Thursday, October 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mom' - Adam Returns and Moves In with Bonnie and Christy in 'High-Tops and Brown Jacket'

CBS' Mom - Episode 4.01 "High-Tops and Brown Jacket"

Bonnie and Adam's relationship is tested when he moves in with her and Christy for a few weeks. Christy learns the hard way that it may be a mistake to try and meet men with Jill.

This hasn't been a great fall so far for CBS in terms of quality new shows. Sure, the network is still able to pull in wonderful ratings for subpar programming. But things have dropped off as well because the quality may not be as engaging. Yes, The Big Bang Theory is still one of the biggest shows on television. But even it is starting to show its age with no new clear successor to the throne. Kevin Can Wait and Man With a Plan had awful premiere episodes with The Great Indoors joining the lineup tonight not doing a whole lot better. Mom seems to be an outlier at the network right now. Yes, the format is retro. But the storytelling is so inventive and forward-looking. It appeals to the CBS audience while also inviting new viewers in as well. The new shows from this fall solely appeal to the audience that is already watching CBS and is slowly aging out of the core demographics. They aren't challenging nor are they particularly exciting to talk about. That's why it's so great to have Mom back tonight. It's a show that's actually about something and has done a lot of great work bringing stability to the Thursday night schedule for CBS.

Of course, this is a rather low-key start to the season for Mom. It's largely focused on Adam returning from his abroad movie set and everyone adjusting to his presence once more. It's a story that does tackle with difficult emotions on how this relationship works and what its challenges are. But it's not a serious episode on par with the second season opener that saw Christy's gambling problem force her family into homelessness or the third season premiere which featured Bonnie reconnecting with her estranged mother before she died. "High-Tops and Brown Jacket" is the show in pure "maintaining the status-quo" mode. That's not an inherently bad thing. It's great to see stability in these characters' lives. It probably won't last. It will likely only take a few episodes for them to get back into dealing with the hardships of life. But this is a nice and easy way to start the season while also showing the audience that Bonnie and Adam's relationship will remain an important story.

Sure, Bonnie has been in a serious relationship before. She had that with Alvin. And then, he died and she relapsed. It was a crushing defeat for her. She had those extreme highs and lows. Christy has been stable in her sobriety. She has been supportive of her mother while also questioning her life choices. She comes from a place of love but she is still frequently annoyed by Bonnie. Alvin's death wasn't completely unexpected because Kevin Pollak was only listed as a recurring guest star despite appearing in the majority of early Season 2 episodes. It meant that the audience didn't need to get too attached to the relationship despite the personal importance it had for this family. His death gave a lot of great material to the show. But now, things are slightly different. William Fichtner was charming as Adam in his handful of episodes last season. He fits into the world of this show well. But more importantly, he has actually been promoted to series regular for this season. That could indicate that Bonnie and Adam's relationship will be serious for the duration of the season. So, it will be worth the effort on the audience's part to be invested in them - even though they spend most of this premiere bickering and having make-up sex. Unless of course, the show is luring the audience into a false sense of security and will rip him away as well. That seems unlikely but you never know what to expect from show's nowadays.

Things are relatively good between Bonnie and Adam right now too. It's a pretty traditional story setup with Bonnie asking Adam to move in with her for a few weeks until he can return to his apartment. Things get awkward because they are living together too soon in their relationship. And then, hilarity ensues. It's a story that has been done before but the specificity of the characters makes it interesting. It's not surprising at all that the two of them don't wait until they have sex again. All they need is for Christy to go upstairs. But it's also not surprising that Bonnie gets annoyed by all of the trivial things Adam does. He cuts his nails while they're watching TV. He checks his watch when they are in bed together. He stares at Jill's boobs when she shows up. He falls asleep while she's opening up to him about her past and dreams. It's a nice escalation of big moments to put tension in their relationship. It's all building to the reveal that Bonnie took his wheelchair away from him in the middle of their fight so he couldn't come after her. It's a cruel trick. One that Bonnie most certainly would do. It's one that has a simply resolution with Christy returning the chair to Adam and taking Bonnie to a meeting. It basically says things got so tense because Bonnie was putting her relationship ahead of her sobriety. That is a bit of a stretch but it's not unreasonable to say that meetings can help her with this new change in her life.

Bonnie and Adam living together is the big story of the premiere. Christy's story isn't as important and is once again familiar to stories she has had in the past. It's once again her going out with a friend in the hopes of meeting a guy to have sex with. She's had many different love interests over the course of the show. But none of them seem to stick around for longer than an episode or two. Of course, her life doesn't need to revolve around the search for a man. She's following her own passions. She's working hard to build a better life for herself. Sure, it's slow going but she is making some tremendous progress on her dream of becoming a lawyer. It's the opposite with Bonnie. She has a stable job working as the apartment manager. She's not really good at it at all. But it is stability in her life that gives the family this apartment to live in. So, that has given her the time to have these in-depth and intense relationships. This premiere also introduces that she wanted to be a singer when she was younger. That's perhaps a new avenue for story worth pursuing this season. Or it could just be a way to setup the joke that Adam fell asleep while she was revealing this secret. Christy is actually pursuing her dream. But it's always nice to see her put herself out there as well.

Christy goes out with Jill to a new meeting in order to find guys. It's apparently the meeting where all the attractive people go to. Christy has to censor her life story in order to be appealing to the room of eligible bachelors. So, it's less about working the program and becoming a better person and more about landing dates with hot guys. It's a pretty basic story about Christy being interested in someone and Jill standing in the way of things working out. Jill has been a great source of comedy in the past. But she has this tragic backstory as well. One that she uses to justify all of her poor behavior when interacting with the rest of the girls. She uses her mother's suicide as a way of not knowing how to interact with other woman. But this story is more about her insecurities and ego than anything else. She has been a good friend to Christy in the past. Christy has been the same to her as well. Jill introduces this meeting to Christy in the hopes of finding her a man. But it just becomes a story about Jill needing to be the star in the room demanding attention all of the time. It's in keeping with the character. It just doesn't do a whole lot to bring more nuance to the situation or character dynamics. It's still a nice return to this world and the storytelling though.

Some more thoughts:
  • "High-Tops and Brown Jacket" was directed by James Widdoes with story by Chuck Lorre & Gemma Baker and teleplay by Marco Pennette, Adam Chase & Susan McMartin.
  • Christy says that Adam can stay in Roscoe's bedroom because he is with Baxter and Candace. Is he going to be there for two weeks? If so, that seems like a weird custody arrangement for Christy even knowing that Baxter requested for more time with his son.
  • Seeing Allison Janney without a shirt on from the back is about the most nude anyone can get on any CBS show. It is an effective if a little startling visual. 
  • It's also amusing that Christy isn't able to take a hint about Bonnie and Adam wanting to be alone. She's just so curious about what Vin Diesel is like. She never does get any answers from Adam though.
  • It should be interesting to see how Bonnie and Adam's relationship develops. But it's also important for him to form some kind of dynamic with Christy as well. She's nice to him when Bonnie steals his wheelchair. But that's about all they have in terms of interactions.
  • Christy on why the girls can't have ice cream: "Wendy's lactose intolerant, it's past Marjorie's bed time, and Jill only eats ice cream alone in her bathroom."
  • Christy: "Don't worry, she'll be a different person when she comes back." Adam: "She's been three different people in the last hour!"