Until CBS stops going for Broke, it may be hard for Mom, one of the season's more promising and pungent new comedies, to get the break it, and the title character, deserves. What's happening to CBS on Monday with its once-dominant comedy lineup is a slow-fade version of the freefall NBC experienced with its Thursday lineup in the wake of Friends. Holding on to shows too long (How I Met Your Mother, which could have wrapped this whole thing way earlier), promoting shows too soon with too little to offer (the shrill and increasingly charmless 2 Broke Girls), making odd decisions like keeping the award-winning Mike & Molly on the shelf in favor of an insta-dud like the abysmal We Are Men, this is one of those rare nights when CBS's programming acumen has mostly crapped out. (Monday's loss is, of course, Thursday's gain, with former Monday anchors The Big Bang Theory and, to a lesser degree these days, the played-out Two and a Half Men helping get early sampling for newbies The Millers and The Crazy Ones.)
Mom deserves better. The sins of the parents are a gift that just keep on giving in this vividly performed show, which is unlikely ever to be confused for TV's coolest or classiest sitcom. But this frazzled family, led by Anna Faris and Allison Janney as two generations of messed-up recovering addicts, feels like a throwback to the raucous days of Roseanne and Grace Under Fire, shows where prolific hit-making executive producer Chuck Lorre (Big Bang, Two and a Half Men, Molly) mastered his trade, and which like Mom share a struggling-class ethos rarely glimpsed on TV (excepting ABC's gentler The Middle). Few new characters this season are as memorably messy and flat-out-funny as Christy, the recovering-alcoholic single-mom waitress played by Faris with pluck and a veneer of comic despair.
Christy is always seeking daily affirmations (in her car, anyway, with a self-help book-on-tape), which she won't get at work or at home, where her own daughter has just tested positive for a third-generation unplanned pregnancy. When Christy's mom Bonnie (the grandly sardonic Janney) wondered last week, "What's the matter with us?" Christy retorted, "The fact that you don't know speaks volumes."
This week (9:30/8:30c), the endearingly needy Christy goes on her first true date during her newfound sobriety with a charming civil engineer played by Justin Long (who provided much the same role for a vulnerable Jess on Fox's New Girl a while back). And while it goes about as well as you might imagine, given Christy's anxiety level — "In my defense, I am emotionally all over the place," she declares — there's a sweetness when he tells her, and means it as a compliment, "You're not as crazy as you think you are." While the jokes in Mom are often stingingly crass, Faris and Janney score more often than not. We really hope CBS gives Christy enough time to make it after all, one episode at a time.
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MONDAY NIGHT DRAMA: How long will that annoying serial killer Pelant (Andrew Leeds) continue to bedevil the usually invincible team on Fox's Bones? At least for one more episode (8/7c), as a plot to use a cadaver to entrap the fiend backfires. Adding to the intrigue, Sweets (John Francis Daley) returns from his leave of absence and becomes suspicious of visiting Special Agent Leeds (Reed Diamond). ... Having just renewed the wild and weird Sleepy Hollow for a second season, Fox describes this week's episode (9/8c) as a game-changer, in which the search is on for Abbie's sister Jenny when she disappears from the mental hospital. And in between flashbacks to the original Boston Tea Party, Ichabod and Abbie are finally able to put a name on the evil they're going up against. ... Another new show basking in good news, this time of a full-season pickup, NBC's The Blacklist (10:01/9:01c) puts Red and Liz on the trail of a Chinese spy who's trying to decode a CIA transmission. ... The best part of CBS's Hostages (10/9c) is watching Dr. Ellen try to extricate herself, as well as the conspirators behind her predicament, from the mess she got into after sabotaging the President's surgery. This time, it's the First Lady (a fierce Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who wants her fired, which could muck up all of the villains' plans. The worst part of Hostages is nearly everything else — including Ellen's scheme to approach Duncan's daughter by slipping away to a school's art fair, assuming no one will recognize the President's doctor who's just been on national TV after his near-death experience.
REALITY WATCH: The best part of NBC's The Voice (8/7c) is almost over, as the blind auditions near their end. (They're performing well enough that NBC has expanded Tuesday's "Best of the Blinds" recap to two hours, bumping the premiere of The Biggest Loser for a week.) ... Trusting that nepotism will not be a factor, ABC's Dancing With the Stars (8/7c) welcomes back two-time winner Julianne Hough to join the judges' table (replacing Len Goodman while he works on the show's British counterpart), while Emmy-winning brother Derek Hough soldiers on with Amber Riley. The 10 remaining teams will dance in styles they haven't tackled yet before the elimination boom falls.
THE REAL WORLD: Imagine David Arquette as homeroom teacher, 50 Cent as mentor/cheerleader, Oliver Stone doing the history lecturing — OK, maybe that last one's a little sketchy, but Sundance's six-part docu-series Dream School(10/9c), executive produced by Jamie Oliver and 50 Cent, is inspiring in its good intentions toward 15 high-risk kids who either dropped out or were expelled from (sometimes multiple) schools. They're enrolled in a celebrity curriculum, with hopes of motivating them toward continuing or possibly completing educations stalled by rough lives, bullying or bad decisions (one juvenile's fate appears to hinge on his being able to quit smoking).
One child who could have used a Dream School was 15-year-old Lawrence "Larry" King, an 8th-grader from a shelter for troubled kids in Oxnard, Calif. In 2008, Larry was shot in front of classmates by fellow student Brandon McInerney, who couldn't deal with Larry's gender-bending effeminacy or the fact that the day before, Larry had asked Brandon to be his valentine. Valentine Road, which inaugurates the HBO Documentary Films fall series (9/8c), tells their tragic story in all of its troubling aftermath, as Larry's murder is twisted in the legal process into a case of possible sexual harassment, splitting jurors' opinions on who the real victim was here.
THE MONDAY GUIDE: The Miley Cyrus media blitz continues with a live concert performance on NBC's Today (7 am/6c) and an interview with Matt Lauer, which will all undoubtedly go viral before the end of the next celebrity news cycle. ... The CW's Beauty and the Beast starts a second season on a new night (9/8c) as Catherine is reunited with Vincent three months after his kidnapping, and while beauty hasn't changed much, he seems to be an entirely new beast, with a wiped memory and a missing scar. ... It's an NYPD vs. feds turf war on ABC's Castle (10:01/9:01c) when Beckett and her boss McCord (Lisa Edelstein) show up in New York to take over the investigation of the murder of a kid-sitcom star (think Screech), while Castle is already feeling threatened by a new detective at the 12th. Antonio Sabato Jr. plays the victim's former co-star.