Forget that Mom was created by Chuck Lorre, the same man responsible for Two and a Half Men. Forget that it’s a multi-camera sitcom, the typically lesser alternative in the current sea of critically acclaimed single-camera options. Forget all of that, and just listen: Mom is worth your time, and your laughter, and your tears (yes, your tears).
From the beginning, Mom has been a surprisingly emotional and surprisingly funny take on family and addiction, and the third season’s premiere is no exception: Stars Allison Janney and Anna Faris have such an ease with each other that it’s hard to believe that they aren’t actually a mother and daughter with a complicated past. Even in this episode, which focuses more on Bonnie (Janney) reconnecting with her estranged mother instead of her relationship with her own daughter, the two’s chemistry shines through.
Christy (Faris) plays the role of matchmaker in this episode, trying to get her mom to meet up with her mother. This proves difficult because Bonnie is Bonnie — a.k.a. very stubborn — and harbors too much anger toward her mom, who abandoned her at age 4, to see her at this point. But Christy does want a relationship with her grandmother, abandonment issues and all, so she heads to the coffee shop to introduce herself.
There, Christy sits down with the first grandmotherly figure she sees: June Squibb wearing a baby pink cardigan. She smells like gingerbread and tells Christy she’s pretty. She’s the grandmother Christy always wanted — it’s just not her actual grandmother. The real one, Shirley, is sitting at the next table, reeking of cigarettes. At least Christy got a (nice-smelling, sweet) friend out of the mix-up?
The whole interaction with Real Grandma, played with a subtle tenderness by Ellen Burstyn, encapsulates Mom‘s strengths: It’s funny, especially when Shirley accuses Christy of trying to top her sob story, and sad, like when Shirley reveals she gave Bonnie up for foster care so her young daughter could have a better life. It’s a tough situation, and Mom doesn’t try to pretend it’s not — a decision made for the absolute best.
Christy eventually gets Bonnie to meet up with her mother, who, as it turns out, left Bonnie partly because the guy she was with at the time didn’t want kids around. This creates a whole new conflict, one that eventually ends with Bonnie forgiving Shirley in an attempt to prevent herself from relapsing from all this new stress and old anger.
Bonnie doesn’t always do the best thing for herself, but this episode shows her trying her hardest despite her instincts to run (literally: she’s taken up jogging to replace her drug and alcohol cravings). Mothers are often the wise characters in television shows, the ones who always do what’s right. In Mom though? They very often do the exact opposite of what’s “right.” They are flawed; they are constantly growing. In other words, they are allowed to be human.
When Janney accepted her Emmy for Best Supporting Actress this year, she ended her speech by applauding the sitcom for covering the topics it does. “So many lives are touched by addiction,” she said, “and it is a privilege to work on a show that reminds us that there is hope.” She was right: The season 3 premiere not only reminds us that there is hope, but that there is possibility — and also very likely a great season ahead.
Mom airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.