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Mom: “Broken Dreams And Blocked Arteries”

Illustration for article titled Mom: “Broken Dreams And Blocked Arteries”
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“Broken Dreams And Blocked Arteries” is all right there in the title, huh? It’s a fast-paced rip through most of the season’s major plotlines, one that takes up under 20 minutes of screentime and gives away at least 90 of its seconds to a lengthy “previously on” montage that catches us up on everything that’s happened this season, short of Regina. (And I would not put it past this show to have her turn up in Christy’s living room in the finale, having busted out of prison. Would you?) It toys around with having Violet give birth at roughly the same time as Alvin might have a heart attack, but then it mostly goes back on the former and makes the latter more minor than it seemed at first. There’s good reason for this, though: We’re all building up to Christy realizing that Bonnie’s still in love with Alvin.

I’m not sure this really works as well for a cliffhanger into the season finale as, say, Violet going into labor would have. But that would have been much more predictable, and I like that this weird, kooky show made the weird, kooky choice to go out on a character cliffhanger involving the love lives of people in their 50s. Especially considering that this is the show’s best chance at a big audience in a while, what with the series finale of How I Met Your Mother kinda-sorta leading into it (though God help anyone who sat through Friends With Better Lives), I found it inspiring to see the show putting its best foot forward and going with what’s worked all season long, rather than some cheap stunt. Indeed, Mom increasingly seems to be about moments that seem like they’re building up to the big moments in your life, only for all involved to realize that, no, it’s not the big moment yet. Violet’s baby isn’t born. Alvin doesn’t die. You have to wait for life to happen like a developing Polaroid.

What’s also interesting is that if you watched this episode of the show without having seen any other episodes, you would be pretty sure it was about the complicated multi-generational relationships among a troubled family, not about a woman trying to get her life together at both work and home. Obviously, the show has shifted considerably from how it was sold in the pilot, but I’m fascinated by how much this show has grown into an ensemble series—but not one that features the regular cast. Instead, it’s an ensemble that consists of Anna Faris and Allison Janney, with supporting help from Sadie Calvano. A couple of the other characters appear sporadically (particularly Luke and Baxter), but for the most part, the true bulk of the show’s weight falls on the recurring guest players. Alvin and Marjorie and Regina have been far more important to the series’ growth than the bulk of the supporting players. Hell, Nick Zano was more important to the series’ growth than them, too.

Much of that, I think, stems from the fact that Mom is an old-fashioned situation comedy, which leans heavily on the situation. Early in the season, I suggested that the show was all about Christy’s attempts to rebuild her life from the ruins she had made of it, that each episode was about her trying to hold in her copious amounts of rage at having to deal with the world around her. The show quickly shifted to more of a two-hander, as Allison Janney’s terrific skill shifted more and more of the show’s gravity toward her. But it became harder and harder for the series to find ways to irritate Christy thanks to the people she regularly interacted with. If she was exploding at, say, Chef Rudy every week, that didn’t allow for a lot of dramatic tension, because he’s such an obvious buffoon. Mom works best when it has a real weight to it, but having characters who could push Christy to consider the more harrowing aspects of her life (outside of Bonnie) could have unbalanced the show if they were around all of the time.

Enter the parade of guest stars! By tossing Marjorie or Alvin into an episode, Mom could deal with the darker aspects of its characters’ lives without rubbing their noses in it. This worked better in some cases—Alvin—than in others—Regina—but the basic principle allowed the show to have all of the benefits of an ensemble cast (smart actors bouncing off of each other and reading funny dialogue) while having what amounts to a very minimal ensemble cast. It’s another thing that the show has in common with 2 Broke Girls, in that the earlier show also had trouble integrating its supporting cast with its two strong leads. But where that series ultimately just decided to stop worrying about a supporting cast, Mom’s solution has been altogether more novel, while also not really suggesting how long the show can keep doing this without things falling apart. Now, to be sure, there’s probably more life in this approach than in the 2 Broke Girls one, but the foremost issue between seasons is almost certainly going to be figuring out what the ensemble backing up Faris and Janney looks like.

As far as this episode itself, I thought it was pretty darn good. It wasn’t as good as the one from a few weeks ago, but it was a step up over the last two, both in terms of laughs and in terms of the story advancing. In particular, I enjoyed the gag of Roscoe trying to use the Polaroid camera as a phone, and I also quite enjoyed the way that Luke was able to get Violet out of the prom in a hurry without ruining her reputation by marking her as the girl who went into labor at prom. I even liked the episode’s stab at potty humor, with Violet being unable to go to prom because she couldn’t stop farting, mostly because Calvano’s wicked little grin really sold that particular gag. And, hey, if you wanted some moments of heart, they were here, too, like Christy pointing out to her daughter that both Violet and her child are going to go on and have big, wonderful lives, thanks to Violet’s decision. It was some good stuff, if a little overcrowded.


Mostly, though, I liked the way that this episode ended with the promise of Bonnie and Alvin becoming a thing, and Christy delighting in how funny that was. Did the show do any of the requisite legwork to set this up? Not really. But it was still weirdly delightful to have the episode end on that moment. There are so many shows that would have trumped up some false drama in the moment to get things over the hump to the finale (which is in two weeks, because of basketball). Not Mom. Mom decided to carry us over to the finale on the promise of sweet middle-aged love. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Stray observations:

  • It’s still weird to me that Christy’s dad’s name is Alvin Biletnikoff. It sounds like he’s a side character in the adventure game Syberia.
  • Also: Isn’t it kind of weird that he’s been spending all of this time at Christy’s house when he has, y’know, a business to be operating over in Chico? That doesn’t feel like a particularly wise use of his time.
  • Baxter, it’s okay. I think Roscoe should obviously be allowed to watch an R-rated movie if it only has boobs.