Move over 2 Broke Girls, there's another low rent waitress in town-- and on your network to boot! This fall Chuck Lorre is getting in on the "anti-heroine" sitcom game with Mom starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney, and the show is everything you would expect from the master of crass.
Mom centers on Faris as Christy, a single mother who has inexplicably talked (or slept) her way into a job at an upscale restaurant. How she got it doesn't really matter, but it's clear she's only keeping it because she's sleeping with her smarmy married boss (Nate Corddry). We first meet Christy as she literally cries over one of her tables, dripping tears in their glasses, and failing to take down their order with any semblance of skill or decorum. It's an over-the-top, cartoonish introduction (I personally kept expecting her tears to be painted onto her cheeks in giant blue drops as big as her cheeks themselves, blending the genres and proving this show is supposed to be a live-action cartoon), and unfortunately she never really comes down to "actual human being" level from there.
Faris is known for large, broad sweeps in her comedic acting, and here she truly proves why that is her bread and butter. Much of her work in Mom leaves you waiting for her to break the fourth wall, with a "Womp womp" to the camera. She feels like an adult version of Full House's Michelle Tanner.
Faris cut her teeth on the Scary Movie parodies, after all, and later embodied "dumb blonde" for House Bunny. The schtick is fine in small doses and not when asked to believe her character is responsible for other people's lives, let alone her own. But here Christy has young children-- one at the impressionable tween age and one who is already headed down her mother's rebellious path. Christy is a cautionary tale; that is clear to the audience from the get go. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be clear to Christy herself. For all her lamenting about her mother's own over the top nature and bad choices (we'll get there in a minute), she seems to put herself in a better category simply because the mistakes she repeatedly makes aren't "as bad" as what she feels her mother did to her. It's a vicious cycle that often comes with completely incorrect affect attached to pointed and poignant dialogue. A key scene at an AA meeting, for example, could break through the sitcom broadness and provide a real, heartfelt look at two core characters, but the show seems to be afraid of being serious and therefore real and instead kind of makes a mockery of that organization in the process.
At this point, it's actually unclear if the title of this show refers to Faris or Janney. Despite the fact that Christy and her mom Bonnie (Janney) are somewhat estranged, Bonnie is certainly the top matriarch on this dysfunctional family tree. The apple only falls so far and all of that, and so for as much as Christy claims to want to do everything differently than how her mother did things, she has followed the exact same path without any seeming self-awareness of it. Thankfully Bonnie has come around, and though not quite given up all of her vices, is at least actually trying to do better by the next generation. She doesn't think it's too late to try to parent Christy (and thankfully so because that woman still needs it; she's a mess), but she also is developing an endearing relationship with her granddaughter (Sadie Calvano). Janney is a hoot-- a real shining light in this series-- who actually manages to create the one character who feels lived in and three-dimensional, even if not entirely likeable, while also genuinely seeming like she's having fun while doing it.
Mom doesn't quite know what it wants to be in the pilot and splits its time unevenly between the work and familial relationships. In that way it's a good metaphor for the character of Christy herself. But the truth is, Mom isn't funny, either. Many of the "jokes" rely on the assumption that the audience will think drug use or philandering or being hapless as a parent is amusing. What's worse, though, is the comedic beats just feel off, which skews the pacing even further. In some scenes, and it's hard to tell if it's the acting or the editing or a combination. Most of the time, it looks like Faris is just doing whatever she wants, not paying attention to or caring if others catch up or can react off of her in an organic and timely way.
The pilot of Mom quite literally starts with a whimper, with Christy crying in front of her customers, but it ends on such a tone, too. The last few moments of the episode feel like a set-up, not a tag. But that may just be that you hope something, even at the last second, can salvage the 22 minutes you just sat through. For Janney's sake if nothing else.
Mom premieres on CBS on September 23 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
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