The first season finale of Mom ends, at least on my screener, on a smash cut to the executive producer credit. It’s a surprising move for a multi-camera sitcom, because it’s the sort of thing that’s usually used to underline a major moment or turning point. The last scene of “Smokey Taylor And A Deathbed Confession” isn’t really anything like that, to be honest. It’s just a very sweet little curtain call for the season, where Christy marks her one year of sobriety mark by talking to her AA group about how hard the past year has been and how she was worried throughout it all that she might start drinking again. Only she didn’t. At first, she says, she thought she’d tried to sober up at exactly the wrong time, but now, she can realize that she had at exactly the right time. And cut to credit. It could feel gauche to equate a sitcom season to a year of sobriety, but instead, it feels oddly celebratory.
It’s a lovely little scene and a good endpoint for a finale that was quite a bit like the season that preceded it—a little over-busy and overstuffed, probably not as funny as it could have been, but ultimately impressive because of how firmly its heart was in the right place. Above all, Mom is the story of a woman’s relationships—with her own mother, with her daughter, with her long-gone father, and with the other people in her life. If the restaurant stuff fell by the wayside fairly quickly, it’s probably because the show simply didn’t have an emotional hook to tie to there. The ballast of the show is watching Christy navigate these tricky connections she has with other people, and when she’s just out there, raging at the world, the show can feel a little thin. A sitcom can usually add the humor on once it discovers its emotional core, and that’s definitely been true for Mom. The show has gotten funnier the more emotionally invested we are in the characters, and that’s another reason the restaurant seems to have receded in the show’s memory.
“Smokey Taylor” makes last week’s episode feel a bit like a dry run for this one, centered as it is on the actual birth of Violet’s daughter and Alvin recovering from his heart attack. I’m not entirely sure I buy the “Bonnie still loves Alvin” thing—it seems like the water under the bridge is being backed up by piles upon piles of rotting garbage—but it was fun to watch Allison Janney and Kevin Pollak play everything like they were goofy schoolkids. It’s a bit of an easy, obvious gag, but it’s a cliché because it works, and I’m glad the show didn’t go in for the easy drama of writing Alvin out or anything. Having him wandering the hospital halls was good fun, and I find myself hoping that he’ll stick around for season two in some capacity, perhaps as a new series regular.
As it has been for most of the back half of this season, much of the episode’s emotional weight rested on Violet’s shoulders, as the closest thing the episode had to a plot was the moment when she said she was keeping the baby—because no way was she ever going through this pain again—only to have the next scene immediately reverse this when Christy went to tell the Taylors that they weren’t going to be parents after all. (It was good that Violet changed her mind, because I don’t know if I could have handled seeing Gary from Alphas being sad.) Violet gets the customary teary scene with the baby she’s giving up for adoption, but she also gets to reaffirm her choice as one intended to break the cycle she’s grown up in. Mom, gratifyingly, is about making the hard choices and how that can ultimately make for a better life somewhere down the road. Violet doesn’t have to give up her baby, and Christy doesn’t have to reconcile with her mom or stay sober. But their lives are richer because they do.
In terms of humor, “Smokey Taylor” is more of a mixed bag. The bit with Luke wandering around the hospital, looking for Violet even as she’s screaming at him, doesn’t really land, though I liked the way that director Jeff Greenstein showed him wandering through the background of a couple of scenes, right where you wouldn’t expect him to be. On the other hand, Luke going to the Taylors and explaining to them that he’d decided they should name their baby Smokey (hence the title) was amusing—and I definitely hope they decide to name their little girl exactly that. Again, I’m not sure that I buy the rediscovered love connection between Bonnie and Alvin, but I enjoyed how amused Christy was by all of it, particularly the way that Anna Faris kept describing God as a “scamp.” None of this was rocket science, but the ensemble has gelled nicely, and even a seemingly throwaway plot like Roscoe and Baxter hanging out in another waiting room to talk about how little Baxter has done with his life had some real warmth and laughs to it.
All of that said, how did the first season of Mom end up hanging together as a whole? Much better than I would have expected even a few months ago. The show realized around its midpoint that the sobriety and family stuff was working really well for it, and even though there were some funny bits at the restaurant, it seemed to gain real confidence from being able to write for the central trio of Faris, Janney, and Sadie Calvano. Taking these three and then tossing in Blake Garrett Rosenthal, Spencer Daniels, and Matt Jones as foils seemed to work the best for the show, though both Mimi Kennedy and Pollak ended up being really solid in recurring parts. (It would surprise me very little if either actor was brought in to join the regular cast in season two.)
The problem was always the restaurant, which had two terrific actors in French Stewart and Nate Corddry but little else to recommend it. The usual thing that happens when a sitcom tries to balance a home and workplace setting is that the home side is eventually eschewed, whether immediately (Barney Miller, Spin City) or after several seasons (Mary Tyler Moore). Mom went in the opposite direction. It’s not clear that the restaurant will be cut entirely. I don’t think the show is going to let Stewart, at the very least, go completely. But it sure seems like it’s a non-integral part of things and could probably just be cut out of the story. At the very least, figuring out a way to work that setting into the show on a more full-time basis will likely be the big question for the writing staff as it reassembles after the hiatus. I didn’t think I would say this when the show began, but I’m interested to see what Chuck Lorre, Eddie Gorodetsky, Gemma Baker, and their writers come up with.
Finale and season grade: B
- All things considered, Smokey Taylor is a hell of a name, and Gary from Alphas and his wife should be proud to have a daughter known as that.
- I hadn’t stopped to think until just now how cruel it is for Alvin’s wife to kick him out because he had a child with another woman before he met her. I guess she might have been really upset that he abandoned that child, but you’d think he would understand he was young. So it makes a certain amount of sense that the episode retcons this into her leaving him for some guy she met on Facebook.
- Thanks for joining me on this voyage through the first season of Mom! I sort of doubt I will cover season two, though I’ll be watching it, so I’ll drop in as events warrant. I still think this show has the potential to be not just good but great, but having a good first season that mostly worked out its kinks is a step in the right direction toward that.