October 30, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Mom”


MOM:  Thursday 8:30PM on CBS

MOM is a grittier brand of sitcom than CBS’s usual variety.  It features three generations of teen moms, and its lead characters, Christy Plunkett (Anna Faris) and her mother Bonnie (Allison Janney), are recovering addicts and alcoholics.  The family members as often as not regard each other with outright hostility, and the show’s tone is sometimes closer to a cable dramedy than the network of 2 Broke Girls and 2 1/2 Men.  Nor surprisingly, it took some time and some alterations in emphasis (the less time spent with Kristy at her restaurant waitressing job the better) before it found a tone that hit the right notes of chipper depression and reluctant warmth.  By the end of last season, though, Mom was starting to suggest that it could be that rarity in contemporary TV:  a distinctive network sitcom.

Having uber-producer Chuck Lorre at the helm meant that Mom was less vulnerable to network notes than most shows, and tonight’s Season 2 premiere established that the series has no plans to water itself down.  The script, by Executive Producer Nick Bakay, Co-Executive Producer Marco Pennette and Supervising Producer Gemma Baker, directed by Ted Wass, started with a dream-within-a-dream sequence where Kristy imagined herself drinking again and her mother shooting up.  It then convincingly faked out the audience with what seemed to be a routine sitcom plotline:  Kristy was months behind on the rent, because she’d lost the family’s meager savings through another addiction of hers, gambling.  When Bonnie and AA friend Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy, now a series regular) chipped in to raise a month’s rent that would tide them over, Kristy gambled that too, and won, only to be implausibly mugged with the winnings still in her hand.  (A plotline some viewers might have recalled from last summer’s The Leftovers.)  Surely some contrivance would come along to save the day or change the heart of the landlord with the funny accent, now that being mugged had taught Kristy a valuable lesson?  In fact, no–the episode ended with the family evicted.

The tag had everyone–not just Kristy and Bonnie, but Kristy’s teen daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano) and younger son Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal)–living together in a cheap motel room.  That’s certainly an unconventionally dour way to start off a sitcom season, and the question is whether Mom will have more to say about the situation than easy gags about people who barely get along having to share a bathroom and otherwise live in close proximity.  A B story, in which Kristy served as an AA sponsor for the first time, will clearly be heard from again, since her sponsoree was played by guest star Jaime Pressly.

The jokes on Mom are hit or miss, some of them closely tied to character and emotional reality and some just empty punchlines.  What makes the show click are the performances, especially from Faris and Janney, who bring vulnerability to their brittle roles.  In their hands, Kristy and Bonnie have a lived-in feeling unusual on a network comedy.

Mom was a moderate success on Monday nights last season, although not a breakout hit, but CBS believes in the show (or at least it believes in Chuck Lorre, whose Big Bang Theory is the last true network sitcom blockbuster).  For what’s been announced as a temporary stay of a few weeks, Mom will get the giant boost of a Big Bang lead-in, while The Millers fends for itself on Mondays.  Whether the wider group of viewers who sample Mom on Thursday will travel back with it when it relinquishes the night is unclear, but Mom deserves the favor of a shot at the Nielsen brass ring.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."