American TV productions were starting — very carefully — to return to their soundstages when the news hit that, when CBS's Mom returned for its eighth season, Anna Faris would no longer be on it. Given that both she and her co-star Allison Janney were only halfway through the two-year deals they signed last year, it was certainly unexpected; her colleagues might call it a shock, though, as People quoted an unnamed source saying Faris's exit was "sudden and unwelcome, and it left the entire network scrambling." But what if the biggest surprise of all turns out to be how easily her character Christy lifts out of the show?
One of Mom's great strengths has been its nimbleness: while it started out a hybrid workplace/family sitcom with recovering alcoholic Christy at its center, it spent its first season and a half shedding extraneous settings and characters and adding dimension to Christy and her mother Bonnie's AA friends. (It's fitting that a show about characters in recovery — living, as they do, by a "take it one day at a time" ethos — should display a similarly easygoing fluidity.)
Christy herself evolved as part of this process: originally a full-time server in a fine dining establishment, Christy gets promoted to manager, then realizes she wants to go to law school. At the start of the series, her son Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal) and daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano) live with her; by the third season, both have moved out and moved on, with Roscoe carrying on his reportedly friendly relationship with Christy entirely offscreen since Season 4 and Violet returning in Season 6 only so that Christy could confront her about the podcast Violet started in order to complain about her. Mom doesn't shy away from portraying devastating conflict between family members, and it has always done so effectively. But the way Christy's children just drifted out of her life, and the show, proves both that her relationships with them never quite jelled, and that producers had no qualms about course-correcting even at the expense of a primary character's offspring.
While Christy's children never quite coalesced into fully-realized characters, the producers deftly fleshed out all of the recovering addicts who came through the series: Octavia Spencer as an embezzler on her way to prison; Emily Osment as Jodi, a runaway trying to leave an abusive boyfriend; Rosie O'Donnell as Bonnie's former live-in girlfriend. Even one-off alcoholics have been drawn with thoughtfulness and care. (Come back to a meeting, Joe Manganiello!) Thanks to her wealth, Jill (Jaime Pressly) can be relied upon to solve her less comfortable friend's financial problems, but we've also learned a lot about her traumatic childhood and yearning to be a mother herself. Originally identified simply as "Weeping Wendy," the AA member who cried through meetings, Beth Hall's Wendy has become crucial to the show's chemistry, leavening snarkier moments with sweetness and occasionally dropping a veiled come-on about Bonnie's legs. As Christy's sponsor, Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy) can get into fascinating emotional power struggles with Bonnie, having served as Christy's surrogate mother when Christy and Bonnie were estranged.
The best addition to the cast came in Season 5, with the introduction of Kristen Johnston as Tammy. After first meeting Bonnie when they were placed in the same foster home as teenagers, they reunite by chance when Tammy is incarcerated. Bonnie pledges to make amends for her offenses against Tammy in their youth by visiting her every week; when Tammy is released, Bonnie puts her up, helps her find work, and brings her into the clique at the AA meeting. Johnston's boisterous, golden-retriever energy has invigorated the show in a marvelous way; there aren't a lot of other network sitcoms in which a formerly incarcerated character speaks about that experience — which Tammy does frankly and humorously — and for that reason alone, she's my not-so-secret fave.
That said, the ferocity Johnston brings to the role and the fun producers clearly have writing for her may also shine a light on how much Faris had been lost in the shuffle of late. I'll never get mad at a female-driven show that gets through seven seasons without leaning on romantic plotlines — in all that time, Christy only had three love interests who appeared in more than two episodes (four if you count convenience sex with her ex-husband, Matt Jones's Baxter, which we really shouldn't) — but lately it's been hard to remember much else Christy's been up to. It's a stretch to say she's in the A-plot of more than about four episodes of the most recent season. Those of us who watched her struggle through college and law school are surely proud, in the abstract, that she's landed a job at a law firm — and I'm especially happy that Paget Brewster was cast as her erratic boss, Veronica — but office hassles are not what we come to this show for.
We still don't know why Anna Faris abruptly decided to leave Mom. Maybe she also felt Christy was being underserved by the writers. Maybe she didn't feel comfortable being on a set during a pandemic. Maybe she prefers the flexible hours and lower grooming expectations of podcasting (and as someone who routinely records her own podcasts without showering, I can relate). We also don't know how Christy will be written out of Mom, other than that series co-creator Gemma Baker promises that viewers will be "satisfied by her new path," and I believe it because I was perfectly satisfied by the explanations I was given when Violet and Roscoe set off on their "new paths." Christy was an important part of Mom for a long time, but owing to the depth of its other characters, the show can go on without her
Mom kicks off its eighth season Thursday November 5th at 9:00 PM ET on CBS
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Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.