‘Mom’ Uses Network Comedy Platform to Spotlight Sobriety

Before co-creator and executive producer Gemma Baker began working on “Mom,” she remembers seeing the process of recovery on television in limited ways: either something “depressing” that saw the character “relapse easily at the first sign of trouble” or as something that was introduced in the last five minutes of a movie to put a “happily ever after” button on the project — without showing the reality of the life and work ahead for the character.

“For most people in recovery, getting sober isn’t the end of the story — it’s the beginning of the story,” says Baker. “So I am glad that we got to start ‘Mom’ in the beginning of Christy’s recovery and tell the story of her turning her life around and all the wins and losses of trying to become a better version of yourself. I love that we get to portray people with long-term recovery living full, vibrant lives and who choose to stay sober in the face of heartbreak by rallying around each other.”

Although “Mom” sets out to be “hopeful” when showing its heroines Christy (Anna Faris) and Bonnie (Allison Janney) committed to their recovery, it does not do so at the sake of realism. Characters are constantly faced with struggles, and at times temptations, that challenge their sobriety.

A key second-season arc saw Bonnie being prescribed painkillers after an injury, which forced both women to confront how strong their demons still were. Bonnie relapsed, but Christy was so determined not to that she threw her focus into helping someone else. Later that same season, both women were tested again when the woman Christy was sponsoring (Jill, played by Jaime Pressly) got out of rehab, asked the women to live with her and they saw just how often she was prone to relapses.

“Mom” isn’t just about Christy and Bonnie’s journeys with sobriety. By making their support group a major setting of the show, the characters who share their stories — from regular players including Pressly, Mimi Kennedy and Beth Hall to those who have come in and out, such as Missi Pyle, Mary Pat Gleason and Leonard Roberts — are able to reflect diverse voices and experiences. Characters’ addictions come in many forms (alcohol, pills, cocaine, gambling) and in the case of Pressly’s Jill, her addiction has transferred from drugs and alcohol to food.

“Research is very important,” says co-creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre. “It’s important to stay honest and true to what these issues are really about, not to make things up necessarily. That would be unfair — that would be like cheating. We’re trying to maintain some honesty when we’re dealing with these issues.”

The hard work has paid off. Executive producer Nick Bakay and series star Faris both adamantly report that they often hear positive feedback not only from people who are in recovery but also some recovery organizations.

“We get people coming up to us on the street who have personal experiences [and] it’s incredibly flattering,” Faris says. “It’s an honor and it’s really moving when our show touches people in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.”

Bakay feels the strong positive reaction comes from the fact that the show leans so heavily into being about everyday women just trying to better their lives. “[Christy and Bonnie] have had no leg up [and] came from very, very difficult origins, and one of the things I like about our show is that it’s not like you get sober on our show and your life is just a bed of roses,” he says. “It’s hard work every day and they still get knocked down but they do get up.”

But it is undoubtedly also because those who work on “Mom” aren’t just telling fictional stories but also extending their support of those trying to get and stay sober into the real world. In 2016 the team behind “Mom” worked with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy to produce and air a special PSA to raise awareness about the increasing epidemic of drug overdoses. At the time, Murthy stated overdoses killed more Americans than car crashes and reminded everyone of the importance of “treatment, compassion and support” for anyone struggling with addiction.

That’s a trio the show knows extremely well. Baker recently heard from a fan of the show who said that what was most lovable was that “even though the characters are drug addicts and alcoholics who’ve made a lot of mistakes, you write them with dignity.”

“I hadn’t thought about it exactly in those terms before but [it’s] true,” Baker says. “All of the writers really love our characters and we protect them.”

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