Thursday, November 14, 2013

"A Few Words About 'Mom'"

In the course of my research for this post, I learned that this show is a likely candidate for cancellation.  Keeping my record for liking failed series virtually unblemished.  (Remember “Outsourced”?  That’s what I’m talking about.)  Despite its impending irrelevance, I’d like to encourage you to read this post anyway.  It says stuff that goes beyond this particular TV series.  Though it may well be stuff that, from a success standpoint, may potentially make no difference whatsoever. 


You know the saying,

“In the World of the Blind, the One-Eyed man is King”?  (Not exactly my favorite aphorism, but it is appropriate for what I am about to discuss.)

Well, it the world of the substandard sitcom, a show that offers intimations of quality… well, it may not exactly be king, but it does deserve, at least in my view, an appreciative tip of the cap.
(What do I mean by “quality” in this context?  I mean a comedy that, while striving for maximum “ha-ha”, is at the same time committed to taking its situations and its characters seriously, selling neither of them out for an easy or bottom-feeding laugh.)

Not that Mom is entirely free of predictable punch lines, gratuitous “penis” jokes and  the inevitable “only in sitcoms” (and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign) one hundred and eighty degree “flip-flops”, where, (as in the episode I am about to talk about) a character says one thing – during a dinner, Mom’s Christy (played by the appealing and talented Anna Faris) says she’s not much of an eater – and then when her boyfriend whom she has yet to have sex with invites her away for the weekend, she immediately executes the aforementioned “one-eighty”, wolfing down everything on her plate, and on her boyfriend’s plate as well.

(Full Disclosure:  They did “one-eighties” on Taxi.  And every show I ever wrote on.)

The thing is, on Mom, even the cheesier jokes seem of a superior caliber.  One example:  A noticeably pensive Christie comes into the restaurant kitchen (where she waitresses), generating the following conversation with Rudy, the salacious chef character (played by Third Rock From The Sun’s French Stewart):

RUDY:  A penny for your thoughts.  (A BEAT.  THEN…)  A thousand dollars for your tushie.  (BEAT)  Twelve hundred?”

CHRISTIE:  You really need to go to a “Sexual Harassment” workshop.

RUDY:  If I do, will you sleep with me?

Not only is that punch line smart to me, but Christie’s setup line is also impressive, in that it reflects the all-too-rare (in sitcoms) acknowledgment that the just insulted person actually heard and registered the insult.

Rather than doing stories that are generically comedic, the stories on Mom chronicle legitimate milestones in the characters’ lives.  One episode involves the middle-aged Bonnie (played by the amazingly inventive Allison Janney – you can almost see the comedic wheels turning) losing her job.  Another episode concerns Bonnie’s experiencing the initial stirrings of menopause (consistent with her flamboyant earlier life. Bonnie mistakenly believes that she’s pregnant.)

And in the most recent the episode I watched, after reversing her traditional M.O. by postponing having sex with boyfriend Adam until she feels that she’s ready, Christie determines, during the “Moment of Truth” in a hotel room, that she is too frightened to have sex with Adam, and is, in fact, not ready for a serious relationship.

In a “turn” that is hardly groundbreaking – though it may be psychologically supportable – when, after Christie’s announcement, Adam suggests that they instead call down for “Room Service”, Christie, after “food bingeing” for the entire episode, discovers that she is suddenly no longer hungry; the sex-deprived Adam, on the other hand, feels ravenous.  An entirely un-self-aware Christie (another unfortunate condition in sitcoms) then says,

“Oh, Adam, don’t use food to cover up your feelings.”

To which, Adam, cognizant of the irony, sweetly but angrily responds,

“Shut up!”

Which, to me, was refreshingly unexpected.  And appealingly consistent with that particular moment.

Overall, especially compared to the current crop of comedies, Mom gives off an honest and less-than-lowest-comedic-common-denominator vibration.  Check it out and tell me if you agree.

And if the prognosticators of cancellation are correct about this matter,

You need to do that sooner rather than later.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'd be interested to know where you're getting your predictions; TVBytheNumbers thinks it's likely to be renewed. I have mixed feelings about the show. It feels like Lorre picked up a bunch of stuff he's used before and stirred it up with some new actors. Even the menopause stuff, while recut for this character, he's done before (on Cybill). So I'm still kind of waiting for the show to jell into its own personality.


Andrew Orenstein said...


Not surprising we like the same show - I not only think Mom is the best new show of the season, but it may be the best new show of the past many seasons.

I think it is very well written and genuinely funny. The jokes come from character which is refreshing. Even though it is a traditional sitcom, somehow it feels updated and edgy.

Or I am just getting old.


pumpkinhead said...

I also like the show and largely agree with your assessment.

Mom said...

Can't say that I recall the details of a single scene from Cybill, and I doubt many others do, either. Mom's been fairly entertaining - thus far - but it seems to be slipping a bit each week (in my mind)...I just don't laugh as often as I did in week 1. I do like the cast (except for French Stewart's character) and remain hopeful that they'll discover their direction soon. If they don't, they'll be gone.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Mom: I like French Stewart but I still can't figure out what he's doing in this show. (I know, earning a living.)