Spoiler Alert: Plot details about Mom‘s first two seasons, including the latest episode, will be discussed below.
It’s not often that you see a sitcom episode end with the main character crying into a pillow, and it’s also not often that you see a character hit rock bottom with a loud thud, but Mom has proven itself to be a courageous and surprising show that picked up and dusted off the baton once held by All in the Family, Grace Under Fire, and Roseanne. This is a family comedy that deals with real family issues, even when the results can make viewers uncomfortable.
Bonnie (Allison Janney) and Christy (Anna Faris) are mother and daughter, they’re lower middle class on the economic food chain, and they’re both recovering addicts. Both women have emotionally hurt each other, and Christy has emotionally hurt her kids due to addiction. Throughout the show’s first two seasons, however, they’ve mostly kept it together to steer Christy’s kids in the right direction.
Other once-broken and remorseful people have become a part of their life, specifically this season, as their support group has garnered more focus. Someone who entered Bonnie and Christy’s life is Christy’s absentee father, Alvin (Kevin Pollak), who gave the show a notable boost last season. Alvin worked his way back into Bonnie and Christy’s good graces and became a part of the family before dying this season while in bed with Bonnie; a devastating event for a character who’s outwardly been tough as nails.
In the latest episode, Bonnie’s despair and the resulting descent came to a head when Christy caught onto her pill-aided relapse. Chasing her mother to a playground, Christy did the hardest thing she could do as a daughter, and as someone who’s been to that dark a place herself… she left Bonnie behind after her mother told her that she didn’t want to be sober anymore. Later that night, she received a phone call from her unrepentant and blitzed mother in jail. Once again, Christy offered the toughest love that she could muster by telling Bonnie that she would come get her in the morning before hanging up the phone and breaking down.
This was the first of a two-part episode, so we don’t know where Bonnie, Christy, and this show will go from here. What’s clear, though, is that Mom isn’t interested in a sugary depiction of family life. Maybe you can’t relate to storylines where a family has to skip out on their rent and take cover in a sh*thole hotel, and maybe Christy and Bonnie’s life experiences are nothing like your own, but there are people who can relate, even in a small way; people who’ve had their own addiction issues, and people who’ve been less than certain about how they could pay the rent or buy dinner.
It’s important that broadcast sitcoms — the most congenial form of scripted entertainment — not be restricted to an examination of upper middle class life where mountains are made out of minuscule problems, and comedy is mined from an annual resort vacation or the frustrations of buying your daughter a car for her birthday, as is the case with Modern Family. That’s a good show, and it will be remembered for more than a little while after it’s gone, but the conflicts on that show aren’t terribly relatable, and, at times, they’re even enviable.
Shows about families living without economic concerns, as well as shows with waitresses who have fabulous and expansive midtown apartments, are akin to shows about zombies and men in red suits who run really fast… entertaining fantasies. We need more network comedies like Mom that shed light on the experience of just getting by. It’s a true reflection on the world, and there are laughs to be had; laughs that mean a little more because they hit closer to home. Mom has a knack for finding the lighter side of a hellish situation. It never feels exploitative, and it never feels as though it’s dragging people down into “Very Special Episode” territory.
The quips are often said through gritted teeth, and they’re appropriately spaced. There’s also balance; a heart punching moment one week, and Christy finding out that nice-guy Colin Hanks is a kink hobbyist who acts like a dog the next week. Mom‘s sense of when to go for the laugh and when to shut up and get serious is impeccable, especially considering that it’s a Chuck Lorre show, and that he’s known for comedically broad shows like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, which exist in the relative fantasy land of a beach house and a nerd clubhouse. Mom is, in its own way, incredibly broad and occasionally bawdy, but with the help of the show’s co-creators — Gemma Baker and Eddie Gorodetsky — the show adds ample heart to the equation.
With the help of Janney and Faris, the producers have two uncommonly gifted weapons that can take these stories of occasional pain, defeat, and microscopic victories and make them human. Particularly this season, as we’ve seen Janney slowly and cautiously deconstruct the brick wall that her character built up in front of her heart, only to see her core get pierced and shattered by Alvin’s death. Particularly, we’ve seen Faris’ expressive eyes when she deals with the impact of her latest setback while maintaining her resolve to keep going, and that’s to say nothing of their obvious talent as comedic actresses.
Yes, network television needs more shows like Mom, but while you can replicate the effort to tell truer stories and the courage to allow a little drama in a sitcom, finding on-screen talent like Janney and Faris might be the biggest challenge for any show that dares to try.