Mom is one of the less-talked-about new shows premiering this season – it certainly doesn’t have the hype of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D or Almost Human, nor the star power of The Crazy Ones (Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar), nor the sheer wackadoo craziness of Sleepy Hollow (a show where Ichabod Crane survives for 200 years while buried in salt because it has become his supernatural duty to destroy the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and also what is with all the Starbucks everywhere?). No, Mom has a perfectly respectable cast – Anna Faris, Alison Janney, Nate Corrdry, French Stewart – but not a jaw-droppingly stellar one unless, like me, you are an Alison Janney fan forever because of The West Wing. It’s a very grounded sort of family sitcom, so it is hardly wackadoo. And of all the CBS sitcoms airing this year it arguably has the least hype. (We Are Men is getting way more press for reasons I do not exactly understand.)
However, Mom is, I would suggest, the most important show debuting this fall, for one reason: like 2 Broke Girls before it, it represents a sitcom’s attempt to talk about class. Specifically, lower class. Anna Faris’ Christy lives with her two kids in a small one-level bungalow where the living room and kitchen are one room (and not a terribly big room either) and there are three bedrooms (or possibly two bedrooms and a den that has been converted) and a bathroom and that’s it. For TV purposes it’s about as small as a multi-cam set can be. Christy also drives a shit car that’s at least fifteen years old, wears Wal-Mart level mass-produced clothes (as do her kids) and has a unglamourous, manageable hairstyle. She refuses to leave work when she is having a total breakdown because she can’t afford to miss hours. She loses her shit when she takes a day off work to see her kid’s talent show and it’s the wrong day. And of course her useless ex owes her back child support like whoa, because of course he does. Christy is poor, and not glamorous fantasy-hobo poor or resourceful hipster-making-like-Aladdin poor either. She is just “this is shitty” poor, and this is a rare thing to see on TV. And that’s important. Poor characters on TV are guest stars, either played for laughs on sitcoms or murder victims on procedurals. They’re not protagonists.
The problem is that we’ve seen this before, namely with 2 Broke Girls. I have no doubt that Chuck Lorre actually really wants to make class-conscious sitcoms: he got his start on Roseanne, after all. Looking at his body of work, Mike and Molly is definitely lower-class in its aims, and this is the guy whose first major show was Grace Under Fire and that was hardly a rich people show. Plus if you read all those long-ass title cards at the end of all of his shows, it’s clear that he’s something of a socialist (or at least seethingly anti-corporate in outlook). But Lorre also wants to make a popular sitcom, and popular sitcoms have hacky jokes in them, and Mom is no exception: the initial conversation between Christy and her mother is hack writing of the worst variety (it’s really, really bad!) and only Anna Faris and Alison Janney’s respective acting skill elevate it to something tolerable. And Lorre has a track record of shows that go for easy jokes. When you consider his two biggest hits, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, “subtle character study” is not what comes to mind. Maybe Lorre isn’t as big an offender in his shows as 2 Broke Girls – great premise, rock-solid cast, and writing that turned into a never-ending mountain of cheap, shitty ethnic jokes by the second episode – but he’s not far off.
Basically, the question with Mom is if we get the Lorre who was one of the key voices on Roseanne during the show’s prime, or the Lorre who indulges in juvenile sex jokes on Two and a Half Men and endless fat jokes on Mike and Molly. This could go either way. I’m hoping for the home run, because Mom has potential to be the next Roseanne and it’s a show that I think western culture desperately needs at this point. But I am skeptical, and I think not unfairly.