Allison Janney (top) and Anna Faris
Mom, a somewhat dark but mostly delightful new sitcom premiering tonight on CBS, comes from the prolific writer-producer Chuck Lorre, who has put his creative fingerprints on comedy hits as diverse as Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Dharma & Greg, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory during the course of his long career.
On that continuum, Mom falls much closer to the blue-collar tone of Roseanne and Grace than the aging-frat-boys-‘n’-farts humor of the still-running Two and a Half Men. This new show stars movie sex kitten Anna Faris in her TV series debut as Christy, a single mom struggling to make ends meet as a waitress without sliding back into alcoholism (she stopped drinking 118 days ago).
It isn’t easy. She still regrets giving up her dream of becoming a psychologist when she was forced to drop out of high school after becoming pregnant with her now-teenage daughter, Violet (Sadie Calvano). Recently, the frazzled Christy has started to realize that she is turning into her own mother, Bonnie (four-time Emmy winner Allison Janney, The West Wing), who was a grossly negligent drunk and cocaine addict while Christy was growing up, and she is horrified to see Violet repeating her own past mistakes with dim-witted and perpetually shirtless boyfriend Luke (Spencer Daniels). Even worse, Christy knows she doesn’t hold the moral high ground in this situation.
“I can’t tell you not to drink and smoke pot because my senior yearbook quote was ‘Let’s drink and smoke pot!’ ‘’ she sighs to her daughter.
And, while Christy is now sober, she’s still making bad choices, sliding into a demeaning affair with her boss, Gabriel (Nate Corddry, Harry’s Law), who’s married to the daughter of the restaurant owner. It’s a good thing Christy’s pre-adolescent son Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal) still thinks Mom is the best.
Into this volatile dynamic, Bonnie unexpectedly reappears after a tense two-year estrangement with Christy. She’s been sober(-ish) for a couple of years now, and she wants to mend fences with her daughter and get to know her grandkids.
But while Bonnie tries to present herself as Soccer Grandma of the Year (“I have a steady job! I exercise! I’m in a BOOK CLUB!”), Christy can’t forget the days when Bonnie was in the basement cooking crystal meth while Christy was in the kitchen cooking dinner.
“I’ve watched you lick cocaine crumbs out of a shag carpet!” Christy reminds her.
“It’s no sin to be thrifty, dear,” Bonnie calmly replies.
Tonight’s pilot episode feels a little unfocused as the writers attempt to introduce multiple characters in Christy’s various worlds, including the restaurant kitchen, where a comically autocratic chef played by French Stewart (3rd Rock From the Sun) barks things like “More butter and salt! They only have to live long enough to pay the check!”
The likable Faris makes a credible series debut, although she hasn’t yet figured out how to play this end-of-her-rope character without occasionally sliding into whininess. Janney, however, is absolutely sublime. Bonnie is a soul sister to Holland Taylor’s Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men, a still-beautiful cougar whose affection for her loved ones is probably genuine, but not entirely reliable.
Out of all this season’s new network comedies, Mom is the one that feels most authentic, with its delicate balance of familial love and anger. Based on this first episode, I’m in.