Cast: Allison Janney, Anna Faris, Mimi Kennedy, Jaime Pressly, Beth Hall, William Fichtner
Bonnie: Hey! I did not raise you to be a quitter.
Christy: The first half of that sentence is correct.
A Serious Sitcom
Before we get started, a brief introduction to the show. Mom is the story of how Christy Plunkett (Anna Faris) and her mother Bonnie Plunkett (Allison Janney) come to live with each other thanks to circumstance and a mutual interest in terms of continuing their therapy from alcohol and drug addiction via meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous. While initially hating her mother, Christy eventually comes to terms with it and even grows affectionate towards her with time. Their friends from the AA meetings include Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy), Jill (Jaime Pressly) and Wendy (Beth Hall) while Adam (William Fichtner) is Bonnie’s boyfriend. Christy is currently unmarried and not seeing anybody but she does have two children- Violet (Sadie Calvano) and Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal).
Sitcoms are generally supposed to be instruments of laughter, not thought. Friends is, I think, the prototype of this sort of characterisation of sitcoms but there have been other shows that have contributed to it- How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory for example. Modern Family attempted to buck the trend with puns and implied humour- and had great success doing it for about five years before things started to go a little south.
But Mom is an entirely different ballgame.
In my opinion, this show is by far the most underrated sitcom in television today. The last three seasons have been great but this year, the show takes a giant leap forward- the kind of leap that should propel a show to Primetime Emmy awards, if CBS submits some of their episodes for consideration.
Mom (and this year, FX’s Atlanta) manages to do something that was traditionally not in the realm of sitcoms. It attempts to examine social issues with a humorous context. Throughout the fourth season, the writers of Mom come up with a variety of plots that not only connect with the viewer but also make the latter think about it and introspect- something not a lot of sitcoms can claim to have done. In fact, come to think about it, it is almost diametrically opposite to Friends in that way. Maybe that explains some of the lack of popularity- Friends was slapstick, don’t-need-no-brains kind of comedy while Mom is deeper in a certain sense.
One thing that it does have in common with Friends though, is its script- the story, the dialogues, the screenplay and the overall plotline. It is a brilliant script which combines the best of insightful thought with slapstick humour. The many commonplace subplots of the show- like Christy’s struggles working as a waitress and going to law school, Roscoe doing drugs at such a young age, Christy’s strained relationship with her daughter Violet, Jill’s ups and downs when it came to parenthood (both before and after), Bonnie trying to take the next step in her relationship with Adam and dealing with the death of her mother and its consequences- make the show relatable. But what makes it worth watching is how they deal with it. With deep, thoughtful, difficult and emotional scenes appropriately interrupting a steady flow of jokes and humour, it makes for a potent combination.
However, the best of the show comes out when the show’s five leading ladies – Bonnie, Christy, Wendy, Jill and Marjorie- are all together in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or at the bistro. When the five of them are ripping each other apart is when they are at their best. It doesn’t matter if they are passing snide comments while another person is sharing at an AA meet or directly slandering them when they are at the dinner table, these five have a chemistry that is unbelievable.
Jill is the spoilt brat of the group- always masking her own insecurities in a show of wealth, but grows this season to find her deeper self. Wendy is the middle-aged woman who cracks jokes and projects leading a lonely life even at her own cost. Marjorie is still the mother of the group, so to speak, and remains boring and entertaining at the same time.
But, Anna Faris as Christy Plunkett and Allison Janney as Bonnie Plunkett are by far the stars of the show. And I don’t just mean that in the sense that they are the main subjects on whom the show is based. Their on-screen chemistry as a dysfunctional mother-daughter couple is stunning. On the outside, Christy is the do-good daughter while Bonnie is her foil as a wild mother. But as the show explores the two characters, the writers do a very good job of not making such an image the wagon onto which everything else is hitched. Mom’s ability to see every single subplot to a logical, reasonable ending is what stands out this year- and in turn, this brings out the best in Bonnie and Christy. And then, it takes a further step forward when such sad events turn out to be some of the best sources of humour- the most evergreen example being Christy’s well-known jibes at Bonnie’s poor job raising her.
Mom could have descended into a predictable cycle following the very first season but it’s innovative plotline and generous mixture of serious drama allows it to manoeuvre around the very simple idea that the show is based on people who messed up but want to get it right this time around. What initially started with just Bonnie, Christy and Violet, now has gone on to encompass Jill, Wendy, Marjorie, Adam, and even Baxter. The show is turning into one with a main, almost-ensemble cast that couldn’t have been better put and this year, the writers made good use of the supporting cast- from major role players like Adam to minor cast members like Danielle, Rosco, Violet, Baxter and so on. Guest appearances also help keep the show’s entertainment level at a high. The episode with Anna Faris’ husband Chris Pratt was a particularly good one.
Overall, the show really has hit the nail on the head this year. Generally, as it is with most sitcoms, the fourth season or thereabouts is usually their best but given the promising ending that this year has seen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the show better themselves next year. Whatever said and done though, Mom just blew the railings off what is considered acceptable sitcom material and launched itself into reckoning with the best of the best shows currently on TV. It’s as real and as serious as a sitcom can get- in all senses of the word.