CBS' 'Mom' Is Shaping Up To Be The Season's Best New Comedy - And Maybe The Best New Broadcast Series
If the primary expectation of a comedy is to generate laughter, then season-to-date “Mom” has the rest of the sitcoms in the freshman class beaten hands down. It’s funnier than Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” ABC’s “Trophy Wife” and NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show” -- the comedies most critics picked as the new crop’s best bets, and CBS’s “The Crazy Ones,” the highest-rated new sitcom of the season.
“Mom” leads Allison Janney and Anna Faris aren’t exactly unknowns in this business, but I would argue that they are the early breakout or standout stars of the season. They have a sizzling comic chemistry as a mother and daughter who are both in recovery. Faris’ character, Christy, is an alcoholic who has been sober for a few months. Janney’s character, Bonnie, has been drug-free for two years. Bonnie is a tough-talking, self-assured, unapologetic wild woman. Christy, a single mom who is raising two children (including a pregnant teenage daughter), is still on shaky ground, struggling to balance responsible motherhood and a new job as a waitress with the challenges of staying away from alcohol and navigating a tentative social life.
None of this sounds particularly funny or sweet, but “Mom” is bursting with humor and heart, which is often the case in series about women supporting each other. Watching the first three episodes of this show has been a surprising treat, prompting responses in me that I never saw coming. There are times when I think it would play well alongside TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland,” the most consistently funny comedy on television today. The humor in “Mom” is similarly edgy, but the feel of it all is comfortably traditional. The characters don’t hold back from taking shots at each other, but when one of them really needs support, the others rise up to provide it. And if the charming guest appearance in last night’s episode by Justin Long is any indication, “Mom" -- like “Cleveland” -- is going to be a great showcase for occasional guest stars.
Thoughts of “Hot in Cleveland” immediately call to mind the episode in early September that featured a reunion of the female cast members from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” a true classic that during its first four seasons featured (with apologies to Lucy and Ethel) the finest and most memorable depiction a sitcom has ever showcased of a bond between two women, Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern. There hasn’t been a relationship between two women on a sitcom that was anything like it since Rhoda left Minneapolis for her own spinoff in the fall of 1974. Yes, “Laverne & Shirley” and “The Golden Girls” followed, and both were huge hits that revolved around connections between women, but I don’t think they have held up over time in the same way as the story of the profound friendship of Mary and Rhoda.
Anyway, getting back to the many surprises of “Mom,” there have been several moments during the first three episodes of the show when the sharp and witty and yet totally natural conversations between Christy and Bonnie have given off a Mary and Rhoda vibe. I’m not sure why that is, because the characters and their stories on those two shows are nothing alike. There have been hundreds (if not thousands) of broadcast sitcoms in the forty years between “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Mom,” but none of them has ever resonated with me in this way. Maybe it’s just Janney and Faris working some kind of unique comedy magic with help from a splendid supporting cast that includes French Stewart and Nate Corddry.
Regardless, this is the most pleasantly surprising response I have had so far to any of the new broadcast shows, and that makes “Mom” something special for me. When it comes to finding new treasures in the vastness of the television landscape, sometimes the unexpected surprises prove to be the best -- not to mention the longest-lasting.