CBS’ Mom, which in its first one-and-a-half seasons has tackled alcoholism, cancer, gambling and teen pregnancy, added another serious topic to its repertoire this Thursday night, with the sudden death of a major character.
The episode “Three Smiles And An Unpainted Ceiling” opened (too?) happily enough with the news that Alvin (recurring player Kevin Pollak) was moving into a vacant apartment just across the courtyard from where Bonnie (Emmy winner Allison Janney), daughter Christy (Anna Faris) and granddaughter Violet (Sadie Calvano) live. Later, as he and Bonnie went to “christen” his new bedroom, Alvin’s ticker gave out again, one final time, leaving Bonnie to bellow for Christy’s help.
In the aftermath, Bonnie nearly turned to drink, but instead — after a talk-down from Christy — opted to crash Alvin’s funeral, where she gave his ex-wife Lorraine a piece of her mind (and scurried away with a “souvenir”).
Sharing her first reaction to the somber twist, Allison Janney tells TVLine that Mom creator Chuck Lorre “pulled Anna and me aside and told us at the same time what was going to be happening. Initially we were very surprised — ‘Why, oh why? Did Kevin get a better job??’ We were sad, because it was so much fun to play with Kevin. But Chuck was afraid that these characters were getting too comfortable,” reassembled as they basically were as a semi-functioning family unit.
“The root of the show is these two women surviving everything life throws at you, and they are definitely not exempt from losing someone they love,” Janney continues. And storyline-wise, “I think that ultimately there was more to be gained from having something like this happen, to watch how they deal with it. It might be helpful or relatable to someone out there, as with every issue we deal with on the show.” (Janney says she regularly fields thank-yous from real-life alcoholics pleased to see their struggles reflected on screen.) “Ours is not a TV land where everything is rosy and perfect.”
Indeed, Mom is doing things that few sitcoms dare to try, effectively mixing (sometimes broad) laughs with sobering fare. As Faris puts it, “I’m devastated that Kevin[‘s character] had that journey, but also I’m so in awe of it — that we have writers and a studio (Warner Bros. TV) that will go to these places.” Janney concurs, saying: “Chuck loves that he’s able to do this kind of work with the half-hour format, to dig a little deeper. And Anna and I and the rest of the cast aren’t afraid to handle that material…. I’m really proud.”
What’s more, whereas some sitcoms — especially multi-cam comedies — can be rather standalone in nature, Mom will follow through on the reverberations of Alvin’s death, seeing as it robbed Bonnie of a second chance at great love, took from Christy the dad she barely knew and left Violet feeling guilty, since she selfishly blew off what turned out to be a last chance to hang with her grandfather.
“Subsequent episodes are not all about [that], but every episode has a little something in there,” Janney previews. “It’s a slow recovery.” Surveying Christy’s loss, Faris notes, “She didn’t get much time with him, but as Chuck says, ‘That’s life’s journey.'” And Calvano says that while Violet “typically is a pretty strong girl and it’s not very often you get to see her break, this definitely exposes a rare side of her,” as shown during her commiseration with mom Christy.
“We’re doing something incredibly special, telling stories that are important for people to hear,” Calvano continues. As such, she feels, Mom “has become a genre of its own, because we’re not like any other sitcom on television right now.”
Besides, the image of Alvin splayed out on the sheets — after aiming to “even the score” with Bonnie — might not be the last we see of the character. Hints Faris: “I think we’ll see a little bit of Kevin appearing in different, various ways….”