TVRG Snapshot: Mom Season 1 (2013-14)

Looking for an established show to binge or relive old glories and blunders?  If mild spoilers don't deter and readers like a preview of what they can't wait to see, take a glance and locate a new series to add to your collection.  Look back  and explore the debut season of CBS' Mom, one which thankfully the showrunners figured out how to write as they went along. 


PREMISE 

Middle aged and newly sober waitress Christy Plunkett (Anna Faris) is forced to reconnect with her recovering mother Bonnie (Allison Janney) as both muddle the obstacles alcoholics face when life tests them.  Waitress Christy’s barely hanging on by her fingernails as she’s sleeping with her married boss Gabriel (Nate Cordry), dodging latent crassness from chef Rudy (French Stewart), irritated by dead beat stoner ex-husband Baxter (Matt L. Jones) and handling woes of raising teenage Violet (Sadie Calvano) and young Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal).  Violet pours vodka into Christy’s wounds she cannot enjoy as she’s 17 and pregnant with stoner Luke’s (Spencer Daniels) child. 


BEHIND THE SCENES 

CBS royalty Chuck Lorre already dominated the sitcom slate with The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and Mike and Molly.  Lorre expressed desire to explore a topical sitcom and pitched Mom which dealt with two recovering alcoholics muddling through day to day struggles.  Given CBS had a full slate with freshman We Are Men, The Crazy Ones, The Millers and Friends With Better Lives along with Mom, 4th year veteran Mike and Molly was shelved from its 9:30 timeslot on Monday.  Mom debuted in its timeslot behind 2 Broke Girls, debuting to a modest 2.5 18-49 demo rating.  Episodes outside of the pilot rated between 1.8-2.4 in inconsistent delivery. 

2013-14 marked the first year CBS felt the burn of massive ratings decline which hit its neighboring competitors, taking a toll on its tentpole Monday sitcom block.  We are Men nosedived shortly after its debut, forcing CBS to pull it from the 8:30 timeslot and sliding 2 Broke Girls into the space to distribute the Nielsen weight.  

Mike and Molly lead into Mom's 9:30 slot, giving the series less strength and development and forcing it to wallow at the back of the pack in CBS’ sitcom ratings.   Come spring, every sitcom except aging Two and a Half Men, Robin Williams/Sarah Michelle Gellar showpiece The Crazy ones and Mom.  CBS ultimately axed The Crazy Ones, allotting declining Two and a Half Men a final 12th season and renewing Mom. 


PLOT HIGHLIGHTS

The umbrella story from pilot to season finale revolved around Christy’s teenage daughter discovering she is pregnant.  Given Christy and Bonnie both bore daughters at similar ages, the household musters through the crisis with humor and anecdotes of their own experiences.  Both women struggle with not only the consequences of their children suffering due to their drinking, but pitfalls threatening sobriety.  Christy's addiction crawls out in a fling with an addict fireman, while Bonnie falls off the wagon and pays the piper.  Poor choices lead to Bonnie losing her home and job, forcing a reluctant Christy to take her in.  Throughout the chaos, Christy’s cancer-stricken sponsor Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy) and embezzling addict Regina (Octavia Spencer) supported the woman via their Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. 


ENSEMBLE

To declare Mom’s freshman season had a bloated cast is likening that Roseanne’s a tad moody on Twitter.  The issue lied with the fact the pilot was designed to center on Anna Faris as the lead, evident of her starring title.  The other three folds – Her mother, workplace and family, were all designed to orbit around her.  This dynamic changed as tour de force Allison Janney upped the ante with Bonnie, pulling the action to the family and the AA ladies.  This left the work scene forced to be incorporated with little use except plot-driven twists.  There was no shortage of capable performers from Season 1, just a shortage of great material for all to play.  Aside from Janney and Faris shining, Mimi Kennedy, Octavia Spencer and French Stewart knocked it out of the park in their deliveries. 

NOTABLE SOCIAL ISSUES

Even in its weakest seasons, Mom never failed to crackle when tackling social issues.  Season 1 dealt not only with teenage pregnancy, but adoption, parental alienation and the effects alcoholics have on loved ones.  Bonnie's relapse showcased an addict at their bottom.  Not only as the audience suddenly discovered in one episode she fell off the wagon, but the signs were in plain sight for her loved ones failed to recognize.  

Violet's pregnancy thankfully steered past the overdone abortion discussion inside one minute while leaving the canvas for discussing another A-word: Adoption.  Seeing the trainwrecks the prior generations raised as teen mothers, Violet decided to break the cycle and locate a suitable family for her unborn daughter.  The teenage pregnancy arc covered ample ground including religious parents opposing the situation, financial and educational obstacles, locating a couple to select as parents, and a jarring separation upon delivery.  And more frightening: picking out a prom dress 8 months pregnant.  Violet must not have had MTV to take notes from Teen Mom.


WHAT WORKED? 

Anna Faris and Allison Janney's chemistry is surefire, and likely a deciding factor behind the scenes at CBS for renewal.  It is evident from the pilot Janney's role was meant to be supporting to Faris given Bonnie's collected and condescending delivery.  As Janney developed the role, Bonnie unleashed her riproarious, unpredictable nature, consuming every scene she played while not upstaging Faris' Christy.  The family unit clicked during this season due to a consistent arc revolving around the pregnancy.  All delivered emotional punches, able to correct the tone prior to the forced laughtrack's beats.  

The AA meetings started as a supporting element and evolved into the base for exploration inside the mind of a recovering addict, thanks to Marjorie.  With a plethora of excitable characters front and center, Mimi Kennedy managed to even the tone with Marjorie's sage wisdom peppered with a frightening backstory.  As Mom began locating the balance between family life and AA, writers orchestrated material for Season 2 with the discovery of Christy's father Alvin (Kevin Pollack).  Strong plots aside, several performers unleashed memorable moments, such as French Stewart's Chef Rudy's tantalizing fling with Bonnie, Octavia Spencer's Regina showing grace as her character faced an uncertain future after ruin.  And best of all, Mimi Kennedy, again.  'Nuff Said.


WHAT IS BEST FORGOTTEN?

The irony of Mom's 1st season is it is the weakest on display.  The issues stemmed the fact the writers were figuring out what to do with the show, having Chuck Lorre's meal ticket to get onto CBS' schedule.  They corrected the imbalance by scaling back on the restaurant scene.  For a polished establishment, it depicted the worst days of a recovering alcoholic's sober life.  A spineless, undefined boss Gabriel who merely exists for a plot-driven affair.  A narcissistic, unlikable chef who was given few redeeming qualities.  And the place lead Christy cried the most, including the grating opening scenes which surprisingly didn't turn viewers away.

Outside this deceivingly beautiful trap, stoners Baxter (Matt L. Jones) and Luke (Spencer Daniels) were in the way in every scene.  Poorly developed and a mere punchline, they took space in a large ensemble as others who deserved the limelight fought to earn screen time.  The tone in Season 1 was not the bleakest, yet it is burned into longtime viewers' heads as the one where no one would trade places with the two leading ladies.


ADVICE TO NEW VIEWERS BINGING THIS SEASON 

Hang in there; it gets better!  Several series have lulls and glory, and the first season indeed was the greatest lull.  If a new viewer feels guilt about missing the first season, they fret not as the other season delivered with a greater punch.  Season 1 is not so dull a viewer should keep it on in the background while cooking, cleaning or needing background noise.  It instead requires patience as better material is around the corner.



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