Central Park probably isn’t the show you want to be central to your family.
Chuck Lorre is the creator of 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, and he’s made a chunky fortune off traditionally shot sitcoms, off-color punchlines and sometimes loathsome characters. His shows have dominated CBS for years. And for the most part, that dominance has not been something to applaud. But when it comes to Mom co-created with Gemma Baker and Eddie Gorodetsky, we can say something truly surprising:
It’s not altogether bad.
Oh, it can be bad. While sometimes funny, Mom will do anything for a laugh. Sex? Flatulence? Treating family members like something stuck to your shoe? Yeah, it’s all there. Mom’s metaphorical foyer is paved with swear words, its walls built of problematic content. And the actual moms who live there—well, to say that they’re kinda flawed is to say that Fat Man and Little Boy were kinda dangerous.
Eldest mom Bonnie Plunkett is a former drug addict and dealer—a less-than-ideal materfamilias for her daughter Christy. The younger woman learned her mother’s lessons well and became a drug addict and alcoholic herself, though she did steer away from Bonnie’s illegal career path, opting instead for a more stable occupation … as a stripper. She got pregnant when she was 17 and gave birth to her own daughter, Violet—who, in turn, got pregnant when she was 17, too. Like mother, like daughter.
It seems that all these characters might’ve been served well in their younger days by some pragmatic advice from, I dunno, a family-focused Christian ministry of some sort. Or even just half-hearted help from more stable friends. Or almost anyone, really. Anyone this side of Kim Jong Un might be able to give the Plunketts cogent advice on family.
But here’s the thing: In the midst of these flaws we see these women trying to move past the past and do what’s right (though, admittedly, using their own faulty moral compasses).
Bonnie is trying to make up for past mistakes by now being a better mother and grandmother. Christy, no longer a stripper and now studying to be a lawyer, did her best to love Violet through a very difficult time. And Violet, while no longer a regular on the show, gave her baby up for adoption, trying to break the cycle of bad choices she’d seen her family make. (That’s both a responsible and strangely brave message for a show like Mom to proffer.) Both have found a supportive community in a group of women who gather for dinner, talk about their lives and, well, occasionally crack a nasty joke or two.
Nasty jokes aside, Mom is quite a departure from the typical Lorre vibe—typically caustic, crass one-liners in a sea of personal mismanagement. Two and a Half Men was so unrepentantly amoral and sexual that one of its stars, Angus T. Jones, begged people not to watch it once he became a Seventh-Day Adventist. 2 Broke Girls is littered with sexual innuendo and, according to some, shameful racial stereotypes. Even The Big Bang Theory, relatively innocent by comparison, is no stranger to Lorre’s fascination with the crass double entendres and irresponsible behavior.
And sure, Mom is no innocent throwback to sitcoms of yesteryear. Sex is a plot point. Bonnie has been known to live with a boyfriend or two (and is now living with her fiancé). Bad decisions are made.
But Mom doesn’t bathe its comedy, for the most part, in bad behavior. Rather, it’s about encouraging better behavior—making healthier decisions each and every day. Both Bonnie and Christy are determined to stay sober and be wiser—for each other and for themselves.
For Oscar-winner Allison Janney, the mom in Mom, the sitcom is more than a paycheck. She joined the show because of her brother, Hal, who was plagued with addiction issues and killed himself in 2011. (Janney dedicated her Oscar to him, in fact.)
“I was around the world of recovery a lot, trying to get my brother to want to recover,” Janney told CBS News in 2016. “He didn’t. He lost his battle with addiction and other things. And I felt like this was important for me to take a part like this and be a part of a show that showed people in recovery, and also showed that there was hope.”
Mom isn’t about glorifying sin the way Two and a Half Men was. Not really. It is, in its own secular way, about redemption. It’s not just about making its viewers laugh. It’s about making them smile.
And then maybe grimace or wince or groan. But hey, it’s a start.
Bonnie, Christy and their friends attend a weekend-long “sober retreat.”
After getting food poisoning, a woman says that being sick reminds her of being hung over before she got sober. Another woman reflects on her only happy childhood memory before entering foster care.
Two women kiss. Christy is shocked when a woman cuddles with her in bed: The woman thought, mistakenly, that Christy was interested in a romantic encounter. Some women overhear their friend’s intimate phone conversation with her boyfriend. People joke about undergarments.
Marjorie, Christy’s AA sponsor, is hurt when everyone complains about how the weekend is going, comparing it to “hell” and joking about relapsing. People joke about suicide, murder and jail. Someone lies. We hear the sounds of a woman retching. There are a few uses each of “h—,” “d–mit” and “b–ch.” Someone also misuses God’s name.
Jill, who is Bonnie and Violet’s rich friend (and a fellow recovering alcoholic), comes back from a self-help program having lost lots of weight and determined to take more control over her life. Part of that control, she says, means she’s not going to pay for everyone’s dinner anymore when they go to the bistro. “I’m no Bank of America,” she tells her shocked friends. Meanwhile, Violet—who’s been studying nearly four years to get into law school—starts getting rafts of rejection letters from the schools she’s applied to, which tempts her to start drinking again.
Characters talk about discomforting conditions in their nether-regions, reference topless women and joke about “Bonnie trying to have sex with her pudding.” Violet runs into some of her college chums, who are busy getting drunk on beer and shots. One of them hands Violet a shot, telling her she probably deserves it more than anybody: Violet stares at the beverage longingly before she gets a timely call. Elsewhere, we witness part of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where we hear the tail end of the Serenity Prayer. Bonnie jokes that butterscotch is “the only scotch we can have.” There’s a reference to Bonnie’s former cocaine use, too.
When Bonnie, Violet and some friends try a new eatery, Bonnie suggests they watch someone to see if she “pukes, gags or keels over.”
When Bonnie’s boyfriend, Adam, is too hung over (from “hot pockets and bourbon”) to attend a wine and food fest, she decides to go alone—and meets a new “friend” who’d like to be something more. Meanwhile, Christy searches frantically for an expensive necklace she borrowed, then lost.
Both Bonnie and her “friend” are both former alcoholics determined to stay away from booze. (They attend the wine festival only for the food, they say, with their green wristbands designating them as non-drinkers.) They text and eventually go out to dinner: Bonnie still insists they’re just “friends,” even though she’s not told Adam about her new male buddy. Before the dinner’s over, the man kisses Bonnie, and Bonnie pushes him away, telling him that she loves Adam. Later, Bonnie comes clean and tells Adam about the kiss, and they fight. “You know what I like about him?” Bonnie finally says. “He’s sober.”
Bonnie and Adam sometimes share a bed, though their contact in this episode is fairly limited. During their argument, Bonnie reminds Adam that the old Bonnie would’ve slept with the guy and not given it a second thought. “I didn’t shoot a puppy today with a BB gun,” Adam retorts sarcastically. By episode’s end, the two break up. Elsewhere, Christy recalls how when she used to drink, she’d sometimes find that someone had signed her breast with a Sharpie.
Both Bonnie and her “friend” recall how nice it was to smoke cigarettes—Bonnie saying that the after-sex cigarette was overrated, but that an after-a-beef-dinner cigarette was “magic.” There are references to both human and octopus testicles. Christy lies and says that she left the loaned expensive necklace on her nightstand. “Right next to her Bible,” Bonnie quips. Bonnie hides unpaid parking tickets under a cushion. We hear one use each of “b–ch” and “b–tard,” three uses of “d–n” and four misuses of God’s name.
“Broken Dreams and Blocked Arteries”
Despite spending lots of money on a dress, Violet decides not to go to prom because (in part), “I can’t stop farting,” she says. (And she proves it.) Meanwhile, Bonnie hates the fact that her ex-husband, Alvin, seems to be trying to buy the love of Christy and Violet.
Violet quips that the prom’s theme this year is “Broken Condoms, Broken Dreams.” We hear that Alvin’s other ex is now living with another man, and we’re told they “tweeted into each other’s pants.” Christy examines a sequined dress and wonders when gay men started designing maternity wear. She tells stories of her stripping days. And we hear something of Bonnie’s cocaine days as well. Bonnie admits to shooting one of Alvin’s toes.
People make jokes about venereal disease. Baxter, Christy’s ex, asks if their young son, Roscoe, is allowed to watch R-rated movies. When Christy says no, he wonders whether she’d make an exception for a film that just had breast nudity instead of full nudity. Characters say “a‑‑,” “d‑‑n,” “h‑‑‑,” “p‑‑‑,” “b‑‑ch” and (if you include the “previously on” segment) “b‑‑tard.” God’s name is misused a half-dozen or more times.
In Lorre’s closing slide, he declares that the sanctity of marriage died with the birth of the pill, and that the “blood-drenched reign” of male-centric religions and social institutions is ending.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
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