Review: CBS’ ‘Mom’ knows best, or at least better than ‘Dads,’ ‘Men’

Anna Faris, right, and Allison Janney star in "Mom."
(Monty Brinton / CBS)

It does seem odd at first that the new TV season brings a series called “Dads” and another called “Mom.” But TV moves in waves and swarms, and this fall there is an emphasis on family (and on extended family), possibly reflecting the experience of writers who are old enough to have their own parents on their hands. In both the just-premiered “Dads” on Fox and the upcoming Will Arnett comedy, “The Millers,” parents move in with their grown kids.

“Mom,” which premieres Monday on CBS, stars Anna Faris and Allison Janney as a daughter and mother whose relationship — strained, estranged — had been clouded on each side by alcohol, drugs and attendant forms of bad behavior. (It is a classic live-audience/laugh-tracked multi-camera sitcom, I should point out, in case that last sentence has you picturing something single-camera and cable.)

Both are sober now, the mother a little longer than the daughter if you don’t count the Xanax, and back guardedly in each other’s life. The daughter, whose name is Christy, has a daughter of her own, Violet (Sadie Calvano), a teenager she does not want to see follow in the family tradition, though she admits, “I can’t tell you not to drink and smoke pot, because my senior yearbook quote was ‘Let’s drink and smoke pot.’”

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There is a son too (Blake Garrett Rosenthal), too young to join in that story line.

The series, which has potential and is not bad to begin with, comes partially from Chuck Lorre, who is responsible for “Two and a Half Men” — blame or thank him as you will — as well as “Mike & Molly” and “The Big Bang Theory.” (Like “Mom,” and “The Millers,” they are all on CBS.) Co-creators Eddie Gorodetsky and Gemma Baker both worked on “Men.”

I would think “Mom” has little chance of becoming as popular as “Men,” though for reasons that are mostly to its credit. It’s the less obvious, more serious show — within the strictures, that is, of a form in which an audible laugh (laid in if necessary) is demanded every few lines. (The oddest are those that follow the positive-thinking affirmations Christy repeats in her car: “The more grateful I am, the more reasons I find to be grateful” — I am still looking for the gag there.)

This isn’t the first comedy to make a recovering alcoholic a main character. There was Sam Malone in “Cheers,” Brett Butler’s character in the Lorre-created “Grace Under Fire.” Lorre himself is a recovering alcoholic; “Two and a Half Men,” go figure. (It’s not hard to regard “Mom” as a kind of metaphorical apology for letting that imp loose on the world.) But it’s rare.


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There are, to be sure, plenty of jokes about the drunk and the drugged here, though seen in the rear-view mirror, as it were. Some lines are clearly made to be outrageous, while the principals’ previous years of bad behavior are more asserted than felt. Christy: “Mom, I’ve watched you lick cocaine crumbs out of a shag carpet.” Bonnie: “It’s not a sin to be thrifty, dear.”

And yet the writing rings true as often as not, and the actors do not wave their arms or raise their voices unduly; they play to the human moments between the rim shots. Christy’s house looks appropriately modest and messy. “Mom” is not “Dads.”

Also here are Matt Jones as Christy’s semi-ever-present ex-husband; Spencer Daniels, making himself at home as Violet’s boyfriend; and Nate Corddry as Christy’s married boss, with whom she’s secretly sleeping. French Stewart, from “3rd Rock From the Sun,” plays an imperious chef at the restaurant where Christy works, and having no emotional baggage to carry, is all one-liners: “More butter and salt — they only need to live long enough to pay the check.”




Where: CBS


When: 9:30 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)