After eight seasons, 170 episodes and 10 Emmy nominations, “Mom” comes to a quiet and unexpected end this week. However as the series wraps, there’s no denying the legacy it leaves behind when it comes to the depiction of recovery on television.
When the series first bowed in 2013, co-creator Gemma Baker wanted to expand on what she had previously seen as limited takes on addiction and recovery, with characters that either relapsed at the first sign of trouble or got a happily ever after with no further exploration. “Mom” may have gone through several iterations over the years as the story expanded into an ensemble show, but through it all sobriety itself was always at the center of the story.
“In terms of recovery the characters got to change in a way that you don’t often see on a sitcom,” says Baker. “They got to grow and become different versions of themselves.”
Although the first season of “Mom” leaned heavily on the pressures facing single mom Christy (Anna Faris) as she raised two kids, worked as a server and reconnected with her mom Bonnie (Allison Janney), the show eventually focused less on the children and more on the relationship between the two adult women. Later, it transitioned again to focus on the women in a support group holding one another up, and in this final season it pivoted one final time with the exit of Faris.
“If you’re lucky enough to stay on television for a while these shows tell you what they are about,” says executive producer Chuck Lorre. “I learned belatedly that this show was about these women taking care of one another. That was the beating heart of the series, and I had to learn that by watching the show and writing it.”
He adds that the unexpected departure of Faris before the beginning of the eighth season made all of the creatives focus even more on the rest of the women who were caring for one another. “Like a life raft through a very stormy ocean, getting through sometimes just the minutia of staying alive one day at a time,” he says.
Over the years those supporting players — portrayed by Jaime Pressly, Mimi Kennedy, Beth Hall and Kristen Johnston — have dealt with different kinds of addictions and real-life hardships. Meanwhile, the series itself constantly pushed boundaries in terms of how dark it could actually get, writing in storylines about death and cancer to keep realism omnipresent with the show’s comedy.
“Normally in TV comedy you just don’t go near that subject, it’s just too grim.” Lorre says of the early cancer storyline involving Kennedy’s character Marjorie. “But we found a way to laugh because Christy and Bonnie wanted to be of service, to support her through this difficult time. Their clumsiness and their ineptness — even though coming from a very good place — is where the comedy comes. Because in fact, former drug addicts and alcoholics, they’re new to altruism and new to caring about others.”
The creatives can’t recall a storyline that ever felt too dark to tackle, because of their commitment to keeping the show grounded. Baker reveals that Lorre always asked the writers, “What’s next?” or, “How could we go on from that?” She remembers the third-season episode “Diabetic Lesbians and a Blushing Bride,” in which Jodi (recurring guest-star Emily Osment), the young woman Christy was sponsoring, overdosed.
“What came out of that was the next episode the women were so devastated by the loss that they distracted themselves by going to Canada and smuggling in maple syrup,” Baker says. “That episode is really one of my favorites because it was this very silly thing they were doing but underneath that was this grief and sadness that we only visited at the end of the episode when they pulled over and had a meeting.”
“Treating a very, very serious life and death issue without the appropriate seriousness, that’s always a judgment call,” adds Lorre. “It’s a challenge to make sure we’re not crossing the line and being disrespectful but also showing that in the community of recovery, there’s a great deal of laughter. A great deal of relief over having escaped a dark, dark ending for oneself.”
Heading into the finale, the creatives continue to use the term “hope and redemption” not only to describe the overall show, but the series finale itself. The writers were five episodes out from scripting the season ender when they got word of the “Mom” cancelation. From there it was a sprint to wrap up the series.
Christy’s journey was made complete offscreen when her character moved to Washington to pursue a legal career in the season premiere; Faris won’t return for the final episode. Instead, the storyline focuses on Bonnie receiving a new perspective on her sobriety after she is dealt some “difficult” news, while also celebrating how far characters, such as Pressly’s Jill, who learned she was pregnant in the penultimate episodes, have come.
“There will be developments that our audience will be excited about and maybe there are also some things that are less than ideal,” says Baker of the finale. “That’s just how life is. We know our characters can get through anything because they’re together and they have each other.”
“From the very beginning to the final episode the show is about hope — that there’s hope,” adds Lorre. “Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is possible. And not only possible, it can be a joyful and communal experience. We knew going in eight years ago that’s what the show was about. I think that will be loud and clear in the finale as well.”
“Mom” airs its series finale May 13 at 9 p.m. on CBS.