Best known as the executive producer of The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, Chuck Lorre is TV's current "King of Sitcoms," so it makes sense that the launch of a new Chuck Lorre series would be a big deal. But while much ink has spilled over his new series Bob Hearts Abishola and its prospects for filling the Big Bang-sized whole in CBS' primetime lineup this year, it's worth noting that another CBS Chuck Lorre show currently on the air just might be the best thing he’s ever done. Mom, which began its seventh season on September 26th, has quietly developed into one of the best sitcoms on the air these past few years.
For the uninitiated, Allison Janney (The West Wing) and Anna Faris (Scary Movie) co-star as Bonnie and Christy, a dysfunctional mother-daughter pair who are both in recovery while living together with Christy’s daughter and son. The series follows the ups and downs of their professional and personal lives, along with their constant struggles with sobriety. While shows on streaming services and premium cable have dominated the TV conversation in recent years, Mom has quietly built audience, becoming the third-highest-rated comedy on TV — and picking up a couple of Emmys for Janey along the way, to boot.
Despite high ratings and occasional awards success, it’s become common in recent years to dunk on Chuck Lorre's shows. The Big Bang Theory had its corny nerd humor, while Two and a Half Men's legacy always existed in the shadow of Charlie Sheen’s antics. It’s not that either series was downright awful, but they have long taken the lion's share of the attention away from better-by-almost-every-measure Mom. What really makes Mom stand out from its CBS multicam siblings is how adept it is at handling both comedy and drama. The show is noted for having tackled subjects like drug addiction, teen pregnancy, addictive gambling, homelessness, relapse, cancer, death, domestic violence, overdose, abortion, rape, obesity, stroke, and ADD, but there's no difficult topic the show has been more willing to dive into than alcoholism and recovery, and it's there that Mom stands out as one of TV's best shows.
Early in its freshman season, Mom proved it was unafraid to let us see the toll alcoholism had taken on the Plunkett family. Both mother and daughter are white-knuckling sobriety and are doiong everything they can to not relapse, even when they push each other to the very edge. We see Christy struggling to date as a sober person for the first time, while Bonnie has to prove herself worthy of her daughter's time after a lifetime of neglect. AA becomes a major source of humor and pain, with various characters, including AA sponsor Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy), coming in and out of the Plunkett women's lives while giving or seeking help.
Allison Janney has returned to television a few times since playing C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, doing guest spots on shows like Weeds, The Big C, Veep, and an Emmy-winning stint on Masters of Sex, but Mom has kept Janney on our television screens for seven years now, and given her some of the best material of her career. Bonnie is the perfect role for Janney, combining so much of what she does best: acerbic jabs with a hint of compassion and a penchant for hijinks to cover up years of regret and pain. Bonnie can make us laugh and break our hearts in a matter of seconds, and Janney instills deep feeling in every step of Bonnie's journey.
As if a main cast that includes Allison Janney, Anna Faris, Jaime Pressly, Mimi Kennedy, and William Fichtner wasn’t appealing enough, Mom has boasted a roster of countless guest stars, including Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer in an AA guest arc, Kevin Pollak in a recurring part as Christy’s deadbeat father, and Ellen Burstyn in a heartbreaking episode as Janney’s own neglectful mom. Other stars turning in delightful guest appearances on Mom over the years have included Ed Asner, Rosie O’Donnell, Judy Greer, June Squibb, Joe Manganiello, Harry Hamlin, Chris Pratt, Lois Smith, Constance Zimmer, Rhea Perlman, and, for anyone looking for a West Wing reunion, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff.
To put it simply: why search far and wide for the next great Chuck Lorre's sitcom, when the heir apparent has been here for a while now. Bob may Heart Abishola (and you may, too), but there's an even greater chance that you'll heart Mom.
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Stephen Hladik is a freelance culture writer and actor. You can follow him on Twitter @stephen_hladik