Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe
Mom is a television series about a newly sober single mother raising two kids and dealing with her formerly alcoholic mother.
There are four elements at work to the structure of Mom. The first is that it obviously follows a mother, Christy, trying to raise her kids. She's a single mother whose struggling to do it on her own. She has a teenage daughter she predictably can't connect with and a younger son. This is a familiar premise but it's one of the other elements that help give Mom a slightly different perspective than other shows. The second element is that it also follows Christy's strained relationship with her mother. This is possibly the strongest part of Mom. The third element is a workplace comedy. Christy works at a restaurant. I'm not entirely sure why this element is a significant part of the series but it has two whole characters and a major sub-plot attached to it. The fourth element is what helps set Mom apart. It's what can potentially make the first and second element feel fresh: it makes Christy (and her mom) a recovering alcoholic. This basically helps add dimensions to her relationship with her daughter, son, and mother that otherwise wouldn't be there. It helps to explain why she's just a waitress. Three of the elements come together to create a cohesive whole that could lead to a pretty funny sit-com. The fourth element (the workplace) is completely out of place. Yes, Christy as a working mother is important to her identity. I just don't buy that we actually need to see her work or that it has to be an important element of the show simply because it's too different. It's possible to have both but the balance is difficult to maintain and the pilot of Mom doesn't do a very good job there. This structural problem can hold back Mom. It could also learn how to balance it with the other elements so that it actually compliments and is complimented by the first two elements. Of course, having this many elements complicates Mom to the point where it might not even matter as viewers struggle to connect with the show. The structural flaws of the workplace might be Mom's undoing, it might not be, and having four elements might make the show too busy.
All four elements are explored by the pilot. The first element has two separate plots. A main one where Christy tries to connect with her daughter. Her daughter is sleeping with a boy. This concerns Christy because she's afraid that her teenager might repeat her mistakes. At the same time, she has to find time to make it to her son's talent show. This requires taking time off work. When she arrives at the school, it's the wrong day. She gave up a whole payday for nothing. She has a lot to handle on her plate as a mother. The second element is when her mother attempts to reconnect with her after a period of prolonged, angry silence. Christy has a hard time allowing her mother back into her life but only buckles down to save her relationship with her own daughter. Christy and her mom start working on actually building a relationship. It's a good plot because the two characters are so similar and yet there is a wide gulf between them that stops them from having a normal mother-daughter bond. The fourth element plays into Christy's Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, how it has affected her relationship with her children and mother, as well as how life keeps throwing obstacles at her that test her resolve. The final element is played when she's sleeping with her married boss. The relationship with her boss feels forced to begin with but it's largely there to show that Christy continues to make mistakes in her life. There's also a chef that likes to scream and be mean. This is why I doubt the workplace element is ultimately going to help the show: the pilot is already straining to integrate it into the rest of the show. I mean the best they could come up with is Christy sleeping with her boss? It also takes time away from the other elements.
The main character of Mom is Christy. Anna Farris is a winning leading lady that takes this role and simply owns it. Christy is a fully-developed character that is attempting to rebuild her life after alcohol has destroyed it. She's a strong network protagonist because of her recovering alcoholism. It shows she's not perfect but that she is trying to get better. Her path to redemption makes her a heroine we could root for even as she does things that frustrate the audience. It very well might give her more leeway than she would otherwise have. The other main character of Mom is the brilliant Allison Janney. Janney portrays Bonnie, Christy's mom. Bonnie struggles to accept her own faults but she does want to redeem herself at the same time. There's a reason she refuses to ask her daughter for forgiveness (refusing to own up to her mistakes) but at the same time promises to be the mother Christy always deserved (redemption). The two characters are both seeking the same thing. The interesting part about recovering alcoholics is the way they attempt to rebuild bridges they have burned down. Just as Christy attempts to be a mother to her teenage daughter by reconnecting with her, Bonnie is trying to rebuild her relationship with Christy. At the same time, Christy finds it difficult to forgive her mother for her past actions. Christy might have become her mother but that doesn't mean she likes her. This helps create conflict between the two of them. It provides the show not only with a way to create conflict but also a heart that should ground the series. It helps that Farris and Janney already have good on-screen chemistry that helps sell the idea that their mother-daughter. The two main characters of Mom who have a rich and even compelling relationship.
The rest of the cast will need to be understandably developed as the series goes on. Christy's daughter, Violet, is a typical teen girl. She's rebellious, likes to party, and has a hard time connecting with her mom. Christy's son, Roscoe, is a little more naive and he does desire his mom's attention. The two kids aren't developed much in this episode. We do meet Roscoe's dad, Baxter. Baxter is not the dad of Violet which makes me want to know the backstory a little more. Anyways, Baxter is basically a typical dumb pothead kind of character. Matt Jones plays the character type well. Violet's boyfriend, Luke, is a member of the main cast. Luke is very similar to Baxter except I don't think we see him with a shirt on. That's the only difference beyond their age. The workplace element of the show has it's own couple of characters. The first is Gabriel, Christy's boss. Gabriel is the boss who is married but secretly seeing Christy. He doesn't have much of a personality at this point beyond being a mistake for Christy to make. I like Nate Corddy and I hope he's given more to work with in future episodes. The final character is Rudy. Rudy is a chef who is really into food, is mean to his employees, and only cares about himself. I like Rudy but he is just a stereotype who has no unique relationship with Christy. Which begs to call into question on why he needs to be in the show in the first place. The side characters are presently all flat but I wouldn't be surprised if they get more dimension as the show goes along.
Mom is the latest offering by legendary producer Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Mike and Molly). It's a funny enough pilot that promises a strong series. A series that has four elements-even though one is out-of-place at the moment. The home life is familiar and the workplace needs to be integrated better but the recovering alcoholic hook helps provide the show with a fresh perspective. The two main characters and their relationship with each other is very strong. The side characters need to be developed more but that's typical of a pilot. Overall: a strong pilot that should provide CBS with a consistent performer.