Last week on Mom, Christy Plunkett found herself in a hotel room with a vulnerable, horny, hunk of a man named Julian (played by Joe Manganiello). After she helped him recommit to his sobriety by calling the front desk and getting his minibar de-liquored, Christy reluctantly rejected Julian’s sexual advances, because he’d only been off booze for a few weeks. She was more than eager to jump into bed with him, but not at the expense of either of them falling off the wagon.
This week on Mom, Christy warns a 19-year-old recovering addict named Jodi that she needs to cut ties with her new boyfriend: a junkie who’s only been clean for a few weeks. Jodi ignores her. And by the end of the episode, she’s dead of an overdose.
I’ve written before about how well Mom articulates the struggles of people in recovery—and always without forgetting that comedies should have jokes. But “Diabetic Lesbians And A Blushing Bride” is remarkable for how unsparing it is. Jodi dies in part because she ignores Christy’s advice, but also because Christy ignores an incoming call from her, not long before the end. That’s par for the course for Mom, a sitcom where the characters often make huge, life-changing blunders.
There have been funnier Moms than this one; though that’s not because “Diabetic Lesbians” lacks for laugh-lines. One of the best is there in the first half of the title, which is the answer to the question, “Who doesn’t like a Red Velvet penis?” That’s in reference to an erotic cake, served to the Plunketts’ friend and AA mentor Marjorie at her bachelorette party. For most of its running time, this episode is about Marjorie’s surprise wedding to Christy’s old landlord Victor, and how his primly conservative sister Anya (played by Rhea Perlman) is so shocked by Marjorie’s junkie ex-con past that she refuses to attend the ceremony. The major drama is whether Bonnie and Christy can strong-arm her into showing up.
But the the Plunketts and their circle of AA pals find out about Jodi’s death, in the closing minutes of “Diabetic Lesbians”—at which point they have to struggle to keep their composure for Marjorie’s sake, so that she won’t have her honeymoon ruined by the news. It’s a jarring, unexpected end… or at least it would’ve been if CBS and Chuck Lorre Productions hadn’t spoiled it a little by touting this episode all week as a shocker. (I can’t say how I would’ve reacted to the plot-twist if I didn’t have an inkling of what was coming. Maybe my grade would be a notch higher? It’s possible.)
But at the same time, given what happened in last week’s “Cinderella And A Drunk MacGyver”—and given the recurring themes of this Mom season—Jodi’s death was probably inevitable. And I don’t say this just because Emily Osment was a new addition to the cast at the start of the season. Mom’s writers have actually done a fine job of integrating the character into the show early enough that she never felt like a special guest star, introduced only to be killed off.
No, it’s more that Mom this year has been dealing a lot with how hard it is for these ladies to savor life, without the reward of having a drink or getting high awaiting them at the end of any particularly rough stretch of days. The last few episodes of season two dug into that a little too, with Bonnie relapsing and Christy having to clean up her messes again, just like she did when she was a little girl. But season three has put the problem more front in center, in episodes like “Horny-Goggles And A Catered Intervention,” where the gals don’t know what to make of their recovering pill-head friend Regina becoming a casual drinker (and seeming just fine).
In “Diabetic Lesbians,” Marjorie landing a husband and Jodi finding a boyfriend both should be happy pieces of news—and the devil-may-care Bonnie mostly treats them as such. But Christy defaults to skeptical, in part from personal experience and in part because she’s jealous of other people’s joy. (When Bonnie tells her daughter that all the warnings in the world won’t keep Jodi away from her new fella, Christy sighs, “Yeah… but I think I took a little of the fun out of it, so that’s something.”) A big part of what makes Mom such a powerful show is its gallows humor. The Plunketts laugh in the face of a lifetime devoid of the kind of euphoric pleasures they crave the most.
Again, I don’t want to undersell the comedy. “Diabetic Lesbians” really gets rolling during Marjorie’s bachelorette party, where she’s gifted with sugar-free strawberry lube—“so he can eat as much as he wants”—and where she tells stories about how her prison nickname was “The Hammer” because she once clubbed somebody with a Bible. (Why wasn’t she called “The Bible?” Because that name was already taken.)
But that same party is what convinces Anya that Marjorie isn’t a good person; and no matter what Bonnie and Christy say to her, Anya firmly believes that, “People like her don’t change.” This is really what the show has always dealt with, head on: the question of whether getting clean is a permanent transformation, or whether it’s always going to be “one day at a time,” forever. Although the show’s at its funniest when its characters are at their most miserable, it’s also hard not to ache for the Plunketts, and for Christy especially. Rarely has a person wanted so badly to be proved wrong.
- For all that I just said above about how well this show balances despair and wit, I have to admit that what I really love about Mom can be summed up by one throwaway line. When the Plunketts are getting dressed for the wedding, Bonnie shouts from upstairs that she can’t find her new earrings, and Christy shouts back, “That’s because I’m wearing them!” It’s hard really to explain why that’s funny. Maybe it’s because it’s superfluous. That exchange has nothing much to do with the story, although it does say something about the kind of relationship that these two have. It feels real—which is reason enough to keep it in.
- On the other hand, when Christy wonders aloud how many times she’s thought, “This guy’s different,” and Bonnie replies, “Well, you’ve got two kids, so at least twice”… that’s some snappy old-fashioned comedy-writing right there.
- Perlman gets an actual gasp of recognition from the studio audience, plus a short round of applause. Nice job, studio audience!
- This was just a drop-in review of Mom. It’s not being added back to the TV Club rotation. I’ve been wanting to write for the past few months about how consistently great this latest season has been.