co-existed rather well.
  • The premise of The Daichis: Earth's Defense Family is one of these families being recruited as a pseudo-Super Sentai team just before the parents formally divorce each other - and the hilarity and angst that ensues.
  • The Tendou/Soatome household from Ranma ½.
  • In the Josei manga With the Light, (almost) each child or parent Sachiko encounters has a dysfunctional family. One chapter had the saddest way to start: a father is stinking drunk and the son tries to run away- only to see his mother escaping asap in a taxi- leaving him alone. Another child, Eri-chan, refused to tell a teacher about Hikaru, an autistic boy, getting seriously hurt in fear that her father would hit her "just like he hits mommy".
  • Kyouran Kazoku Nikki.
  • Oyasumi Punpun has a more serious version of this trope. Mom and Dad are divorced after an incident of domestic abuse, Uncle is a serial cheater, and poor Punpun is raped by his aunt. They do care about each other, but most of them have too many issues to express it in a healthy manner.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Well, it certainly helps explain some things about Harley Quinn. In Gotham City Sirens we learn that her father is a con-artist who abandoned his family to scheme older women out of their fortunes, her brother is a shiftless deadbeat with multiple kids from different mothers and no job, and her mother might be suffering from Manic/Depressive Bi-Polar disorder. One of the reasons Harleen Quinzel became a psychiatrist in the first place, which was the first step on her trip to becoming Harley Quinn, was to try and understand all the emotional trauma her family put themselves and each other through.
  • The Fantastic Four of Marvel Comics fame were designed to be a rather dysfunctional and constantly bickering, but ultimately tight-knit and loving family unit, which is part of what made the comic so popular and part of what put Marvel Comics on the map; the fact that each member has superpowers only adds to the tensions and clashes between them. Although only Susan and Johnny were initially directly related to each other (sister and brother), Susan and Reed later married and started their own family.
    • Reed and Ben are the type of best friends that are so close they each consider the other their brother, blood relations be damned, making the Four all in-laws. Which explains a lot about all their conflicts, actually...
    • A running joke about their dynamics is the fact that their teamwork is so phenomenal and their Power of Friendship so strong in the face of danger that it has become legendary, yet they can barely function without constantly screaming at each other or stewing in bottled fury over personal conflicts whenever things are quiet.

Film[edit | hide]

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Fields in Barbara Gowdy's Falling Angels. Not played for laughs, though.
  • The central branch of the Achike family from Purple Hibiscus. Father is a religious maniac, Mother is regularly beaten but too frightened of him to say anything but still considers herself lucky to be his wife, daughter is almost mute from terror and only the eldest son recognizes that something is really very wrong. Or so it is at the beginning of the novel, anyway.
  • The Trethowans from Robert Barnard's mystery novel Death by Sheer Torture. The author bases them on the real-life family, the Mitfords.
  • In Michael Flynn's Up Jim River, Zorba explains Bridget's silence by this: the Hounds are like brothers and sisters, but there is a certain amount of sibling rivalry.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Malcolm in the Middle, although the level is more comparable to Big Screwed-Up Family, unsurprisingly due to the creators wanting to make the worst Dysfunctional Family possible.
  • Roseanne
  • Married... with Children
  • Reversed in The Addams Family and The Munsters, both families are wildly dysfunctional in the classical sense, but treat each other with respect and love. That it's expressed via poisoning, stabbing, and other grievous and macabre means is just funny.
  • The Russos in Wizards of Waverly Place. See Family Game Night episode and you'll assist at an extreme case of funny dysfunctional family. Plus, the kids have to battle each other when they reach maturity.
  • Titus
  • Eastenders and Coronation Street - if there's a family these days on either of those two shows which is actually functional, this editor hasn't seen them in a while.
  • Arrested Development
  • Brothers and Sisters
  • In 3rd Rock from the Sun the aliens resemble this. In one episode, they use it as a cover for their odd behavior when they become the subject of a documentary on dysfunctional families.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond, although it focuses more on the adults than on the kids. Actually, if you think of Frank and Marie as the "parents" and their children and their girlfriends/wives as the "kids", you have two generations of this represented.
    • Not when you consider that Ray's kids are inexplicably normal; the fact that they're also inexplicably Aryan compared to their parents, may have something to do with why these apples fell so far from such a crooked tree.
  • My Family
  • The Cylons. But given the screwed up process by which they are created, they can't help but be dysfunctional (and a bit psychotic).
  • Mama's Family
  • The George Lopez Show- George's dad left him, his mom's a bitter drunk, his daughter gets bullied an extreme amount and always is getting in trouble with boys, his son is dyslexic...you get the picture.
  • The Osbournes. It's not completely off the mark to describe their Reality TV depiction as a live-action Simpsons for old metallers.
  • The Monk family in the Crime Dramedy series Monk is heavily implied to be dysfunctional. The parents raised their kids, Adrian Monk and Ambrose Monk, in a very strict fashion, which evidentally contributed to their quirks (such as Adrian Monk's various phobias and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as Ambrose Monk's Agoraphobia), their father, Jack Monk, eventually and inexplicably left the family in 1972 while going to get Chinese Food, which also resulted in Ambrose and their mother becoming cataconic. Their Christmases were also heavily implied to be horrible experiences for Monk. Jack Monk's other family, Jack Jr. was also proven to be no different. Although Jack Monk mentioned that Jack Jr. was a heart surgeon in Baltimore, it was later revealed in the same episode that Jack Monk lied about that out of shame, and that Jack Jr. was actually a putz (actually, not even a putz, but a person who dreams of one day becoming a putz), who lives in his basement, smokes Marijuana, and steals from Jack's wallet, and also had a criminal record of selling stolen cars and intends to move to Paraguay.
  • On the kids' sci-fi show Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left the main family consists of a gambling-addicted father, a scatterbrained mother, a dreamy Cloudcuckoolander older sister, and a child genius younger brother. The family relies on its middle child, ten-year-old X, to run their daily lives whilst adapting to Earth culture and keeping them safe from the wrath of the Zyrgonian Government. The strain of running her family actually makes X physically ill.
  • The Crane family from Frasier is a mild version (seeing as they are as close-knit as they are combative), with the "children" starting as adults in their late 30s. Their dysfunction is exacerbated at the beginning by the fact that the family's late matriarch Hester Crane was the lynchpin that held her sons and her husband together, and Frasier and Niles' Sibling Team dynamic had been put on hold during Frasier's decade-long absence. One of the show's underlying story arcs, especially in the first couple of seasons, involves Frasier and Niles rebuilding a close relationship with their father in the absence of their mother to facilitate things.
  • Game of Thrones. Every family, but particularly the Lannisters, the Targaryens, and the Freys.
  • The Paolo Family, from The Amazing Race Family Edition, spent their time on the race bickering and yelling.
  • Grandma's House

Music[edit | hide]

Theater[edit | hide]

  • Next to Normal: "So my son's a little shit, my husband's boring, and my daughter, though a genius, is a freak."
    • That's only the first song. Later songs reveal that the daughter is nearly cracking under overwhelming perfectionism, the husband is expertly codependent, and the mother has been suffering hallucinations for sixteen years -- because the son is dead.
  • Joe Pitt, his wife Harper, his mother Hannah, and his absent father in Angels in America bring a couple more complexes to the already insane mix.
  • Anton Chekhov's The Seagull lives and breathes on this trope.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Simpsons: The obvious exemplar and the page image, we could be here all day with examples to back up their inclusion. However, even if the President wished Americans could be "more like The Waltons and less like The Simpsons," they stay together, go to church together and eat dinner together every night, and they're ultimately closely-knit.
  • Family Guy, although by this point, they're probably closer to the Big Screwed-Up Family trope.
  • Daria. Here, the central character's family, the Morgendorffers, are seemingly screwed up; but the family of Daria's best friend - the Lanes - is far worse, to the point that they're the former Trope Namers for Hands-Off Parenting.
  • South Park: All the families in South Park, Colorado.
  • Dexters Laboratory: Dexter's family is dysfunctional all right. His big sister Dee-Dee is extremely ditzy, naïve, simple-minded, crazy & cuckoo. Dexter's Mom has trouble being around the rest of the family without her rubber gloves. She is rarely seen without her gloves and starts going insane in an episode when they have gone missing from her nightstand. Both she and Dexter have one thing in common: their perfectionist streaks. Dexter's Dad however is not nearly as intelligent as his son he sometimes imparts common sense and good advice to Dexter, such as advising him to get his glasses fixed even though they were regarded as "cool" in their broken state. Dad is also depicted as unreasonably hostile towards Dexter and Dee Dee when they interfere with a sports-related activity such as watching the "biggest golf match of the year" or breaking his bowling trophy.
  • Moral Orel lives and breathes this trope, though it's more the "Idyllic outside, dysfunctional inside" version.
  • In Adventure Time, Princess Bubblegum's family, from what we can tell, is pretty screwed up. We never see her parents, or hear about them, and it's implied that they set exceedingly high expectations for their daughter, causing her to become an adult way before her time. She's quite a young ruler- only 18, and she lamented about never being able to act like a kid. Thus, she turned out to be a perfectionist. Her son, Lemongrab, is WORSE off than Princess Bubblegum. He was "the first of her experiments gone wrong," and it's implied that he's brain-damaged, due to a scientific error in his creation. He's a perpetually unhappy, sour, bitter, angry, isolated person who was stuck, by Princess Bubblegum, inside a castle outside of the Candy Kingdom walls- possibly to keep him away from everyone else. And they DESPISE each other. If you think about their family situation long enough, it gets very depressing.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Fire Nation royal family. Hoo boy...
  • Kids Next Door has Number 3's family. Her father is a neurotic man with a huge Hair-Trigger Temper; her mom is an Ice Queen Workaholic with a Broken Bird background; and her little sister is an Annoying Younger Sibling who is evil and hates her sister's guts. Granted, they're Good Parents to their kids, but it's no wonder Numbuh 3 is such a Stepford Smiler at a young age.
  • On Hey Arnold!, the residents of the boarding house are presented as being dysfunctional True Companions.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The United States of America, in a similar sense. Then again, though, you can look at the political atmospheres of any country and then you would see this.
  • Most people know at least one of these. Or are a part of one.