Mom: "Hot Soup And Shingles"
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Mom: "Hot Soup And Shingles"

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Mom

"Hot Soup And Shingles" 

Season 1, Episode 13

Here’s the thing about a leaky roof: If you want it fixed properly, it’s going to take a lot of time and money. It’ll require hiring a trained professional to peel off the shingles, find the cause of the problem, patch it up, and reshingle the roof. So rather than invest in that permanent solution, it’s often easier to find a temporary fix: a pot to catch the drips, a tarp to keep the roof dry, a stoner ex-husband to do a quick patch. Like a leaky roof worn down by years of wear and tear, Mom’s characters have deep-seated resentments fueled by addiction, infidelity, and abandonment. The only way to permanently fix those problems would be to peel back the layers, expose the pain underneath, and—probably with the help of a good therapist—forgive and move on. That’s a lot of work though, so instead the characters find quick fixes, which allow them to live together without fully making peace with their pasts.

All of which is a long way of saying that tonight’s episode of Mom sees Christy and Bonnie rehash the same argument they’ve been having since the pilot in a way that feels satisfying and true to life. Relationship problems aren’t fixed all at once in feel-good montages; they require a lot of work and persistence. Bonnie can’t rewrite the past, and Christy can’t forgive her for her failings as a mother, but they can find a way to patch up things up and move forward, even if they do so in baby steps.

At its core, Mom is a show about history repeating itself. Alcoholic teen mom Bonnie raised alcoholic teen mom Christy who now finds herself raising a pregnant teenage daughter. Each generation blames the previous one for serving as a bad example. Christy’s resentment has always been a key element of her character, but tonight’s episode examines the source of all that rage Anna Faris plays so well.

Abandonment is a theme Mom has danced around before, but never so overtly as it does tonight. Despite twisting her ankle, falling off a ladder, and burning her hands on some hot soup, Christy is determined not to accept help from her mother because she’s still afraid Bonnie will eventually leave her—something that happened frequently in her childhood. This episode reveals that Christy essentially raised herself: cooking her own dinner, doing her own laundry, and hitchhiking her way to school. As an adult she compensates for her childhood abandonment issues by obsessively seizing control of everything around her. Bonnie argues she deserves a second chance after getting sober—and she’s proven she can be a helpful presence around Christy’s house before—but Christy is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So she pulls out an increasing array of casts and pretends like everything’s fine. Until suddenly it’s not and she’s crying in front of the freezer, a rare moment of vulnerability for a character mostly defined by her temper. Christy finally agrees to accept her mother’s help, and Faris and Allison Janney play their bedroom confrontation scene beautifully. As it’s done before, Mom finds some real pathos in the story of two recovering alcoholics learning to trust one another.

With all that generational resentment bubbling forth tonight, Violet feels conspicuously absent from Bonnie and Christy’s bedroom showdown. Past episodes have hinted that Violet basically raised herself during Christy’s drunken years—and she still helps with raising Roscoe—but that complexity is ignored tonight. Christy resents Bonnie for abandoning her, but tonight’s episode sidesteps the fact that Christy abandoned her own daughter as well. Given that Violet is far and away the least developed character in the central family, the show really missed an opportunity to develop her further.

However, generational repetition is examined by—of all people—Luke and Baxter, in probably the closest thing to an honest to goodness B-plot this show is ever going to have. Brought together by weed, roofing, and fatherhood, they make a surprisingly delightful duo; two outsiders sucked into the vortex of a powerful family of women and doing the best they can to keep up. Luke is essentially Baxter: The Next Generation, and it’s both charming and alarming to see him take fatherhood advice from a man who can’t pay child support. Todd has often sung the praises of Matt Jones as Baxter, but I personally feel Spencer Daniels’ Luke is the secret star of Mom. His openheartedness makes his dumb-dude shtick feel fresh. And while he might not have the timing of Janney or Faris, I did laugh at his earnest delivery of, “I’ve always wondered how they made sponges.”

Overall “Hot Soup And Shingles” is a solid character-driven episode of Mom. The biggest problem is that it’s not a particularly funny one. The show is still struggling to write jokes that don’t feel hackneyed, and tonight the writers try to hide that weakness by playing up the physical comedy skills of their ensemble. Faris seems to fall over or drop something every couple of minutes while Janney is called upon to show off some amusing dance moves. The episode takes the briefest of sojourns to the restaurant this week—Nick Corddry and French Stewart have to pay their mortgages somehow—where it crafts a solid bit out of Faris struggling to carry two scorching bowls of soup across an obstacle course of a dining room. This is the sweet spot of physical comedy to me: broad enough to be funny but realistic enough to avoid feeling cartoonish. Yet even great physical comedy can’t make up for the lack of punchiness in the dialogue. Janney is usually the best at making the weaker jokes work, but she’s criminally underused this episode, with little to do until the dramatic climax.

Still, however, the character moments ring true and the episode’s resolution—Bonnie admits she likes taking care of Christy and Christy admits she likes being taken care of—feels emotionally satisfying while still leaving the door open for future conflict. After all, Bonnie still can’t remember what kind of tea Christy likes. Mom takes a long view of its interpersonal conflicts. This episode ends not with a group hug, but with the return of the leaky roof. Nothing’s fixed permanently in Christy’s house, but with a little luck (and maybe a mug to catch the drips) things will hold together just fine.

Stray observations:

  •  Outside of Downton Abbey, Mom might be the most tea-obsessed show on TV.
  • “I love him, but you only give him a World’s Greatest Dad t-shirt ironically.” Luke, being surprisingly astute.  
  • Why do TV grocery stores only seem to offer handle-free brown paper bags? That goes right beneath empty coffee cups on the list of annoying TV contrivances.
  • Violet got way more pregnant over the show’s holiday hiatus. Does this mean we can expect her baby in the season finale?
  • I did like Baxter announcing that the capital of Ethopia is Addis Ababa, “That’s just something I like that I know. No one ever asks.”
  • Thanks to Todd for letting me fill in this week while he’s at TCAs! And FYI, the end of this sentence is my 1,200 word.

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