'Mom' Pilot Review: New Sitcom Proves Anna Faris And Allison Janney Are A Fantastic Dysfunctional Mother-Daughter Pair
Mom, Chuck Lorre’s newest sitcom, showcased brilliant leads Allison Janney and Anna Faris on its Monday night premiere.
With two more than capable leads and a brand of humor that doesn't try too hard, Mom started its first season off with a solid pilot, and is definitely already miles ahead of that other new parental sitcom, Dads.
In Mom, Janney is fantastic as Bonnie, a recovering addict who reappears in daughter Christy’s life to make amends – simultaneously refusing to admit she did anything wrong. Christy, played by the underrated Anna Faris, is also struggling with sobriety and trying to be a better mother to her two children, Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal) and Violet (Sadie Calvano).
The pilot begins with Christy sobbing while waitressing – a customer told her she was a ‘good waitress,’ triggering her meltdown. Christy clearly still mourns for the life she never had and can never have – growing up without a stable or supportive mother, getting pregnant as a teenager – these are things that cannot be undone. As many of us are prone to do, Christy blames her mother for every bad quality she has. At an AA meeting, Christy tells the group that she inherited all her mother’s bad habits: drinking, bad judgment, absent parenting.
While Christy has to deal with trying to forgive her mother for her childhood, she also struggles with the terrifying notion that her teenage daughter, Violet, will grow up exactly like her. In the pilot, Violet is smoking pot and having sex with an airhead boyfriend, exactly what Christy was doing at her age.
“I can’t tell you not to have sex at your age, because I had sex at your age…I can’t tell you not to drink or smoke pot because my senior yearbook quote was ‘let’s drink and smoke pot,’” Christy laments to her daughter.
And, herein lies the trouble with Mom: the character of Christy is almost too aware of her mistakes for us to fault her for them. She criticizes herself for being like her mother and tries to take a different approach with her children, yet the show pushes the audience to see her as awful and just like her own mother.
When Christy tries to have a heart to heart with her daughter, Violet dismisses her attempts at forging a better family life for them and points out that Christy doesn’t know anything about her life because, until recently, she was drunk all the time. As much as I wanted to sympathize with Violet in that moment, I couldn’t. Watching Christy sob all night at work only to come home and speak honestly with her daughter about her past put me on Christy’s side, but Violet’s attitude made me feel guilty for rooting for Christy. I felt like the writing was trying to push me around on a whim, instead of taking into account who the characters already were.
It’s difficult for me to truly get on board with Mom because my grasp on Christy keeps changing – and, while that does show complexity, in a twenty-two minute sitcom pilot, it only succeeds in confusing me. I’m all for being manipulated by television and letting myself go, especially in comedies where it’s important to relax into a story so you can laugh, but Christy’s character flip-flopping makes me question my opinion of her every second she’s onscreen, and that gets tiresome.
Faris, who made a name for herself staring in the Scary Movie franchise, does her best to make Christy as honest as possible. The opening scene, when Christy is crying while taking delivering food and taking orders, is a tough sell as the introduction to a character, but Farris somehow makes it sympathetic as opposed to over-dramatic and forced.
Faris also succeeds at having comedic chemistry with every other actor onscreen, particularly Christy’s married lover/boss Gabriel (Nathan Corddry) and the snobby Chef at the restaurant (Angelo Romanelli). Not to mention the great pairing of Faris and Janney. Watching these two hilarious women spar onscreen could never be bad, and Janney, really, can do no wrong. Despite Bonnie’s less desirable qualities, you can’t help but root for her. Faris has a similar likability, but Christy’s character flaws challenges that likability.
— Allison Janney (@AllisonBJanney) August 26, 2013
I have a saying about television shows: if you are at all intrigued by the pilot episode, then continue watching. Pilot episodes rarely resemble the rest of the series, and my experience has always been that things get better as a television show finds its rhythm and tone. For every moment I didn’t enjoy in Mom, there were a dozen more that I did and, in a few episodes, I’m confident I’ll love the show Mom becomes.
Note: Two and a Half Men fans will get a special treat in the first five minutes of the episode.
Mom airs Mondays at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.
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