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12 Essential Mom Episodes

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros./CBS

After eight seasons — and two Emmys for Allison Janney — CBS’s Mom is coming to a close, with the finale set to air on Thursday. Revolving around a single mother, Christy (Anna Faris), navigating both recovery from alcohol and drug addiction and the difficulties of having her messy and also newly sober mother, Bonnie (Janney), back in her life, the series has gone through several evolutions over its run. First, Christy’s children, Violet (Sadie Calvano) and Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal) were demoted from full-time cast members to very occasional visitors. This permitted producers to focus on the show’s more compelling characters and concerns: Bonnie and Christy’s friendship with the women at their regular AA meeting; Bonnie and Christy’s fragile peace with one another; and how the work of sobriety can either facilitate or complicate them.

The show’s last pivot was its most surprising: Anna Faris shocked both viewers (and, apparently, her colleagues) by announcing in September that she was exiting Mom halfway through her current contract. The rest of Mom’s extremely gifted ensemble of 40- and (mostly) 50-plus women have ably filled the space, and while I personally could have watched them do it for as many more years as they wanted to, CBS apparently needed that money for another NCIS, and pulled the plug in February.

With the entire series run available to stream — seasons one through seven are on Hulu; the eighth is on Paramount Plus — perhaps you’d like to check it out? Here are 12 essential episodes to get you started.

“Corned Beef and Handcuffs” (Season 1, Episode 12)

Rudy (French Stewart), the chef at the high-end restaurant where Christy works as a server, has occasionally made sexual advances toward her in the kitchen — more out of curiosity or boredom than any real drive, one assumes, since he mostly seems contemptuous of her. But when he runs into Christy and Bonnie at the Burgundy Bistro, their favorite hangout, we see what it looks like when he really turns it on with a potential sexual partner: Bonnie. She agrees to date Rudy, but soon learns she probably should have heeded Christy’s warnings about him. Janney and Stewart are tremendous scene partners, and their scenes fizz with crack timing and extremely committed physical comedy.

“Free Therapy and a Dead Lady’s Yard Sale” (Season 2, Episode 8)

Since placing her newborn child for adoption in the first season, Violet has been aimless, depressed, self-medicating with alcohol, and resistant to Christy and Bonnie’s attempts to help her. After reluctantly agreeing to see a therapist at the free clinic, Violet invites Bonnie and Christy to participate in one of her sessions, which brings them to a subject Christy seems to have hoped she’d never have to tell Violet about. Calvano deserves credit for having always played Violet’s bad attitude without vanity; this is an episode where we get to see there’s something deeper and darker underlying what sometimes reads as standard teen brattiness.

“Turkey Meatballs and a Getaway Car” (Season 2, Episode 15)

Christy’s on-again, off-again relationship with Gabriel (Nate Corddry), her manager at the restaurant, has generally not been something she’s especially proud of, since he’s married — unhappily, but it still counts. Gabriel’s separation from his wife, Claudia (Courtney Henggeler), smooths out some of the issues between Gabriel and Christy, though this episode adds a new kink, as Christy learns nothing turns her on as much as the risk that they might get caught having sex. This episode also has a strong B plot, as Bonnie takes over as secretary at the women’s AA meeting and wields this tiny amount of power without proportion or grace, but the standout is Faris in the A plot, leaning all the way in on her portrayal of female desire.

“Terrorists and Gingerbread” (Season 3, Episode 1)

We’ve known for a while that Bonnie grew up in foster care after her biological mother abandoned her. In the third-season premiere, however, she tries to reconnect with Bonnie after decades of estrangement. Bonnie refuses to see her, but a curious Christy arranges to meet her alone. No spoilers, but both June Squibb and Ellen Burstyn appear as guest stars in the episode, and Janney’s performance of Bonnie’s lifelong hurt, shame, and rage is blistering.

“Quaaludes and Crackerjack” (Season 3, Episode 10)

Having made things weird at their usual coed meeting by sleeping with and then dumping fellow attendee Steve (Don McManus), Bonnie insists on bringing Christy to a different one. Turns out Bonnie’s got an ex at this one, too: Jeanine (Rosie O’Donnell), with whom Bonnie and Christy lived for a significant period when Christy was a child. Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy) convinces Bonnie that she owes Jeanine amends for taking advantage of her, but it seems as though the circumstances underlying their relationship weren’t so straightforward. O’Donnell fits in beautifully with the ensemble; her scenes with Janney are both fun and sexy.

“Bad Hand and British Royalty” (Season 4, Episode 9)

Bonnie’s longtime boyfriend Adam (William Fichtner) is excited to introduce her to Leanne (Nicole Sullivan) and Mitch (Bradley Whitford): Mitch is a film director, and they’re old friends from Adam’s former career as a stunt performer. Bonnie is eager to make a good impression, but Mitch and Leanne make it difficult by getting sloppy drunk and causing drama with personal revelations no one asked for. MadTV veteran Sullivan makes a meal of the slapstick required for her role; West Wing fans will delight in seeing former co-stars Whitford and Janney reunite to play very different parts than the ones that first made them famous on TV.

“A Cricket and a Hedge Made of Gold” (Season 4, Episode 20)

Marjorie’s sponsor of many years relapses, causing Marjorie to take a few days off from her own sponsees to settle her own feelings about the crisis. (Bonnie tries and, of course, mostly fails to fill the vacuum.) Marjorie’s sabbatical comes at a terrible time, coinciding with Christy running into someone she had hoped to never see again: a stranger who raped her when she was drunk. Faris is shattering in her portrayal of Christy’s complex feelings of anger and self-recrimination, but her friends closing ranks and loving her through it is Mom at its best.

“Crazy Snakes and a Clog to the Head” (Season 5, Episode 17)

Marjorie convinces Bonnie, Christy, Jill (Jaime Pressly), and Wendy (Beth Hall) that they should all take their AA meeting to a prison, and share their recovery stories with women who could really benefit from hearing them, as Marjorie did when she attended her first meeting while incarcerated. What no one predicts (… but someone probably should) is that one of the women serving time is Tammy (Kristen Johnston), Bonnie’s former foster sister and someone to whom Bonnie definitely owes amends. Johnston’s antic energy meshes so well with the rest of the cast that it was no surprise when the production brought her character back in season six and eventually made her a series regular.

“Cottage Cheese and a Weird Buzz” (Season 6, Episode 6)

That Christy’s drug and alcohol addictions are concurrent with an addiction to gambling has been established since the show’s earliest seasons, but not until the penultimate episode of the fifth season does Christy have a relapse with her gambling, requiring her to borrow money from Jill. “Cottage Cheese and a Weird Buzz” finds Christy bristling at Jill’s insistence that Christy adhere to the repayment schedule they’ve worked out, given that Jill is so wealthy that she could easily forgive the loan. Jill’s very comfortable financial circumstances — particularly relative to those of her friends, who are all struggling — is a topic the show uses for episode fodder very judiciously and effectively, as in this episode, when Christy must acknowledge what this debt really means.

“Crazy Hair and a Teeny Tiny Part of Canada” (Season 6, Episode 22)

Christy is distressed to learn that her newish sponsor Nora (Yvette Nicole Brown) has accepted a job in another state and will be moving away very soon. This setback comes just as Bonnie’s latest impulsive decision causes Christy to question how much progress she and Bonnie have made in their relationship, and to indulge in self-pity about who she can confide in. Christy’s arc with Nora has been fascinating in terms of how different Nora is as a sponsor than Marjorie has been; Mom producers always seem conscious of their responsibility to show all the ways recovery can work.

“Cheddar Cheese and a Squirrel Circus” (Season 7, Episode 14)

Tammy has recently been released from prison, and she’s approached by Cookie (Kathleen Turner), an aunt who contacted her to see if she might be a match for the kidney transplant Cookie needs. Tammy is disappointed to learn that Cookie could have adopted her as a child and spared her entering the foster system, but agreed to donate one of her kidneys anyway. In “Cheddar Cheese and a Squirrel Circus,” Cookie has recovered from her surgery and is living it up — maybe a little more than Tammy thinks is wise. Tammy’s family backstory is extremely dark, so it’s particularly heartbreaking to watch her decide whether she wants her last known relative to remain in her life; Johnston and Turner are both excellent.

“Illegal Eels and the Cantaloupe Man” (Season 8, Episode 10)

While Bonnie and Adam have never really splashed out for Valentine’s Day in the past, he decides to plan a special date at a very fancy restaurant (and Bonnie could use the distraction, since the ladies have just found out that Wendy is knowingly dating a married man and doesn’t back down when they confront her about it). However, as the night wears on, all of Bonnie’s best friends end up joining her and Adam for their romantic evening. Though one of the qualities we most appreciate in Mom is how much it sidelines men, this episode is a sweet confirmation of how much Adam has been accepted by Bonnie’s true family, and how much he values their role in her life, too.

12 Essential Mom Episodes