Chuck Lorre’s prolific TV career has managed to survive the slow descent of the traditional sitcom, being able to churn out hits like Two and a Half, The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly, despite their mid 90s sitcom trappings. His latest sitcom Mom is reminiscent of his 1993-1998 sitcom Grace Under Fire, in which he creates a show about an alcoholic who is struggling with addiction and what it does to her family. Like Grace, the show is a vehicle for a talented comedienne, this time Anna Faris, the bubbly blonde famed for the Scary Movie franchise.
Faris stars as Christy, a struggling waitress and single mom of a sullen teenager, Violet (Sadie Calvano) and a brainy little boy, Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal). Her life is a mess, and moving from day-to-day is an obstacle course for our protagonist. If this sounds dour and serious, then be assured that Mom doesn’t dwell on the drudgery of single motherhood in a pink ghetto job. Instead, Lorre tells an irreverent story that relies more on the comedy of misery than its tragedy. That choice can be a problem because sometimes the gags trivialize some of Christy’s problems – namely, that she’s barely getting by, she’s having an affair with her married boss, and her daughter’s mirroring all of her self-destructive behavior. To top this all off, Christy’s mom, Bonnie (Allison Janney), an alcoholic herself, is trying to mend fractured relationship, despite the ugly history the two share. Christy’s got some deep stuff to deal with, but Lorre (along with his co-scribes Eddie Gorodetsky and Gemma Baker) create such a winsome and plucky heroine, that you expect her to break out into a rendition of “Tomorrow” from Annie when things get too rough. It’s unfortunate, that the show’s creators don’t trust their audiences to be able to handle some tragicomedy because there’s lots of potential for it in the strong premise.
So while the delivery of this show relies too heavily on easing the audience’s discomfort, Mom still boasts more hits and misses, though just barely, and a huge part of that success lies at the feat of the combined talents of Faris and Janney. Janney, a TV and film vet who won a truckload of Emmys for her role as C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, has an inability to not steal scenes from her costars. In Mom, she’s burdened with a very sitcommy role – the laughably sarcastic addict who copes with her issues with sly one-liners. But she creates a real character underneath the color-by-numbers role.
As the focal point of the show, Faris is utterly charming and completely winning. She’s hilarious and gives a lot more shading and charm to the show, giving Mom a much-deeper tone than it deserves. On paper, the role’s very Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and Faris often played that trope in her film career, but she’s much more talented than her material. Hopefully, as the show progresses, the writing becomes more nuanced and smarter, matching the commitment and creativity of the star.
It’s interesting that Lorre went in this direction with his latest sitcom. He’s had a history of creating and writing shows that feature strong women – Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Cybill, and to a (much) lesser extent, Dharma & Greg. It’d be nice to see if Faris has the potential to anchor a show like Roseanne Barr, Brett Butler, Cybill Shephard and Jenna Elfman. Judging from the solid pilot, the answer is a resounding yes.