Anna Faris and Allison Janney give a lift — and humanity — to the new sitcom about AA recovery
The new “Mom” feels at first like it's cribbing from other CBS sitcoms: Anna Faris’ put-upon waitress? Shades of “2 Broke Girls.” She's in recovery? The 12-step thing owes a debt to “Mike & Molly,” whose lead characters met at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. And the struggles with your parents? Isn't that also the hook of this fall's “The Millers”?
But “Mom” has something none of those shows do: Allison Janney. As the mom in the title, she brings humanity to a show that could have been another Chuck Lorre formula brought to life.
Janney's plays Bonnie, a longtime addict now in recovery. She's so empathetic and comfortable with herself that you can't accuse the show of unconscionably mocking people trying to better themselves. Or of settling for cheap jokes.
Faris plays Christy, a single mom who's new to not drinking. She's a waitress in Napa Valley – yep, wine country – who has a breakdown when a customer tells her she's a really good waitress. Because she'd like to be more than a good waitress. Nothing seems to be on a solid foundation for her: Not her relationship with her two kids, not her job, not her relationship with her married boss.
Her sobriety is at an awkward stage, too. She's just emerged from using alcohol to hide from her troubles and is now coming to terms with how let down she feels by her mom.
And then a woman beside her at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting asks if maybe she's a little too old to blame her problems on her mother. One guess who the woman is.
The show is a little jumpy until that moment: Christy's breakdown isn't very funny. But once she and Janney's character, Bonnie, start going back and forth, “Mom” starts to click. Faris’ character becomes more grounded once we start to understand where she's come from.
Bonnie has been her daughter's role model in binging, and now she's her potential model in recovery. But Bonnie owns it. She makes her new life look fun. She's open about her past, and about her recovery.
When Christy reminds her mom that she once watched her comb the carpet for cocaine, Bonnie replies nonchalantly, “It's not a sin to be thrifty, dear.”
It's not. And it's not a sin to deliver jokes, either. “3rd Rock From the Sun” vet French Stewart turns up as a chef who specializes in icy one-liners. And Matt Jones plays Christy's ex, who we can't help but like despite his obvious problems. Because hey, he was Badger on “Breaking Bad,” a guy only slightly less responsible than Jones’ character here.
It's also nice to see Faris in a role where she'll get to show some range. In films from “Scary Movie” to “The Dictator,” she tends to be much better than her material. She's an engaging actress, and I hope “Mom” lasts long enough for her character to get to grow. By which I mean, I'm rooting for her. I care what happens. That's a huge compliment when it comes to a new sitcom.
“Mom” feels like a step forward for co-creator Chuck Lorre. I'm going to be honest: I don’t like most of his shows. “Two and a Half Men” feels like a ruthless delivery system for lame sex jokes. “Big Bang Theory” feels like cool kids pretending not to be cool.
But “Mom” feels like more than an opiate. We're early in the 12 steps. But heart and commitment mean everything.
“Mom” premieres at 9:30/8:30c Monday on CBS.