Mom has the rhythm of a Chuck Lorre show (which it is), with its rapid-fire quips and laugh track beats that come after every second or third line. But it’s what lies in-between the jokes — and the dramatic range and comedic chops of its leads, Allison Janney and Anna Faris — that make the show stand out.
We’ve written before about the show’s uncanny ability to know when to laugh in the face of heartache and when to show vulnerability and fear. But it bears repeating, and it needs an addendum because Mom is also quite good at surprising with the hard and sometimes wrong decisions that its characters make. And all of that was on display in tonight’s season-three premiere.
To this point, Mom has mostly focused on Bonnie (Janney) and Christy (Faris) as they’ve navigated their individual addictions, a complicated relationship brought about by the absentee parenting that set off Christy’s wild days and the scramble to give Christy’s kids a better life than either Bonnie or Christy had growing up. In the midst of this, we’ve seen ample glimpses into the lives of the men that have let each woman down, but Bonnie’s own tale of youthful woe has been mostly undiscussed. Tonight, however, that changed.
Abandoned at the age of four, Bonnie long ago formed a tough exterior and, apparently, the idea that she is unworthy of love. Following last season’s lengthy and hard fall after the death of Alvin — Christy’s long-lost father who had worked hard to get back into Bonnie’s good graces — we find Janney’s character committed to staying clean and staying fit thanks to jogging. Unfortunately, Christy has potentially bad, and certainly upsetting news: a private investigator has been hired by Bonnie’s mother to track her down. This provides Bonnie with yet another test and offers the chance to mine the long-hidden hurt over her mother’s decision to leave.
Playing Bonnie’s mother, Shirley, the great Ellen Burstyn perfectly captures the shame of telling a child why she left and the now callous-seeming reason why she didn’t return. Shirley also takes Bonnie’s response, Burstyn’s face and the crack in her voice revealing a mix of respect for a daughter who’s grown up strong and heartbreak for all that has occurred. All of this culminates in a tough moment that could paint Bonnie in a negative light, but it’s the decision of the showrunners (Gemma Baker and Eddie Gorodetsky) to service the story and not the likability of the character that makes this a special kind of comedy that doesn’t waste time worrying about such things. Mom knows when to make us laugh and when to make us feel. The show gets how to grip viewers who give it the chance while also allowing those who have addiction, parental abandonment and financial strife a chance to laugh at their own pain through these characters.