September 03, 2015
In The Mix

Dark themes, tears on the set, joke-free scenes: you call that a sitcom? Chuck Lorre and Gemma Baker analyze an atypical hit.

Lisa Rosen

Mom doesn't operate like your typical sitcom.

Especially not one from the mind of hitmaker Chuck Lorre (Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men). And for that, Lorre is profoundly grateful.

Lorre, Eddie Gorodetsky and Gemma Baker created Mom, which centers on Christy (Anna Faris), a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who's doing her best to raise her two children. She has help, of a kind, from her mother, Bonnie (Allison Janney), another former train wreck.

The CBS hit mines dark storylines with humor and pathos. The first season's themes included teen pregnancy and a subsequent adoption; this past season saw the loss of Bonnie's true love — and Christy's dad — Alvin (Kevin Pollak.)

The day after the show was picked up for its third season, Lorre and Baker discussed the show's creation and its ongoing evolution with emmy contributor Lisa Rosen.

What was Mom's genesis?

Lorre: The idea initially was a woman struggling with alcoholism. Eddie Gorodetsky and I were talking about it for months, and we weren't clear when to begin telling the story. Then we brought Gemma into our little cabal.

Baker: I was working on Two and a Half Men at the time. Chuck told me about the project that he and Eddie were working on, and they thought that I could help. I was blown away. Chuck gave me my start [on Men]; he had already changed my life once, and it seemed a little soon for him to be changing my life again.

Lorre: Gemma said the magic words: "Put it in her rear-view mirror." So that Christy's raw, but she's aggressively trying to change her life. That really put it all together. It allowed for the children to be safe. Repairing the relationship with the children is more interesting to me and more hopeful comedy than them being in a threatening environment.

Baker: If you're telling the story in real time, it makes you want to cry. If you're telling it in the past tense, and you know everybody survived, you can laugh about it.

The show found its footing in those darker areas as the first season progressed….

Lorre: There were a few moments in the first season where we started to get a sense of what we were doing. It sounds horrible to say that out loud, but as you're developing a show there's a lot of poking around, trying to find the tone and the rhythm.... When Sadie Calvano, who plays Anna's daughter Violet, gave the baby up for adoption, we worked really hard to tell that story in a way that both had comic elements and addressed the enormous upheaval.

That was heartbreaking.

Lorre: I was grateful for the opportunity and proud of what we came out with. That gave us more courage for year two, where we kept pursuing storylines that tackled areas that are generally untouched in the half-hour comedy business. I'm looking back on this year, and we've done very few episodes about dating. I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

Baker: People cry at our tapings. I cry sometimes. During the taping where Alvin died, between scenes I got so choked up that I had to duck into a closet on the set and take a few breaths and pull it together. 

Is it scary to write entire scenes without jokes?

Lorre: At this point in my career, scarier would be doing the same thing over and over again. Mom has been an opportunity — especially with a cast as unbelievable as this one, with Anna and Allison in charge — to push the envelope a little bit. We didn't invent it — it's been done in the past, and brilliantly. This envelope was pushed 40 years ago on Norman Lear's shows, and then it sort of went away.

Baker: On this show, where we don't put a laugh is as important as where we do. It's usually Chuck who says, "Let's just have this be an emotional moment and let it land," even if we have jokes that could cut the tension.

Did you know when you introduced Alvin that you'd off him later?

Lorre: What we've known from the very beginning is that everything we have to deal with — including losing loved ones — is fair game for this series. And how you deal with it is either tragic or comic, but it's all in play.

You also have uplifting moments, complete with discussions about God.

Lorre: The hope of the series is recovery, restoring relationships, bringing meaning, productivity and love into your life. That is both communal and a very personal spiritual journey.

That's not something I get to do on the Big Bang Theory, certainly not on Two and a Half Men. I'm grateful we got a shot to do it on Mom. We have a show where the characters routinely pray for guidance and peace of mind, and for some serenity and transcendence from all the stuff they have to deal with. I love that.

Baker: We got to deal with Bonnie's anger at the idea of God having a plan for everyone when she just lost the love of her life. That's a real emotion that a lot of people feel when they lose someone. I'm so glad we got to address that in a sitcom.

I love my job every day, but those are the days when I extra-love it.

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