I watched tonight’s episode of Mom with TV Club superstar and all-around raconteur David Sims. It was the first episode he had seen since the pilot. He had liked that episode but hadn’t felt the burning need to add the show to his rotation, since he, unlike me, seems to think the series would be better suited by turning into one about Christy and all her pals at the restaurant. As we watched, he laughed a few times, but he grew more and more incredulous. “What is this?” he asked. “Where’s the story?” When I explained to him that the show has settled into a largely plotless malaise, he seemed even more confused, though we both could agree that Allison Janney is looking very good these days.
See, the “plot” of this episode, such as it were, involves Bonnie threatening to move in with Christy, then the two inviting a woman named Regina, played by Octavia Spencer, over to stay in Christy’s house (which seems impossibly large and clean and nice for an economically struggling former addict, it must be said). That’s basically it. There is a final scene where Regina tries to give Christy some money and she says “no”—playing off the episode’s very first scene, in which Christy needs money to repair her car but can’t find anybody to loan it to her, a scene that has no bearing on the rest of the plot whatsoever—but the whole reason Bonnie and Christy have Regina over has basically nothing to do with her need for some friends to help her out and everything to do with the fact that she is played by Octavia Spencer, who has an Oscar and is, thus, a get for a freshman show in its first 13 episodes. If Spencer played herself and Bonnie and Christy invited her over to get closer to her Oscar, this would make more sense.
It’s not that the episode is awful or anything. Janney, Anna Faris, and Spencer have some fun interplay when all three are on screen together, and Spencer proves adept at working a live studio audience. It’s just that there’s little to no reason for Bonnie and Christy to take such pity on Regina in particular. They initially notice her because she doesn’t look like enough of a mess to be at an AA meeting, and that’s sort of funny. But there’s not enough meat there, nor is Regina crazy or desperate enough to be believable as a target for Bonnie and Christy’s ongoing self-improvement projects. It’d be one thing if, like, the two had run into Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep or Oprah Winfrey, where the subtext of the whole storyline would be, “Can you believe who this show managed to get to do a guest spot?” But as good of an actress as Spencer is, she’s not at the fame level required to make the whole story go based on her mere presence on a soundstage one night.
There were other promising signs in this episode. Well, they were promising if you weren’t David Sims. The restaurant didn’t appear at all for the first time ever, and when the episode needed some easy laughs, it turned to Matt Jones’ Baxter, who’s rapidly proving to be the show’s most reliably funny side character. A lot of this is due to Jones’ natural talent with being kind of a burnout, a talent anyone who’s seen more than a few episodes of Breaking Bad will be acquainted with, but he’s also really good at hitting a punchline and holding it for just the right amount of beats to get the biggest laugh. Emboldened by this, the writers are giving him a bunch of solid dumb-guy lines, and if there’s one joke a Chuck Lorre project will hit out of the park every time, it’s a dumb-guy joke. I kind of hope that Baxter owing Christy money for assorted crazy things becomes a running gag. It’s the kind of thing that could enliven the show in a way that won’t feel too obscure or weird, thanks almost entirely to the actors.
Similarly, the show is really helped by Faris and Janney’s willingness to completely commit to whatever lame gag they’re asked to sell. While that’s always been true of the program, it was bolstered tonight by Spencer, who didn’t ask twice when the script called for her to clamor into bed with the other two or when this whole unlikely structure led to Regina being so thankful to Christy that she wanted to give her money from her rather sizable fund. And it also leads to some genuinely funny moments, like when Regina talks about her addictions as if they are very matter-of-fact things everybody has to deal with. I continue to think the addiction material is what could set this show apart from other comedies—both those from Chuck Lorre and those on TV in general—and I think it’s a good sign the series is skewing toward them, even if so many of the gags remain, “Ha, ha, can you imagine Allison Janney doing cocaine?”
Despite not being a tremendous success in the ratings, Mom received a full-season pickup the other day from a CBS that wants to project a certain level of confidence in the fact that its fall—while one of the worst falls it’s had in a long while—hasn’t been as bad as ABC’s fall or NBC’s fall outside of Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s promising that Mom held on to so much of the 2 Broke Girls audience in the handful of weeks it was on after that show, but it’s also possibly a sign of just how much the audience for that older program has deteriorated as more and more people realize the initial promise they thought they could see in the program if they squinted hard enough was just them being swayed by Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs having fun chemistry. Still, being stuck out on a ratings island where CBS doesn’t expect too much from it might be the best thing that could happen to Mom. It’s exactly the kind of place where the series could chase after its own best instincts, far out of the spotlight, until they give blossom to something wilder and weirder and, yes, better. I can’t call this a particularly good episode of Mom—even by Lorre standards, this story had no internal logic—but the things the show is focusing on are the things I think it will need to if it’s to turn the corner and become something more. Let’s hope it takes the free rein CBS is handing it and goes for the gold.
- This week in Chuck Lorre resolutions: Baxter gives Christy the money he owes her, because the plot needed to resolve somehow, and there wasn’t time for much of anything else.
- Another sign that the show is figuring out what works and what doesn’t: The only kid who appears this week is Roscoe, who’s several degrees more interesting than Violet.
- And with that pithy observation, I will end this intentionally drawn-out sentence with my 1,200th word.