Every so often, a TV show decides you should really like one of its characters more than you do—or at least be far more invested in them than you are—and then it proceeds to toss that character into storylines willy-nilly, as if that character is the reason you are watching the show. For a good example of this taken to a much larger degree, think about Morgan over on The Mindy Project. Whatever you think about that show, it has an infestation of Morgan, and if there’s something that really holds me at arm’s length about it, it’s the writers insistence on continually shoehorning that character into everything that happens.
Despite numerous characters who could very easily become “the Morgan,” Mom has yet to really overexpose anybody in its core cast who’s not Christy or Bonnie. The characters at the restaurant feel like half-recalled memories at this point—even when they pop up on screen—and the show has yet to be tempted by the siren call of a cute kid or a dopey ex-husband when it comes to going for the easy laugh. What’s more, the one guest character Mom has really latched onto is Mimi Kennedy’s Marjorie, who’s been quite a bit of fun in her handful of appearances and is always agreeable when it comes time to go along for the ride. For the most part, Mom has handled being the lowest-rated of Chuck Lorre’s four shows by steering into what’s made it such an interesting and compelling show, rather than chasing the things that might make it a higher-rated one. On this show, at least, Lorre and company are betting that quality will eventually out. And that’s a welcome development!
Mom has its own blind spot, however, and it’s come in the form of Regina, the other frequent guest star Bonnie and Christy have met at their meetings. Because Regina is played by Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer, it’s easy to see why the show has latched onto the character, but it hasn’t really done anything with her—up to and including giving her a character beyond “recovering alcoholic.” Sure, it tells us stuff about Regina—she embezzled millions of dollars, she has a son, etc.—but it doesn’t bother making the character feel at all like a real person, nor does it give her a point-of-view on the situations she ends up in. She exists, in a very real sense, just to give the other characters someone to look at as a kind of “worst-case scenario” version of addiction. Regina pays for everybody’s sins on this show, and that’s just strange.
In “Toilet Wine And The Earl Of Sandwich,” Christy, Bonnie, and Marjorie bring Regina to Chowchilla to begin serving her prison sentence. Along the way, they learn that Regina, just like Marjorie, has a son she doesn’t get to see anymore (this time because Regina’s husband is keeping her from the kid), so they take a quick side trip to Stockton to let Regina say goodbye. Meanwhile, back in Napa, Christy’s dad hangs out with his grandkids for the day, since he conveniently just showed up that morning when Christy and Bonnie were about to leave. It feels for most of the episode as if the show has taken all of its dramatic—or at least tragicomic—elements and tossed them into the same episode, before realizing that it has no idea how to incorporate all of them. So the storylines stay mostly separate, and the episode ends with Regina in prison and Christy’s dad on her couch (due to his wife having kicked him out).
I think you can maybe see the problem from that description: Regina is the most important person in this story, but the story’s not about her. It’s just a story that happens to her. Of all of the characters in it, Regina has the least agency. (Actually, that’s a frequent problem with Regina, who’s been entirely too good-hearted about these crazy kooks she hangs out with since the first episode she appeared in, in which she basically invited herself to stay with Christy and Bonnie.) Regina is going to prison for crimes she committed, sure, but entirely off-screen and while she was suffering from an addiction. (This isn’t to minimize Regina’s addiction, just to point out how her own actions are often the least interesting thing about her.) Now, she’s going for a longer sentence than expected, largely because of something Christy did, and when she expresses regret at not getting to see her son, Christy is the one who decides it’s going to happen.
Now, I get that the protagonist of a sitcom—before other genres, even—is going to insert themselves into the guest characters’ storylines on a regular basis. That’s just the way this genre works. But when it’s time for Marjorie to have a storyline, it’s often about how Christy or Bonnie have to react to the demands their friend makes of them before she goes in for cancer treatments or what have you. When the story turns to being about Regina, instead, everybody just sort of decides what Regina should do, and she goes along with it. I really don’t know that the writers of the show had an idea for the character beyond the fact that they could get Octavia Spencer to play her. I really do hope this is her last appearance, because the episodes featuring her have been some of the series’ weaker ones.
The B-story is better, but only just. Confining Alvin with Christy’s kids isn’t a bad idea, and there are some okay laughs and emotional beats when he’s hanging out with Roscoe, especially. But there’s not really much there, even by the largely plotless standards of this show. I guess there’s an attempt to make this all about how the news of Violet giving her baby up for adoption keeps getting told to other people who didn’t know about it, but even as a runner, that doesn’t work nearly as well as it would need to if everything here was going to be propped up by it. The relationship between Alvin and Christy is one of the series’ better elements so far, and I’m interested to see where the story goes once he’s crashing on her couch. I just hope that the writers can remember that everybody—even the guest characters—has a narrative drive and goals of their own, or, at the very least, a perspective worth sharing on things that directly impact them. Don’t let Alvin turn into another Regina, in other words, and we’ll be fine.
- There are just three episodes left in this season. Isn’t it kind of weird how the show took last week off, when it might have been kind of a ratings boost to have its finale air the same night as the How I Met Your Mother finale?
- This week in Allison Janney: Everything here was great, as always, but even though I saw it coming, she got a laugh out of me from Bonnie saying Marjorie was her mother.
- I thought we’d retired this gimmick, but the end of this sentence is my 1,200th word.