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TV's Best Grandparents

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Jeanne Sager: The TV sitcom was made for parenting archetypes. June Cleaver. Pa Ingalls. But everyone knows when the going gets tough, you go to Grandma and she'll slip you a rumpled $10 bill and a lint-covered gumdrop.

The parents get their due day in and day out, but here's to THEIR parents, who we would have slipped into TV land to accept a gumdrop from any day.

TV's Best Grandparents

Grandpa Smurf from "The Smurfs"

A superhero gramps if there ever was one, Grandpa Smurf had a strange cross between a Southern and Irish accent, courtesy of Jonathan Winters. But after 500 years of traveling the world to protect the power of the Long Life Force Stone, Papa Smurf's was allowed his quirks. Can your grandpa pull a magical traveling hot-air balloon out of his beard? Does he have a yummy cocktail named after him? Great Smurfs!

Grandpa Munster from "The Munsters"

A bit of a ladies man (so what if they were all dead -- he kept in touch), he was sweet to his daughter and tolerated his son-in-law. But the he always had time for his grandson, and it paid off to have a mad scientist in the family. Undead and unable to be hurt, Al Lewis' goofy grandpa could always be counted on to let Eddie blow something up or build a robot to be his best friend.

Russell and Anna Huxtable from "The Cosby Show"

Cliff Huxtable might be the best loved dad in TV history, but he learned it all from watching these folks. Played by Earle Hyman and Clarice Taylor and named for Bill Cosby's mom and brother, Cliff's parents were supposed to be conservative. SUPPOSED to being the operative word. When Theo pierces his ear, Grandma and Grandpa do him one better with the story of a tattoo gone wrong. When Cliff's at the end of his rope, Grandpa offers to quiet down the kids ... and tells them Cliff will pay them to be quiet. When your grandparents were part of Dr. King's March on Washington, you don't dream about trading families.

Emily and Richard Gilmore from"Gilmore Girls"

Overbearing, snotty and self-important (Emily anyway), Rory Gilmore's grandparents meant well, down underneath their rich upper crust. And to prove it, they buy her a building at Yale. Come on, close your mouth -- you'll need your wits about you to get out of Friday night dinners.

Grandma from "Max and Ruby"

Every time Ruby wants to do something for their grandmother, Max manages to bungle things. And every time the little bunnies show up with a half-cooked present, Grandma reminds Ruby it was the thought that counts (listen closely -- she's saying "stop being a hag or I won't take you to bunny scouts"). Little brothers everywhere need a protector like her living next door.

Jay Pritchett from "Modern Family"

He's trying to manage life as a new husband and new stepfather, but there's a reason Ed O'Neill's family patriarch is sometimes confused for his wife's dad. He's a grandpa several times over, and he's putting the redefined American family on the map with every well-meant (but ill-conceived) comment.

Grampa Simpson from "The Simpsons"

He's cranky and incontinent, but when Bart, Maggie and Lisa get bored with his stories about hating Missouri and other important bits of trivia, he plays dead -- which could provide hours of entertainment, given the right amount of Duff Beer. We're just saying -- EW calls Abe THE grandpa for the perfect TV family, and he's not afraid to step in when mom and dad's sex life is ailing. What a guy.

Evelyn Ryan, AKA Grams from "Dawson's Creek"

Estranged from her daughter, Grams (played by Mary Beth Peil) takes her wild granddaughter, Jen Lindley (a pre-Matilda Michelle Williams) into her ultra-conservative home on Cape Cod. The most stable adult in Capeside (not hard when your competition is the likes of Gail Leery, she's also one of the saddest, burying first her husband and later her beloved granddaughter.Her religious beliefs clash on a constant basis with her partying granddaughter, but when push comes to shove, guess who invites Grams to move in with her and her best gay friend in the big city?

Endora from "Bewitched"

So she refused to ever call her son-in-law by his real name (among my favorites, Dum-Dum and Derwood), Agnes Moorehead played Endora as both witchy mother-in-law -- literally -- and doting granny. From naming the little girl Tabitha (despite son-in-law Duncan ... er, Darrin's wishes), to telling off the maternity ward nurses, Endora was granny-on-the-spot from day one. Darrin's mom is plenty sweet, but we can't help thinking Tabitha preferred the granny who could make her teddy bear dance.

Frank and Marie Barone from "Everybody Loves Raymond"

Ever notice where Ray and Debra's kids were? Either upstairs (alone) or with Grandma Marie. They're another set of horrendous in-laws; the Barones, as played by Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle seemed to be the most stable adults in the lives of their grandkids. Considering she once told her daughter-in-law, "Years ago, I gave birth to two beautiful boys. And I wanted nothing more than to see them grow up, get married, and give me grandchildren," the manipulative, meddling old hag had to show some heart somewhere. Too bad it skipped a generation.

Colonel and Ruth Camden from "7th Heaven"

They've got two kids, eight grandkids (include the seven kids belong to the preacher and his wife), but what's one more? The Colonel and his wife step in to save their son and daughter-in-law from filling their house with yet another kid by adopting George, an orphan whose been shuffled between foster homes. And their grandkids couldn't thank them enough for that five extra minutes of not sharing the bathroom. Of course, they had plenty of extra bathroom time waiting for the Camden kids when they needed to fly to Buffalo to escape their screw-ups (or in Mary Camden, aka Jessica Biel's case, most of her life).

Bev Harris from "Roseanne"

She broke ground as TV's first homosexual granny, and we could just leave it at that. But that came so late in the show's nine-year run that we have to admit she was also a nag with a voice that rivaled only The Nanny in its nails-on-chalkboard qualities. Fortunately, Estelle Parsons played the role with liberal doses of screwball.

Granny Bird from "Sesame Street"

The giant yellow bird apparently didn't fall very far from the tree -- Big Bird's granny looks an awful lot like him, but in true grandma fashion she makes better birdseed cookies. She's also a grandma who keeps up with the times -- she used to answer calls, but now she powers up the e-mail.

Beatrice Taylor from "Andy Griffith"

Before you get all technical, yes, we know Aunt Bee is technically a relative from another branch of the tree. But short of any other elder female influences, she was the closest thing Opie had to a grandmother. And could there really be any better example for a little boy being raised by his dad than a "grandmother" who takes flying lessons, opens her own restaurant and just generally kicks ass and takes names? Aunt Bee was a woman who set Mayberry on fire and still made the best butterscotch pecan pie.

Suga Mama from "The Proud Family"

The kind of grandmother 14-year-old Penny isn't embarrassed to hang out with (and how many people over 21 is a 14-year-old NOT ashamed of?), Suga Mama's got a yen for wrestling and does tae-bo. She'd make us proud to be our grandma.

Zeb and Esther Walton from "The Waltons"

Based on composites of creator Earl Hamner's real grandparents (all four rolled into two), Zeb and Esther Walton were not your cuddle-on-the-couch grandparents. But Will Geer and Ellen Corby both won Emmys for tackling the hand that was dealt the way things were done up on the family mountain. Goodnight Grandma ... and Grandpa.

Maxine Gray from "Judging Amy"

The matriarch of a family that meddled in her business when she preferred to be meddling in someone else's, Maxine was the grandma we could have handled moving in with when our parents got divorced. A strong woman, and even stronger role model, she wasn't worried about who she'd piss off -- least of all her daughter. And might we say we hope we've got as active a love life when we're her age?

Mother Winslow from "Family Matters"

With the dorkiest buddy TV has ever seen in neighbor Steve Urkel, Estelle Winslow still managed to be a hip granny who read Rolling Stone and went clubbing. As one of the few people who actually gave Urkel the time of day (and didn't cringe when he shrieked "Laura"), we salute her as the kindest grandmother EVER.

Cotton from "King of the Hill"

He was the meanest, most misogynistic character we've seen on TV in awhile (and that's saying something). But come on, who wouldn't want a grandfather whose feet were attached to his knees? Think of the conversation starter.

Grandfather Stratton from "Silver Spoons"

When your grandfather's first greeting uponmeeting you is "an unauthorized prepubescent has appeared," you've got to be as cute as Ricky Schroder to cut through the guff. But the stuffy old Daddy Warbucks type turned out to be more fun when Ricky pulled the silver spoon out of his, well, you know.

next: Chelsea King Tragedy: Another Wasted Opportunity
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