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'Mom' enters the post-Anna era



Save for having her films appear on the late show or on Turner Classic Movies, this was as close as Carole Lombard came to appearing on television -- having her old RKO pal Lucille Ball hold up a fan magazine with her picture on the cover. It would be Ball who would make a spark in the new medium, first with the iconic sitcom "I Love Lucy" and then with Desilu Productions.

Ball helped put the multi-camera sitcom on the map, a format that's never fallen out of favor in the nearly seven decades since "I Love Lucy" hit the airwaves in October 1951. And tonight, my favorite current sitcom (and one of TV's best), "Mom," returns for its eighth season (9/8c, CBS). But quite a lot has transpired since its last new episode aired some 6 1/2 months ago, not long after the acclaimed series about recovery celebrated the making of its 150th episode.



The coronavirus pandemic affected TV and entertainment as much as any industry, and two episodes after this, "Mom" shut down production two episodes shy of its scheduled season finale. Then, not long after the extended hiatus began, the show's producers learned this news, one they kept under wraps until early September...



...Anna Faris, the show's top-billed actress who had played its central character, Christy Plunkett, since "Mom" debuted in September 2013, decided to leave the series for personal reasons. (Faris has a special-needs son who's eight, and is also planning to marry cinematographer Michael Barrett.) While the announcement caught the show's many fans by surprise, her alerting producers enabled the writers to prepare season eight scripts without her character, and the move came without acrimony.

A few years ago, her departure might have put the show in a bind, since "Mom" began as a relatively conventional domestic sitcom about a working mother with two children (from different fathers, one abusive, the other divorced). But the series gradually changed focus, as the kids were written out of the show and emphasis shifted to an Alcoholics Anonymous group.

"Mom" now has a new lead character in Christy's mother Bonnie (also in recovery), played by acclaimed actress Allison Janney (multiple Emmys for several series, including "Mom," and a best supporting actress Academy Award for "I, Tonya"). This will be a challenge for Janney, who's rarely been top-billed.



She'll be aided by an expert ensemble -- the AA group's wise old owl Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy, formerly of "Dharma & Greg"); wealthy, spoiled Jill (Jaime Pressly); registered nurse Wendy (Beth Hall); and ex-con turned handyman Tammy (Kristen Johnston, who won two Emmys for "3rd Rock From The Sun" and herself has been in recovery). Bonnie also has a husband in disabled former Hollywood stuntman Adam (veteran actor William Fichtner).

While Christy's been written out of the series, we'll learn what her character is now up to tonight. People associated with "Mom" say she'll be described as successful and sober -- good news for the show's many fans in recovery who identify with the characters. While I'll miss her (this longtime Faris fan has followed "Mom" since the beginning), the show is so solidly acted and written that it shouldn't miss a beat.

Before "Mom" opens its season, another show from the Chuck Lorre stable debuts tonight -- "B Positive" (8:30/7:30c).



Thomas Middleditch and Annaleigh Ashford star; he's a therapist in need of a new kidney, she's a free spirit who agrees to donate one of hers (though she can't remember making the offer the following day). This was co-created by "Mom's" Marco Pennette, based on his own story.

"B Positive" has received strong reviews (https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/tv/b-positive-review-1.50055693; https://nypost.com/2020/10/29/sitcom-king-chuck-lorre-strikes-again-with-b-positive/), and It appears Lorre's got another winner. Let's cross our fingers no election coverage disrupts either series.
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