“Big Sur And Strawberry Lube”
C+

“Big Sur And Strawberry Lube”

Of all of Mom’s many elements, the one that’s worked the least for me is Christy’s love life. Her connection with Gabriel always felt like a thing that was tossed into the show at the last minute in a creative meeting with the network, and for as much as Justin Long can now officially declare himself the guy who stars in troubled but intriguing freshman sitcoms starring women best known for their film careers, I’ve found Adam mostly too good to be true and bland. The connection between him and Christy never got me all that interested, and Anna Faris is not terribly great at playing the idea that the character would be terrified of hooking up with Adam on the wedding weekend to Big Sur that gives the episode its title. (The strawberry lube, for the curious, is one of the things Bonnie gives her daughter to ensure her a good time. She makes her promise not to eat it in the car.)

Now, look, I’m willing to go along with the idea that these two people would take it slow because of reasons. Christy’s attempts to be a better mom—and, consequently, a better daughter and better person—have led her to try being less impulsive and more thoughtful. She doesn’t want to get in another Gabriel situation. I get it. What I don’t get is why both Adam and Christy would cheerfully wander around telling everybody about how they’re not having sex. Seriously, I thought part of the plot was going to be that Christy had told everyone about this, and Adam would wonder if she had any privacy, and then they would fight about that. But nope. As soon as he sees Baxter, he’s explaining to him how the two aren’t “tunnel buddies” just yet, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

The critic Jaime Weinman has a great theory that so many popular sitcoms now tell so many sex jokes because it’s one of the few experiences that applies to basically everybody in our culture. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, and even in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was possible to make popular sitcoms that more or less depicted the lives of just about everybody watching them. That’s changed the more that pop culture has grown into individual niches. I think of how, say, so many sitcoms—even Taxi—did little runners about the popularity of E.T. in 1982, because that movie was everywhere, and I just don’t know if there’s a way to do the same in a sitcom now. More often than not, pop culture gags don’t work because not everybody consumes the same pop culture. The same applies to politics and work life and all sorts of topics that were once rich sitcom fodder but now increasingly can’t draw mass audiences. But everybody is at least theoretically still having the same sorts of sex. There are only so many ways to do it, after all.

But the reason this can feel so crass and unrealistic is because it bumps up against another fundamental rule of the sitcom: In a sitcom plot, everybody talks with everybody else about the same things, because that’s just the way the stories, still so influenced by stage comedies, work. But when this revolves around sex, it creates all too often storylines where all of the characters know all sorts of intimate details of each other’s sex lives, because that’s how sitcom stories have to work. That can work in some places—especially if it’s carried off with a bit of cleverness (as it was on Seinfeld) or if the characters seem believably all up in each other’s business (as was the case on Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond)—but then in other places, it just seems bizarre. Which is how you get to scenes like Adam cheerfully listening as everybody talks to him about how he and Christy are finally going to have sex in Big Sur. I mean, who would do this?

Worse, this just kind of makes Adam seem like a weak character, rather than the guy Christy should be pursuing. I understand that the show is going for the kind of guy she never would have dated as an addict, because she didn’t yet understand what a good guy really was like. But Adam’s constant acquiescence to basically anything Christy wants makes him seem like a dishrag. When he simply agrees that the two of them should be good friends, rather than getting even a little bit angry, he seems less than human, like an android on the fritz, and his human responses all seem sublimated under a veneer of genial likeability.

Yet at the same time, that’s kind of interesting. Mom is decidedly a female-driven series. For instance, the most interesting Gabriel storyline we’ve had is actually a Claudia storyline, as she comes to suspect her husband might be cheating on her and turns to Christy for advice. Turning Adam into a guy who’s basically just there to validate the protagonist makes him a weak character, sure, but that’s the role of female love interests in 95 percent of TV and movie romantic comedies with male leads. In romcoms with female leads, the male love interest is often a charming rapscallion who gets the lead to open up a little bit or whatever; in romcoms with male leads, it’s usually a woman who’s there to reflect the guy back at himself and make him realize what a good guy he’s being. And that’s the case with Adam here: He’s there solely to make us look at Christy as someone who’s being a good person and making the right choices for herself and her family.

Do I think this is intentional? Absolutely not, which means I need to downgrade this one on the same standards I would downgrade one of those shitty Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey vehicles. (Fool’s Gold, anyone? Anyone?) But I think it’s interesting how much my own reaction flipped just from the inadvertent gender flipping of this particular setup. Make this a story about a single dad who’s trying to stay sober and out of relationships for a while because he’s trying to make his life better for the benefit of his kids (and having to deal with his father, played by Martin Sheen), then have his cute love interest tell him she understands and what a good person he’s being, and I doubt I would have batted an eye. “Big Sur And Strawberry Lube” is mostly notable for ending a storyline that never really worked, but it also provided me with some invaluable insight into how pernicious some of these storylines can be.

Stray observations:

  • Very little Allison Janney this week, but she made the most of every moment she had. America eagerly awaits more broad physical comedy for no reason.
  • The Claudia and Gabriel stuff was intriguing, and I found it bizarre how the episode just put it on hold, like it was trying to cram two storylines that didn’t want to fit together into the same story, then just gave up. I did laugh at Gabriel complaining about having no water or bread.
  • The end of this sentence is my 1,200th word. 
Filed Under: TV, Mom

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