“I don’t want my baby being raised by religious fanatics,” Violet cries. “I want it being raised by homosexuals!” And with that, she maybe, hopefully, possibly takes Mom to another level. “Sonograms And Tube Tops” is the episode I’ve been waiting for, an episode where everything works and the Chuck Lorre factory’s lasseiz faire approach to storytelling doesn’t get in the way of some good jokes and some surprisingly effective emotional moments. It’s an episode that seems to be about one thing, then shifts to being about another thing, then is about something else entirely, but none of it feels forced. The shifts feel natural and motivated, and by the time the episode settles on what it’s going to be about—the possibility of Violet giving her unborn child up for adoption—it’s hit a nice groove with a lot of balls in the air. The one complaint I still have is that the supporting cast continues to feel like an adjunct to the Anna Faris and Allison Janney show, but that’s really more of something to worry about in season two at this point.
Hell, this is an episode where Anna Faris wears a fat suit and Allison Janney has old-age makeup and rides around on a little scooter, and that moment is still funny in spite of the gimmickry (perhaps because it involves Janney, who can just make whatever the show throws at her play). “Sonograms And Tube Tops” may be ridiculous, but all of its hearts are in the right place.
The episode interweaves a bunch of Mom’s favorite themes and go-tos into something that ends up being surprisingly resonant by the end. The series has always been at least slightly ambivalent about teenage single mothers. On the one hand, it celebrates them as incredibly strong (particularly in the episodes about how Christy’s dad bailed on her). On the other hand, it knows that having a baby as a teenager and then trying to raise it is a quick way to give yourself a big handicap in life moving forward. As Violet points out to Christy, it’s not like her life is as good as it might have been if she hadn’t given birth at 16. She’s a recovering alcoholic who works as a waitress, after all (though she has a surprisingly nice apartment). But the thing is that your brain can rarely traffic in counterfactuals for your own life, lest you start to resent what you have. So Christy emphasizes the positive, and when Violet proposes giving her baby up for adoption to break the cycle, Christy’s the one who flips out. (Bonnie, for her part, seems to get it.)
Mom hasn’t caught on to the degree that Lorre’s other shows have, and there are plenty of reasons for that, including a crummy timeslot and a premise that’s hard to sum up in a few words. (Even the title is probably way too generic.) But I’m convinced one of the reasons the show has struggled to find an audience has something to do with the way that its central conflict is about breaking cycles of desperation and struggle, about how parents try to build better lives for their kids, only to watch as their kids make the same mistakes, because that’s just how life often works. This is not the world’s most conducive idea for sitcom tomfoolery, which may be why Mom generally works better when it’s pitched more toward the dramedy side of things. (Even though I ended up liking the “15 years later” flash-forward, it felt beneath this show in some respects.) Increasingly, American audiences like their sitcoms to be free of unpleasant reminders of the world, and Mom has so many of those.
I can see where that would get depressing in some regards, but Mom has a couple of aces in the hole in Janney and Faris, and it knows that whenever things threaten to get too dark, it can throw to them and offer up some goofy physical bits or something. This has bitten the show in the ass before—as recently as last week’s episode, in fact—but when it works, it’s a delicate balancing act that multi-camera sitcoms used to excel at but now mostly mess up. For instance, the episode opens with Violet’s uncertainty about her own child and unwillingness to really think about the fact that she’s about to have a baby. It pivots from there to Christy and Bonnie wondering how they’ll financially afford having another mouth to feed in the house. This is all a bunch of stuff that would be pretty difficult to turn into material that garners more than a few dark chuckles, so the show finds an out by having Bonnie decide to go look for a job at an employment placement agency, which is just a chance for Janney to do an extended riff on how poorly prepared Bonnie is for the workplace. (Her typing skills consist of this finger—extend index finger—and, “would you believe,” this one—extend the other one.) That, plus some funny moments from the guest actor, give the show enough breathing room to dive back into the meat of the real plot, which is Violet realizing she wants to give her kid up for adoption so it won’t turn out like any of the women in her home.
That’s, again, pretty heavy, but Mom has bought itself enough goodwill and laughs with some of the previous scenes that the laughs come more readily in these scenes as well. (And, it must be said, the show has figured out how easy it is to hand pretty much anything to Janney and get some laughs out of it.) This means that the stage is set for things like Bonnie and Christy’s heartfelt talk about how their tough upbringings made it even tougher to be good mothers, or for Christy to finally admit to her daughter that Violet is the ultimate “do-over” baby, because she’s the one who will finally break the cycle—both for herself and for her child. It’s, in its own way, a real stroke in defense of a woman’s right to choose, even if the series has always been too scared of even mentioning abortion. Having a kid doesn’t have to destroy Violet’s life. She has options.
Yeah, there are problems. The “15 years later” scene is meant to be another big laughter moment in the midst of some heavier things, but it doesn’t quite work that way (though the sight of Janney rolling around on a scooter is pretty great). And I’m leery of the show pulling back in Luke’s parents, who were such one-note figures in the past, just to make an example of them (even if it led to that great Violet line at the end of the episode). We also can’t discount how the supporting cast members were mostly there to have their one joke, then leave, and the Chef Rudy joke (he’s bisexual and seducing a 300-pound food critic) was mostly there to be crass. But there are the bones of a show that’s figured its shit out in “Sonograms And Tube Tops,” and that’s worth celebrating.
- If you’d like to see Chuck Lorre’s previous take on much of this material, Grace Under Fire is now on Hulu Plus for the curious.
- All I’m saying is that if this show had wanted to have serious political debates instead of stacking its deck, it could have had Violet have an abortion, then have Luke’s family find out about it. Then again, that would be an entirely different show.
- Thing I abruptly realized tonight: Do we know anything about Violet’s dad? That seems like some interesting territory for the show to explore in weeks to come, and I think Sadie Calvano is probably up to it.