Mom: “Estrogen And A Hearty Breakfast”
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Mom: “Estrogen And A Hearty Breakfast”

So I actually liked that Mom. And I don’t mean that in the sense of “That was good for Mom” or “Nice try, Chuck Lorre!” I mean that in the sense that I thought that was a genuinely enjoyable episode of television, with some dumb stuff here and there, to be sure, but never so bad that it got in the way of a half-hour that mostly did everything it set out to achieve with something like aplomb. The show is still messy and overstuffed—and it seems to know this—but this episode is more or less just a test of if letting Allison Janney have the time of her life for 22 minutes every week while Anna Faris stands off to the side and makes an exasperated face is enough to build a show around. I didn’t think so in previous episodes, but in this episode, I thought the whole thing mostly worked. I even laughed. Several times.

In past weeks, I’ve praised the show for knowing enough to get out of Janney’s way. She’s rather a force of nature in this role, and that’s fun to watch. But “Estrogen And A Hearty Breakfast” is the first episode where I thought the material underlying her performance was up to the level of her work. Lines like “I’m sorry. I’m just a quart low on the estrogen,” are both amusing in and of themselves and perfectly calibrated for Janney to deliver (she makes a meal of that “the”). And a very simple—but funny—punchline like “And we’re not even Jewish” becomes even funnier when delivered by Janney with the proper gusto. I honestly didn’t know what to make of Janney having signed on for a multi-camera sitcom when she joined up with this project, but she’s been a tremendous amount of fun here. Given the Emmys’ general affection for her and the strength of the performance, I imagine she’ll win a nomination there next year, and it won’t be undeserved (which I never thought I would think).

What’s more, “Estrogen And A Hearty Breakfast” aims to tell the kinds of stories few other shows on the air are telling, even if they’re being told in very broad strokes. The fact that Janney starred on Masters Of Sex as a woman who’d never had an orgasm, then a woman entering menopause on Mom just 24 hours later feels like some kind of watershed. TV used to talk about the issues of women over 50, but it increasingly just doesn’t. Now, for whatever reason, we have a whole glut of shows that are taking these issues at least somewhat seriously, from Margo Martindale’s antics on The Millers to Bonnie Bedelia’s quiet resolve to better her life on Parenthood to Christine Baranski’s crushing disappointments on The Good Wife. And that’s to say nothing of the way that this season of American Horror Story seems to almost entirely be about women and aging, or the way that Janney is essaying two very different takes on this basic type.

Do I think Bonnie is the best character for TV to look at menopause with? Not really, but I like that the show is unapologetic about how broad it’s willing to go in Bonnie’s quest to find something for herself that’s not just the woman who’s getting older. The show’s willingness to make Bonnie the sex object—instead of her daughter—is also surprisingly subversive, and it ties nicely into her fear that she’s no longer a sexual being now that she’s not ovulating. I’m not sure having her throw herself fully into motherhood was the best use of this particular story, but I’m also hopeful that this will come back, and we’ll get to watch Bonnie’s transition into this new phase of her life continue throughout the season. This was a promising start, and it made me realize that Bonnie is a character in a great old sitcom tradition we haven’t had enough of lately: the broad. She’s usually of a certain age, and she’s sexually frank for the time period. She’s got lots of great advice and the mileage to prove it. And she’s riotously funny, never suffering fools well. She’s also usually played by Bea Arthur, and since Ms. Arthur died, we’ve been bereft of broads. Well, Janney is a fine addition to the tradition.

The rest of the episode was pretty good, too, minus one big caveat. I’m getting used to the show’s plotlessness with every new week, and while I agree with Myles’ review of last week that the show needs to flesh out the supporting cast somewhat (seriously, I think that Nate Corddry and French Stewart just dropped by to pick up their paychecks tonight), that’s not as much of a concern to me when the show is spending its time filling in its two main characters for now. I might have liked a little more meat to the relationship between Luke and Christy, but what was there was surprisingly sweet, and I like the way that Violet has just had enough of Luke’s shit at this point, even as the audience (and Christy and Bonnie) get a better idea of the kind of life he’s had so far.

It’s that life so far that brings me to my caveat. I have no problems with poking fun at Christian evangelicals, and it seems like the sort of thing a show like this—with a female-friendly, vaguely working-class milieu—would be expert at doing. But the character played by Nick Searcy—Luke’s overbearing pastor dad—was just a tired spin on a familiar trope, rather than bringing anything new to the table. Searcy’s a wonderfully funny actor, and the show might have had more fun with Bonnie’s awkward attempts to flirt with him (her singing “Son Of A Preacher Man” until Christy told her to stop was another weaker gag saved by Janney). Instead, he and his wife are just the usual Christians who are incensed by the way that their son has fallen in with a trollop who’s gotten pregnant. There could have been something with some satirical teeth in the way the pastor and his wife blamed the girl, rather than their son, but the show didn’t seem interested in pursuing that too far.

Still, this is a show that I was pretty much ready to write off regular coverage of tonight, and this episode gave me a bit of a second wind. There’s not just hope for this to turn into a show worth writing about; there’s hope for this to turn into an actually good show about the sorts of topics and people TV rarely talks about. This episode is more than just a step in a promising new direction; it’s a revalidation of the idea that this might all be worth it in the end.

Stray observations:

  • Despite Chef Rudy being in the show for 20 seconds, I laughed at his one big line, so that’s something, I guess.
  • That was a nice fakeout on Bonnie being pregnant. I knew there was no way it could happen, but I was still terrified the show would do it.
  • And this is my 1,200th word.

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