'Mom,' Broadcast's Best New Series This Season, Wraps Its Outstanding Freshman Year

The best new broadcast series of the 2013-14 season ends its freshman year tonight in a somewhat premature manner. I'm not referring to the sudden arrival (while dancing at her prom) of young Violet's baby, one of many plot turns this season that has been simultaneously played for big laughs and moving drama. Rather, I'm wondering why the network’s marvelous “Mom” is ending now, a full six weeks before the end of the “traditional” broadcast season.

It would seem that a show like “Mom” -- one that has more than lived up to the promise of its premise, or its pilot, for that matter, and one that will likely land an Emmy for one of its two fantastic leading ladies -- would have been scheduled in such a way as to stretch into the all-important May sweeps period, even if that called for an extra episode or two. It is, after all, the funniest comedy CBS has come up with since “The Big Bang Theory,” and like “Bang” (and “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly”), it’s from the increasingly invaluable Chuck Lorre and his talented team. April 14 just feels too soon for “Mom” to be done. I guess that’s a good sign, because at this time of year I’m generally ready for each of the broadcast shows I have been watching since September to give itself (and me) a break.

But “Mom” is something else entirely, perhaps because it has been such a wonderful surprise. The concept -- combustive mother and daughter alcoholics in recovery trying to get on with their lives -- certainly had the potential to be riotously funny in the rudest of ways (somewhat like the camp classic “Absolutely Fabulous”). But never for a minute did I think last fall that it was going to develop into a contemporary, issue-driven, unflinching character comedy of the kind Norman Lear used to deliver with unparalleled frequency during the Seventies. (Even the main family’s last name, Plunkett, sounds Lear-like.)

Every character on the “Mom” canvas is dealing with the repercussions of bad luck and worse choices, which makes it as profound a reflection of reality as anything else on broadcast television right now. Allison Janney’s hard-edged Bonnie and Anna Faris’ tough but timid Christy have been fascinating to watch right from the start, both moving forward in their lives with great courage and stamina though never out of touch with a deep vulnerability within. Bonnie protects herself with a wicked sense of humor (and also swings a mean bat) while Christy just rolls with the punches and relies on sometimes forced honesty as the best defense.

The whole two main characters coping with recovery thing should have been more than enough weight for this comedy to carry, but the makers of “Mom” weren’t content to let their challenges end there -- so they added several significant subplots to their show during the most fragile period in the life of any new series, its freshman season. The one that has received the most screen time, and which figures prominently in the two-part season finale, has been the pregnancy of Christy’s 16-year-old daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano, a skilled newcomer who holds her own opposite the seasoned pros). She has had to deal with being pregnant while still in high school, and with the perpetually messed-up lives of her mother and grandmother, and with maintaining a part-time relationship with her dad (who is not quite a deadbeat but might as well be), and with the general dimwittedness of her baby daddy Luke (Spencer Daniels, also great). In one of the dramatic story turns that propel “Mom” along without ever dragging it down, Violet and Luke have decided to give the baby up for adoption, although I suppose that could change during tonight’s episode or early next season. In many ways Violet’s has been the most significant sitcom pregnancy since that of the title character on “Murphy Brown.”

Two of the other subplots, both told with equal comedic brilliance but also with great respect for the seriousness of the situations, have revolved around friends of Bonnie and Christy. The most profound has been the story of Marjorie, an alcoholic in recovery who is also fighting breast cancer, a story that would seem to be impossible to play for laughs -- but the writers, directors and cast of “Mom” have managed to do exactly that without ever being insulting or insensitive. Mimi Kennedy, as Marjorie, has been amazing in this role, and is just as deserving of Emmy recognition (in the Guest Actress category) as Janney and Faris. Meanwhile, recurring guest Octavia Spencer has had a grand story of her own (and shouldn’t be forgotten when Emmy nominations are submitted, either). Her character, Regina -- also an alcoholic -- recently went to prison, but not before sharing a wildly funny and deeply touching escapade with Bonnie, Christy and Marjorie.

Then there’s the ongoing story of Christy’s efforts to get to know her father, who abandoned Bonnie when she was pregnant and went on to enjoy a fine life with a new family and a thriving automotive repair business. Everything about this story could have gone all sorts of wrong, but “Mom” has handled it just right, finding perpetual laughs in a situation that isn’t funny at all.

“Mom” touches on a lot of touchy subjects, but it never feels disrespectful or preachy, and that makes it a winner in my book. Along with CBS’ “The Good Wife” and NBC’s “The Blacklist” it is one of the few broadcast series that will have me counting the months between seasons.      

 

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1 comment about "'Mom,' Broadcast's Best New Series This Season, Wraps Its Outstanding Freshman Year".
  1. Tom Baer from TBI , April 16, 2014 at 12:41 a.m.
    Mom is the best new series not only this year but perhaps for the past 4 or 5. Anna Faris is a rare talent and I'm glad to see others realizing that.