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A Great Show Rushes to its End: "Mom" Finale Review

It's never easy to end a TV show, especially a long-running, beloved show like Mom. "My Kinda People and the Big To-Do," the last episode of Mom that aired May 13 on CBS, was a good episode. It was maybe even a great episode. But was it a satisfying series conclusion? No, not really. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before we talk about what didn't happen in the episode, let's talk about what did happen. 

The episode begins at an AA meeting, as many episodes have. The ladies - Bonnie, Tammy, Jill, Marjorie, & Wendy - all share. They're all happy and in good places in their lives, much to the annoyance of newcomer Shannon (played by Melanie Lynskey, independent film mainstay whose sitcom credits include Chuck Lorre's Two and a Half Men). Bonnie wants to help Shannon, as she had been helped by others when she too was new to the program, and even chases Shannon in the rain when she leaves the meeting. Later in the episode, we see Shannon's difficulties with her mother (played by Chicago theater mainstay Rondi Reed, whose sitcom credits include the Chuck Lorre-produced Mike & Molly), also an addict. Despite their struggles, Shannon and her mother are both present at the meeting the episode ends on. Shannon's story (another fraught mother-daughter relationship) was the highlight of the episode for me. Our main characters have their lives sorted, we don't have to worry about them. But there are still people in the throes of their battle with addiction, as Shannon and her mother powerfully reminded us. 

As for the fates of our main characters, a pregnant Jill marries Andy, Tammy has a new boyfriend and a new company with Bonnie, Marjorie is said to get to spend time with her granddaughter after patching up her relationship with her son, and Wendy is good too, presumably. Adam might have cancer, but that's OK because Bonnie has grown as a person and is equipped to handle such situations calmly. 

The Adam-cancer subplot was perhaps a bit too much to introduce in the very last episode. They had 22 minutes to wrap up 8 years of storylines, so bringing in a new element was an odd choice, especially since the only ostensible purpose of the plot was to demonstrate Bonnie's growth as a person, which was already underlined in this episode by her reaching out to Shannon. 

Allison Janney has said in interviews that she wished the writers had more time to lead up to the show's conclusion, as the news that season eight would be it wasn't announced until February of this year. I understand that keeping a show going in its later years is expensive and new deals would have to be made for the cast and that 8 seasons is a very healthy run for a sitcom, but I can't help but agreeing with Janney that the ending felt rushed. The final two seasons were both truncated because of COVID, and the show also had to deal with the departure of original star Anna Faris, who played Christy.

As you may remember, when Mom premiered in September 2013, it was a very different show. The original premise was centered around Christy and her attempts to be newly sober while dealing with her mother Bonnie, her job at the Rustic Fig restaurant, and her own kids, Violet and Roscoe. It wasn't a great show at the beginning. I tried it out based on the strength of the cast (Anna Faris in the Scary Movies and in The House Bunny must be two of the greatest comedic film performances of the 21st century), but I gave up after a handful of not so funny episodes. Toward the end of that first season, I came across an article urging people to give it another shot, as it had improved. So, I tried again. I watched a few episodes On Demand from the end of season one (and I still remember the taste of the macadamia nut cookies I ate while watching them). It was the storyline where Regina (Octavia Spencer) was going to jail and when Bonnie takes the stand as a character witness (LOL), I realized this show had real potential. And a subsequent episode, where Bonnie, Christy, and Marjorie drive Regina to prison became the prototype for the show that Mom would become - a show about women alcoholics supporting each other.

The shift required dumping many of the original supporting characters, including the restaurant staff and, eventually, Christy's kids. New characters were added, including Jill and Wendy and much later Tammy. It became a much stronger show in this second iteration, as the interactions between the women provided the comedy and the heart. 

The other aspect of the show that requires mention is its willingness to address topics that other sitcoms wouldn't dream of touching. Addiction, relapse, death, adoption, poverty, homelessness all featured in storylines during the series. I can't think of any other sitcom that killed off heavily recurring characters for reasons other than an actor's passing. Mom did it twice - Alvin in season two and Jodi in season three. It took its characters seriously and allowed them to deal with the realities of sobriety. It was a commendable and perhaps even groundbreaking spin on a decades-old style of television. I've written about this before

Did the show lose some of its teeth as the years went on? I suppose that could be argued. Characters stilled died in the later seasons (Marjorie's husband, Mary from the meetings), but the victims were less central to the show. But storylines from the later seasons did still incorporate serious issues, like Christy's gambling addiction, but the overall tone became more consistently light. All of this is to say that the series had two identities during its run, and a fitting finale would have tried to reconcile them.

Anna Faris announced her departure from the series after season seven, which was somewhat bizarre given that she was in the middle of a two-year deal. If she had decided to stay, then ending the show at season eight would have felt more right. But since she left, and the pandemic shutdown meant season seven ended abruptly, the character of Christy got no proper goodbye. Her last appearance was just a random episode, and she was written off in season eight as attending Georgetown Law School. So, it's a happy ending for Christy getting closer to her dream of being a lawyer, but it happened offscreen, which was a big let down. 

Christy didn't return for the series finale, not even for a cameo. She was mentioned, but not by name. Roscoe and Violet didn't return either, but Bonnie did give a mention to her "grandkids." Andy was the only recurring character to make an appearance at all. Characters who ideally would have shown up include (but are not limited to): Baxter and Candace, Steve, Regina, Chef Rudy, Ray, Emily & Natasha, Patty, and Trevor. It would have been nice to get updates on some of those characters, who, at times, were important parts of the show. At least we were spared one final visit from Mitch and Leanne!

Perhaps the single most frustratingly missed opportunity was the lack of resolution between Christy and her children. The entire show hinged on Bonnie and Christy repairing their relationship and Bonnie making up for the mistakes she made during Christy's childhood and Cristy forgiving her. But what about the mistakes Christy made during Roscoe and Violet's childhood? We see Christy trying very hard to make up for them but, by writing the kids off, the audience is denied getting to see Christy forgiven. In fact, Violet's last appearance in a season six episode, had a very dark ending. Violet is shown to have gotten her life together, but chooses to remain estranged from Christy specifically because she is not over the disappointments of her childhood. 

For the finale to not offer even a glimmer of hope that Violet and Christy can repair their relationship is not only bleak, but a missed opportunity to refract the themes of the show another angle. Why not show the healing and the reconciliation? Why not use Violet to illustrate that the cycle of disease and dysfunction can be broken? 

If Mom had had a ninth season, or even an hour long finale, maybe some of those themes could have been addressed. The best series finales, to me, are the ones that feel like bonus episodes, that don't have the burden of wrapping up ongoing stories and can just focus on the characters. Shows like The Office and Dawson's Creek have done it beautifully. 

But I can't judge Mom's finale based on what I personally would have liked it to have been. No finale can please everybody, and "My Kinda People and the Big To-Do" was a mostly lovely episode that functioned as a nice end to season eight, a season which tried hard to use the ensemble cast in more ways than it had previously. 

And in today's TV climate, a goodbye is not necessarily a goodbye. Think of all of the shows that have been rebooted or revived in recent years - Roseanne, Will & Grace, Murphy Brown, Mad About You, etc., etc. Think of how many of those shows came back only to find they had nothing else to say. A potential Mom revival would have a reason to exist, to wrap up storylines left unresolved in the original run. That could be actually really great.

Even if Mom didn't totally stick the landing, I will still miss it. I watched every week for eight years. I was a freshman in high school when Mom premiered, and now I'm a college graduate. Ah, the relentless march of time! We get older, seasons change, our favorite shows come to an end. It's time for all of us to move onto the next chapter, which is bittersweet but also exciting. What comes next? What will fill the hole in CBS' Thursday night lineup? The possibilities are endless. 


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