There is an irony at the heart of Mom’s episode title conceit. The choice to highlight two details from an episode has resulted in some enjoyably strange pairings, a non sequitur that becomes more contextual as the episode progresses. In the case of “Abstinence and Pudding,” the two end up going hand-in-hand: After committing to not sleeping with Adam (Justin Long) to keep the relationship from sliding into familiar and destructive patterns, Christy overcomes her sexual urges by gorging on her son’s pudding cups. Her farts smelled like butterscotch!
The irony is not about farts or butterscotch, but rather about how these titles set up a duality when Mom’s episodes have by and large eschewed episodes with more than one storyline. The closest the show has gotten to an outright B-story is Bonnie teaching Roscoe how to play Blackjack, and even that was more of a glorified runner that punctuated Christy’s first date with Adam. “Abstinence and Pudding” is never about two things, whether we’re considering characters, theme, or storylines; it is instead the story of Christy’s burgeoning relationship with Adam, with occasional drop-ins by supporting characters to crack jokes, offer thematic parallels, or pull on pre-existing story threads for good measure.
It’s a bizarre choice that makes even my general enjoyment of the show feel distressingly tenuous. “Abstinence and Pudding” does some good things with Christy and Adam’s relationship, with both Anna Faris and Justin Long settling into a naturalistic chemistry that managed to undercut the fact many of the jokes were relatively hacky. There were lines in the first scene that could have been played as punchlines, but the two of them don’t seem to speak in punchlines when they’re interacting with each other, and the audience laughter never seemed to disrupt these moments so much as it responded to them as human beings would. Faris is obviously the broader of the two actors, but she’s finding some good levels when engaging with different characters in different situations, and Long has nicely adjusted his lightly neurotic character type for the multi-camera setting. The storyline itself mostly went through typical motions of early relationship etiquette with a few built-in punchlines—the exploratory knee expedition to gauge the size of Adam’s manhood chief among them—but it did so in ways I found enjoyable and reinforced my basic appreciation of Christy as a central character and Adam as a potential suitor.
My distress comes from the fact that I have no similar certainty in any other part of the show sustaining my interest in the same way. Or, perhaps to rephrase that, I don’t have a clear enough grasp on what the show is doing with the rest of its characters and storylines for me to fully commit to its prospects. Let’s take, for example, Allison Janney’s Bonnie. I love having an excuse to see Janney on my television every week, and Bonnie’s reaction to Christy’s plan for a three-month abstinence was a delightful piece of acting. Her feud with Mimi Kennedy’s Marjorie offers a nice devil/angel setup for Christy, and the show has done well to keep Bonnie from losing her iconoclastic worldview despite having made strides in repairing her relationship with her daughter.
That being said, that the show is unwilling to allow the character to stand on her own concerns me. Every part of “Abstinence and Pudding” is filtered through Christy’s storyline. Violet is distressed that Luke won’t have sex with her because he thinks it will hurt the baby, but the only time we see the two characters discussing this alone is interrupted moments later by Christy walking in the door. Bonnie and Marjorie share a brief moment of honest conversation after Christy leaves the diner, with Bonnie offering to let Marjorie join her at a cop bar after learning she was a widow, but we never see what comes of that offer. We get some quick drive-by insights into the ongoing zaniness at Christy’s workplace, where Gabe is trying to sabotage Christy’s efforts to move on from being his mistress, but none of those characters have escaped their one-liner prisons and become anything even approaching an anchor for a storyline.
These characters all exist to orbit Christy, their identities defined by their relationships with her and their storylines defined by their relationship to her storylines. There is no B-Story in an episode like “Abstinence and Pudding,” just as there was no B-story in last week’s episode, and just as there will likely be no B-story next week. In the short term, this isn’t horribly distressing when you consider that this episode told its story well and used many of those characters effectively. Given that I remain interested in Christy’s relationship with Adam and with Christy as a character in general, I feel comfortable saying that this episode achieved its primary goals.
I just don’t entirely understand how this is a sustainable model for a TV show. While other new sitcoms are branching out into new character pairings and testing how characters like Trophy Wife’s Jackie or Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Amy can sustain their own storylines, Mom is just making little linear narratives for Anna Faris in which the supporting cast are consigned to the character development available to bit players in romantic comedies. Whereas The Mindy Project spent its first season toying with becoming a televisual romantic comedy, “Abstinence and Pudding” plays like the second act of “Christy and Adam: A Comic Love Story,” with no time for subplots. This also means, however, that there’s no time to develop characters that could play a more substantial role in the television sitcom they’re a part of, or which could give the show more storytelling options to evolve into in future seasons.
Should this all be an elaborate spring training exercise in which Mom’s writers are testing out the different supporting characters before bringing them into the big leagues once they believe they can sustain their own storyline, it’s a smart move (and one that I would hope involves the excising of the dire restaurant kitchen comedy entirely). However, so many of those characters are untested and undeveloped that it makes it hard to say I truly like Mom. All I can really say is that I like enough parts of the show often enough to continue watching to see what exactly the show wants to do and say with the rest of its season.
- “If you’re curious, I can just show it to you”—The knee expedition was inevitable, but I liked the matter-of-factness with which Long delivered this punchline. I expected a Justin Long character to freak out, but he took it in stride, which added to my appreciation for the character.
- I enjoy the occasional bit of anti-multi-camera camera work in shows like Mom, so the angle during Christy’s car sex fantasy caught my attention immediately—seemed like a case of director Jeff Greenstein (whose directing experience comes primarily from single-camera) bringing some of his sensibility to bear.
- I know it’s a size joke, but I’m mainly offended by any affiliation between male genitalia and food’s greatest evil, the pickle.
- I wrote 1199 words just to spite Todd’s streak.