When I started writing for TV Club in the spring of 2009, it was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to me in my life. I’d been reading the site’s reviews for years, and even more religiously since the debut of its TV coverage in the fall of 2007. When writing me an e-mail welcoming me to the team, then-editor Keith Phipps said that the site’s writers tried to keep their reviews to around 1,200 words. What he meant was that the reviews should be no more than 1,200 words, except in truly unusual circumstances. What I heard was that all reviews should be at least 1,200 words, and that led to the TV Club you see before you now, a desolate wasteland of bulging word counts, too-long articles, and empty pontifications about even the most banal of TV shows. It is a land without sense, and it is all because I misread an e-mail.
Why do I bring this up? Because “A Pee Stick And An Asian Raccoon,” the second episode of Mom, just might break me, and I just used a completely unnecessary appositive phrase to provide further description of what “A Pee Stick And An Asian Raccoon” could possibly be, simply to pad out my word count. I have missed the 1,200 word mark on just two TV Club reviews I’ve written since that fateful e-mail, and Mom is almost certainly going to lead to me just phoning in a 400-word thing where I can’t even bring myself to talk about the larger careers of all involved in a few weeks. I’m going to get to 1,200 words this week, because I am committed to this gimmick, but “A Pee Stick” was a lifeless, listless episode of television, one that wasn’t really bad or anything but also didn’t have too much going on beyond just kind of going through the sitcom motions.
It was, in other words, an episode of television that ended with a little boy pointing at a medical diagram of a woman’s reproductive system, then saying, “Clitoris,” and the studio audience chuckling as if they were hanging out with Art Linklater. It never felt like it had the potential to transcend anything. It, instead, felt like a show that a bunch of Two And A Half Men writers got on the air, then attracted a bunch of top-flight actors to, because said actors wouldn’t mind a nice, Chuck-Lorre-sized paycheck.
Those actors are the thing that keeps this from completely falling apart. In terms of story, the episode doesn’t have one. In terms of clever dialogue or funny lines, it’s missing those as well. (See: “Clitoris.”) The direction is weirdly bulky and flabby, with editing that doesn’t make the most of either the audience laughter or the actors’ comedic timing. But there are moments within the mix of everything here where the actors suggest what this show might have been like in the ‘80s, when it would have had a staff of writers who had some idea of how to craft an episode of TV. Think of Allison Janney delivering her speech at the AA meeting. Think of Matt Jones having fun with the line, “Why is my son pregnant?” Think, even, of Anna Faris somehow finding mileage in the idea of Christy being jealous of her daughter turning to Bonnie, instead of Christy herself. There were good moments here, good performances. There was nothing holding them together.
Look: Being hard on any second episode of any TV show is a really stupid thing to do, because second episodes are notoriously difficult to pull off. They need to repeat the pilot but also sketch out what the show is going to look like. I know some critics who prefer to judge shows based on the second episode, as opposed to the pilot, but I think that’s sort of stupid. Second episodes often get to the air in a rush of blind panic, from writers who just want to get the product out there and have only begun to work together, since the second episode is usually the first product of the show’s whole writers’ room, instead of just the pilot writers. So putting too much emphasis on a second episode is a bad idea, and I’m disobeying one of my own rules.
But I got burned by 2 Broke Girls, which had a truly awful second episode—much worse than this one—and then mostly lived up to that second episode, rather than any of the promising elements within the show (mostly stemming from the cast). If I were ready to grasp for straws, I could find some promise here beyond just the acting. Last week, I said that I hoped the show would steer more toward the family storyline and the addiction storyline, and it did just that. The restaurant only turned up in a couple of very brief scenes tonight, and the vast majority of the episode was just Faris and Janney doing stuff. At the very least, everybody involved in the show’s production saw how much fun these two actresses were together and started writing toward that. So if I were inclined to be charitable—and I normally am—I would be more than happy to write this off as just another bum second episode, with some hints of promise here and there.
But, as mentioned, 2 Broke Girls and, as mentioned, the way this episode ended with Roscoe saying “Clitoris,” like all of the writers were really missing the days when Angus T. Jones was adorable enough to say filthy things and prompt polite chuckles on Two And A Half Men. It would be one thing if the jokes were crude but the story was well-constructed or intriguingly paced or anything, really. But the story’s a bland mess, too, mostly focused on the fact that Christy’s daughter Violet is pregnant and has decided to have the baby. I had some hopes last week that the series would rise above some of its more awkward trappings by indulging in its working-class milieu, but this effectively gives the lie to that, because the characters don’t even bother discussing the matter when Violet decides to keep the baby. Is that her right? Absolutely! But there’s something to be mined out of a teenage girl deciding to become a teenage mother and both her mother and grandmother having their own experiences with that scenario, and the episode just doesn’t do anything with it. There’s no talk of money. There’s no talk of emotional underpinnings. There’s nothing. It’s just Faris and Janney arguing about why Violet seems to trust Bonnie more than Christy, so we can get the obligatory heart-warming ending. It feels half-assed and tossed-off and like the show has no idea what it wants to be. Sigh. Clitoris.
- I will completely forgive the show’s “teen pregnancy” plot, which feels tired already, if it comes up with a way to do a shot-for-shot remake of this scene.
- Christy is worried her teenage daughter might be pregnant. Chef Rudy wonders if she has an overbite, because he might be banging her. Ha!
- And that right there is my 1,200th word.