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Dysfunctional Family
"This is why I'm going gray at 15!"

"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. And even they won't remain wealthy. (It was seized by the Government)

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 Aww, 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

Anime and Manga
  • 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. They didn't necessarily get along with each other, although they co-existed rather well.
  • The premise of The Daichis Earths 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.
  • Ranma ˝ has two of these; the Tendos and the Saotomes.
  • 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.
  • Though certainly not a Dom Com, Neon Genesis Evangelion has a dysfunctional family consisting of reluctant Chosen One Shinji Ikari, evil father Gendo Ikari, ambitious mastermind mother Yui Ikari, Yui's little clones Rei Ayanami I, II, and III, and the Humongous Mecha that has Yui's soul inside. There's also Shinji's Parental Substitute, Misato Katsuragi, and Misato's other fostered child, Asuka Langley Soryu.

Comic Books
  • 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.
  • The Bat-family has become this in the last few years. There's a lot between just the men of the family. First you have Batman, an absentee father. His jerkass moments far outweigh his nice moments regarding his family, since he works alone. This messes up the family pretty badly. There's also Jason Todd, who holds a grudge against Bats for not killing his murderer, The Joker, and has a one-sided rivalry with Nightwing, akin to a little brother hating his Aloof Big Brother. Finally, there's Damian Wayne, who desperately seeks Bats' approval to the point where he assaulted his brothers, but who Bats refuses to acknowledge as his son because of how he was conceived. The only member of the family he gets along with other than Bats himself is Nightwing, who was his Parental Substitute for quite some time. It's quite amazing that Nightwing is so well adjusted, seeing the family he comes from.
  • Garth Ennis really seems to like these. What with the religious loonies, the cannibals and the Texans, the closest thing Preacher had to a normal loving family was a bunch of swamp-dwelling hillbillies were the parents were brother and sister and the kids only had one eye. Billy the Butcher's father drank, cheated on his wife at every opportunity and sometimes beat her. And then there's Martin Soap, who ends up (unknowingly) sleeping with his own mother.

Film
  • The Ensemble Cast of Little Miss Sunshine.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums.
  • That of Alexander the Great in Oliver Stone's Alexander. Based on Real Life events, though - it is documented the marriage of Philip II and Olympias was indeed Royally Screwed Up.
  • In the 2011 film Warrior: The Conlons have shades of this. However Brendan's family is amazingly functional.
  • To some degree in Take Shelter. The protagonist's mother is in a mental hospital, his brother is estranged from him and his wife is about to leave him.
  • The female side of the Bullock's family in My Man Godfrey is made up of unnerving Rich Bitches.
  • The Setons in Holiday. Linda has a warm relationship with both her siblings, but they don't much care for each other. Julia's the only one who gets along with her dad, whom Ned, and Linda both resent for trying to run their lives. Their mother can't have been terribly happy, either.
    Ned: You see, Father wanted a large family so Mother promptly had Linda, but Linda was a girl so Mother promptly had Julia, but Julia was a girl and the whole thing seemed hopeless. Then, the following year, Mother had me. It was a boy and the fair name of Seaton would flourish. Drink to Mother, Johnny. She tried to be a Seaton for a while, then gave up and died.
  • In What We Did On Our Holiday the dysfunction, previously lurking with divorcing parents, a self-obsessed uncle, an aunt in the midst of a breakdown and world weary kids, really becomes noticeable when the children decide to give their granddad a Viking Funeral after he dies on the beach, and all the adults are too busy arguing for the children to be able to tell them he has died.

Literature
  • The Fields in Barbara Gowdy's Falling Angels. Not played for laughs, though.
  • George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is replete with screwed-up aristocratic families, but the multi-generational mess that is House Lannister is straight out of Greek tragedy, complete with incest and Patricide.
  • 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
  • Malcolm in the Middle provides the page image, 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.
    • Harper's family has been shown to be pretty dysfunctional too, but it's Played for Laughs.
  • 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 Cloud Cuckoolander 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. In fact, the Starks are the more close to a happy family in the story, at least at first.
  • The Paolo Family, from The Amazing Race Family Edition, spent their time on the race bickering and yelling.
  • Grandma's House
  • The Borgia family consists of patriarch Rodrigo, who is Pope Alexander VI; his former mistress and mother of his children, Vanozza; his current mistress Giulia; his son Cesare, The Sociopath, a cardinal who dreams of becoming a soldier; his incompetent younger son, Juan, who despises Cesare and vice versa; and daughter Lucrezia, a Fille Fatale who shares an Incest Subtext relationship with Cesare. Oh, and there's Gioffre. But nobody cares about him.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft Holmes had a sibling rivalry which affected the entire family.
  • The Moody family of A Moody Christmas fits this trope.

Music

Theater
  • 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

Web Original
  • Zeus and Hera's family in Thalia's Musings, both with their legitimate children and Zeus' bastards to whom Hera is the Wicked Stepmother.
  • Apparently, King Boo is the father of Mr. Doom's Boo. Pink Boo is either his girlfriend, wife or ex-wife, and all the little mini-Boos are their kids. This doesn't stop them from giving him crap; instead, they're constantly after him to pay child support instead of spending all his coins to support his Star habit.

Western Animation
  • Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter's.
  • Kim Possible: The Go siblings.
  • The Simpsons: The obvious exemplar, 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.
  • This is pretty much the Basis of all of Seth MacFarlane's cartoons, being Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show
  • 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.
  • Moral Orel lives and breathes this trope, though it's more the "Idyllic outside, dysfunctional inside" version.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Fire Nation royal family.
  • On Hey Arnold!, the residents of the boarding house are presented as being dysfunctional True Companions.
  • The De Faults in Robot and Monster is a rich family example.
  • The Petes on Goof Troop consist of a father who abuses one child while spoiling the other when he's not neglecting both of them (Pete), a mother who is usually yelling at her husband and daughter (Peg), a son who is emotionally damaged, disillusioned with his father, and impatient to leave home (PJ), and a Bratty Half-Pint daughter who gets on everyone's nerves (Pistol). They are the foil family for the main Quirky Household from whom the show takes its name, and when PJ is in focus (and occasionally when he's not) it's portrayed more as a Big Screwed-Up Family.
  • Wait Till Your Father Gets Home has a downplayed example. While the Boyles clearly love each other, Chet is a hippie college drop-out, Alice is a naive teenager who wants to be a sexually liberated woman, and Irma wants to expand her horizons outside of the home, so there's going to be some friction with Harry.
  • Averted with the Tasmanian Devil's family on Taz-Mania. An early article about the show stated that the producers wanted the family to be overly functional as opposed to dysfunctional.

Real Life
  • 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.
  • R.D. Laing had quipped, "There are no crazy people, only crazy families." This was after noting a number of his patients who became more functional independently became less so with time and proximity to their family.


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