Thursday, May 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mom' - Christy Faces the Financial Realities of Her Legal Dream in 'Atticus Finch and the Downtrodden'

CBS' Mom - Episode 3.22 "Atticus Finch and the Downtrodden"

Christy's dream of becoming a lawyer is in jeopardy when she is hit with the reality of how much her education will cost. Bonnie becomes the disciplinarian now that Violet is living at home.

This has been another fantastic season of Mom. But it's also been a phenomenal showcase year for Anna Faris as Christy. When people talk about this show, the conversation mostly revolves around Allison Janney's Emmy-winning performance or the sensitive and heartbreaking subject matter. Faris can sometimes get lost even though she is doing outstanding work as well. This season especially has relied more and more on the dynamic between Christy and Bonnie. It was largely been about the ups and downs they experienced as two women who no longer resent each other or blame the other for their own problems. It's been terrific. Christy and Bonnie have both had successes. But they've had some crushing defeats as well. This is still a dangerous world for them. The realities of this disease are still so brutal even though Christy is three years into her sobriety. But this show makes the audience laugh and cry all in the span of one episode. It understands the demands and limitations of a multi-camera sitcom. But it also throws caution to the wind in order to tell stories that aren't being told elsewhere. Faris has often carried a lot of that and she should rightfully be recognized for that.

These last few episodes of the season have especially had a renewed focus on Christy and her goals and ambitions for her life. Her reality is still a complicated mess. She's struggled to cope with Jody's tragic death and forgive her boyfriend, Travis, who was there when it happened. She still hasn't been successful in finding a man who she could realistically build a life with and be happy. Her two kids have been more distant than ever before. That's been a very meaningful decision as well. Roscoe is happy spending more of his time at Baxter's place while Violet enjoyed the thrills of an engagement. Of course, all of that came tumbling down last week when Violet returned home heartbroken by a breakup. After a season where she wasn't seen a whole lot or had much purpose, she's a fixture in the household again at the precise point in time where Christy can't be adding any more stresses to her life. She wants to remain focused on becoming a lawyer. But that's becoming more difficult for her as she comes to realize the reality of her situation.

Christy's legal aspirations were a story introduced awhile ago that have never really been an important part of the narrative. It has always been something that Christy was doing. But it largely happened offscreen. It wasn't the thing creating stories in her life that needed to be told onscreen. It was just good for a throwaway line every once in awhile. Just enough to constantly remind the audience that this was something else that Christy was doing. It's a stable part of her life. It wasn't something anyone needed to worry about. She was going to classes and doing well in school. The outrageous and difficult parts of her life were happening elsewhere with her family and her friends from group. Of course, all of this started to change a few episodes ago when the demands of school started taking over Christy's life. She was struggling to pass the final exams while sick with pneumonia. And then, she was so happy to have made the Dean's List no matter what Bonnie thought about that accomplishment. She was flying high. This is something in her life that is going well. And now, it's something that should be celebrated. This career seems like it's going to work out for her. That's just terrific news.

The show is still a long ways away from Christy being a lawyer having a major effect on her life. As she notes in this finale, she still has about five years of schooling left. But hey, the show is at least setting itself up for a long run filled with ambitions and goals for its characters. That's much appreciated. And it's not losing a beat in the present in finding stories from these circumstances. Money is always going to be an issue for this family. There's a reason why Christy is working as a waitress to support everything happening in her life. Christy and Bonnie do the best they can to manage their livelihoods. But they don't exactly have a high quality of living either. They are clean and sober. They help others get and stay that way as well. That's so rewarding to them. That's what brightens their days. It does not fill their wallets though. So, it's amusing to see Christy get hit with the reality of how much her tuition will cost for the next five years. $200,000 is a lot of money for her to think about. She doesn't know where that's going to come from. That sets up a pretty funny main premise for the finale.

So, Christy and Bonnie are trying to scrap together as much money as they possibly can to finance Christy's schooling. Bonnie does so by selling whatever she can get her hands on. It's a pretty amusing side story that happens throughout the episode that is in service of the main plot. She sells Violet's wedding dress as well as a bunch of old sporting equipment from Jill's ex-husband. But more importantly, Christy is looking into actual scholarships. She doesn't want to take out a student loan to get this education. She wants to work for it herself. She doesn't want to owe the government out of fear that she won't be able to pay them back. That's a very legitimate fear. Plus, she proves to be more than capable of convincing people to give her money that will support her education. Sure, that only materializes in one scene where she has to give a speech to a roomful of people. But she's still successful because she talks about her life and her struggles while tossing aside any of the cliches she should be giving in this moment.

In addition to all of this, Christy and Bonnie are once again adjusting to Violet being in the house again. This has been a weird season for Violet. During the show's first two seasons, she was an important character who added a wonderful wrinkle to the multi-generational premise of the series. But this year, she's been stuck in a rut. Her absence was addressed by her being happy in her engagement. And whenever she did show up, the stakes were largely drawn over whether or not she and Christy liked each other. It didn't really have a point this season. But it's still meaningful that she's back at the house. She is no longer the teenager who got knocked up. Christy and Bonnie are still worried about her and the choices she makes. But they also have to learn to let her make those mistakes and learn the hard lessons herself. They are so afraid that she'll turn out to be just like them. That's a real concern. Violet's behavior could be the path to her becoming an alcoholic as well. But right now, Christy and Bonnie can't confirm anything with her. It's still too soon to say that she has a problem. So instead, she's dropping out of school to be a black jack dealer. That probably won't last very long but it's still something that Christy and Bonnie just have to support as a part of their lives.

The finale also ends on the gang once again celebrating another year of sobriety for Christy. It has basically become a tradition for the show to recognize this accomplishment at the end of every season. This is an incredibly personal journey to Christy. It's something that should be celebrated. It just feels a little tacked on here at the end. It's something that the show feels needed to happen even though it didn't completely fit in with the episode that happened before it. It still ended on the funny final joke of Bonnie giving Christy more money from Jill than Jill was expecting. So once again, the show can address serious issues so well while also being funny about them. That's such an impressive skill set that shows no signs of becoming formulaic or repetitive. That's a huge accomplishment for the show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Atticus Finch and the Downtrodden" was directed by James Widdoes with story by Chuck Lorre, Nick Bakay & Sheldon Bull and teleplay by Gemma Baker, Adam Chase & Anne Flett-Giordano.
  • Marjorie has always spoken in generic cliches about the healing process of the program. It did make for a funny running joke that Christy and Bonnie get a headache whenever a cliche is uttered. But it also feels a little random as well given how frequent that's a part of the character interactions.
  • It's been awhile since the show has checked in on Roscoe and Baxter, right? I wonder how they are doing with Candace. It must be fine if Christy hasn't had to worry about them.
  • Christy trying to mention To Kill a Mockingbird and being a trial lawyer in order to impress the room of wealthy people was a strategy that was never going to work. But it was also amusing to see that that was the strategy for the other two contenders as well. Cliches are cliches for a reason.
  • The show has proven that it doesn't need Violet to operate longterm. But it sure is fun having her around the house and a part of Bonnie and Christy's lives. That dynamic was missing this season. It would be good to have that back. So, this latest twist with her character could last awhile next season. But it shouldn't.
  • Allison Janney has the episodes to once again be nominated for an Emmy this season. But so does Anna Faris. She really deserves it too. She has a number of solid tapes that could be appealing in many different ways to voters - from the outrageously funny to the devastating emotional. The show really hasn't broken out besides Janney in the past but I'm really hoping that changes this year. And if it doesn't, then it probably never will. That would be such a shame too.