Mom: “Jail, Jail And Japanese Porn”
C-

Mom: “Jail, Jail And Japanese Porn”

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Mom

"Jail, Jail And Japanese Porn"

Season 1, Episode 17

“Jail, Jail And Japanese Porn” actually kind of pissed me off. Not incredibly so. I wasn’t running around my apartment, tearing down the furniture, screaming about Mom (though I do do that from time to time). But I did feel like it was the first time Mom really wimped out on calling some of its characters out on some of their stuff. Put very simply: When it was revealed that David was cheating on Christy, it let her off the hook for a tough decision she had to make herself. I get that sometimes making a character face down their bad choices isn’t the hallmark of riotous comedy, but it’s very much the hallmark of Mom, which is all about coming down off those bad choices. When David turned out to be a complete scumbag, it kept us from seeing what Christy was really made of, and that’s ultimately some pretty lazy character work.

I suppose you could make the argument that Christy had already realized—or at least was in the process of realizing—that this guy was bad news for her. You could also argue that life is full of cheating dicks who tell you they love you, then reveal their true colors a few days later. But this story is not—and could never really be—about Christy coming to terms with David cheating on her. It was about her coming to terms with the fact that her sobriety was more important to her than a guy, even a guy who was as handsome and smart as David. Obviously, I knew their relationship wasn’t one for the ages (even if it involved Nick Zano), but I wanted to see the scene where Christy fought and grappled her way toward what she needed to do—or didn’t, whatever the case may have been. To not get that scene made me feel a little cheated.

There were plenty of other things wrong with “Jail, Jail,” however, starting with the fact that it was one of the more disjointed half-hours in the season to date and the first really disjointed one to focus primarily on the show’s stories of overcoming addiction. In addition to Christy’s travails with David, the episode wrote out fellow recurring guest star Octavia Spencer, whose character, Regina, is headed off to jail after her sentencing hearing went poorly due to Christy. I like Regina quite a bit, and Spencer is a natural television star. But it was fairly clear throughout this storyline that the writers weren’t really sure what to do with her, giving her a storyline that was perhaps too big for the show to handle. (She embezzled $3 million?!)

Plus, the stakes of it were all out of whack. Mom is generally at its best when the stakes are smaller and more personal, but this was a wacky story about how Christy accidentally made sure that someone would go to jail because she fucked up her testimony. (That said, I would love to see Octavia Spencer turn up on Orange Is The New Black. Let’s make that happen, America.) I’m not saying this story couldn’t be funny, but it would probably need to have more weight than the B-story in any given episode of Mom is going to have. We spent so much time watching Christy try to deal with her David problem that I kept forgetting Regina’s situation was also hovering over the show, and by the time we got to the point where she’s going to spend four years in jail, everybody seemed oddly agreeable about it, as if, well, those are the breaks! Yes, avoiding jail was always a long shot, but you’d think Regina would be at least a little more angry about what had happened to her.

All of which brings me to the issue that might finally be the one that does my curiosity for Mom in: It’s not sure just how dark it can go. It’s gotten pretty good at a variety of other tones, but every time it bumps up against something with the potential to be genuinely dark and troubling, it backs away as quickly as it can, even if you’d think this show would have a wicked streak of mordant humor somewhere inside of it. This Regina storyline could have really gone to some dark places, could have really tested the audience’s basic affection for Christy. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the show keeps contriving ways to let her off the hook for her bad behavior—both intentional and unintentional—so we can all keep having as good of a time as possible, without really considering the implications of everything that’s happened. This is the way sitcoms have handled this sort of thing since time immemorial, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. But I had hoped, at least halfheartedly, that Mom might dig into the darkness inherent in its premise. Then again, at the end of that road is The John Larroquette Show, and nobody wants to end up like that one.

This is not to say “Jail, Jail” was utterly without worthwhile moments. I could probably live the rest of my life without seeing another intervention scene in a sitcom, but at least Violet’s complete anger at her mother provided a different shade for things here. I liked when Regina gave Christy the box of money and Christy asked if she could use it in an emergency, like her kid needs surgery because she’s going to die, since she doesn’t have satellite TV. (The way Anna Faris says “satellite TV” makes that gag.) And I liked the tag, even if it had all of the weirdness with Regina seeming way too fine with the idea of going to jail, particularly because it had Allison Janney having a lot of fun with the notion of taking out the top dog in prison with a sock full of nickels so she can know there’s a new queen bitch in town. (You get the sense Bonnie speaks from considerable experience.)

But for Mom to reach the heights I’m genuinely sure it’s capable of, it’s going to have to at least dig a little deeper. I don’t think it needs to become unrelenting darkness and misery, but it needs to stop letting its protagonist off the hook when she needs to make tough decisions. Faris is game to play the rougher edges of her character, and she’s generally at her best when she’s doing so. And it’s not like every episode can’t end with a heartwarming moment where she realizes what an asshole she’s been. Sitcoms have been doing that since time immemorial, too. I just wish the show was more prepared to engage with the reality of its own world.

Stray observations:

  • Real talk: The audience for these reviews is incredibly small. Because I’m not a freelancer, I can pretty much keep doing them as long as I want, but with both Archer and Bates Motel to cover in the weeks to come, I don’t know how long that will last. I’m going to beg for screeners, but if I don’t get them, I may have to ditch this one. Fair warning.
  • Chef Rudy and Gabriel both get little moments tonight. Gabriel even shows up at Christy’s intervention. But the both of them feel incredibly extraneous at this point in time. Come to think of it, so does Baxter, even though Matt Jones was so much fun when the show was leaning more heavily on him in the early going. I hope we don’t lose Baxter!
  • I hope “Sketchy” takes off as a nickname for Allison Janney.

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