Mom is in the middle of a story-arc in which Allison Janney’s Bonnie falls off the wagon. Last week, having been prescribed pain pills for an aching back, Bonnie started washing them down with booze. This sitcom is built around the struggles with sobriety faced by Bonnie and her daughter, Anna Faris’s Christy, and this week, Christy’s resentment at her mother’s relapse, and Bonnie’s lack of remorse, comes to a head.
Described this way, it doesn’t sound like the most promising premise for comedy, and there are times when Mom doesn’t play for laughs. Which is often just as well, since the jokes on this show tend to be walloppingly obvious. Bonnie’s excuse for her situation — “I was drinking to forget I was hooked on painkillers!” — elicits big guffaws from the studio audience. At an AA meeting, Bonnie shares her experience as everyone pays close attention, then she cheerfully admits, “I don’t really listen to other people’s shares.” More hysterical laughter.
Mom is a product of the Chuck Lorre Laff Factory, which means the show never met a double entendre it didn’t like. Last week, asked to repair a tenant’s toilet, Bonnie said, “She’s got a tired old ball cock,” and you can imagine the eruption of hilarity. In Two and a Half Men, Lorre frequently used Charlie Sheen’s character to embody the pitfalls of excessive alcohol and drug use, but Sheen’s performance ended up giving the punchlines a glow of acceptance. Mom sometimes seems Lorre’s act of penance after Men, as though he wanted to make clear that the clean and sober life is something to be desired.
Many other shows have taken us into Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; Mom uses the lingo of the rooms for both jokes and inspiration. “I hope this is my bottom,” Bonnie says after vomiting a few times. “Your bottom is when you decide to stop diggin’,” responds Mimi Kennedy’s Marjorie.
The secondary theme in the current storyline, which will continue next week, is about Christy’s problem as well — she’s full of furious resentment at her mother’s relapse. If AA counsels acceptance and patience with instances of lapsed recovery, this is a lesson Christy has yet to master. It’s a valid dynamic to explore, of course — it could be both enlightening and grimly amusing. The result here, unfortunately, is mostly a lot of screeching between Bonnie and Christy, the kind of scenes that even actors as adept as Janney and Faris have difficulty keeping from becoming tiresome for the viewer.
Janney’s performance in Mom has garnered praise over the course of the series’ run, and these new episodes are clearly designed to showcase her. But, with their heavy-handed, lecturing tone mixed with bawdy defiance, they don’t end up serving anyone very well.
Mom airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.