'Mom' Postmortem: Allison Janney and Anna Faris on the Heartbreaking Twist

The 'Mom' stars break down the Plunkett family's big loss
Courtesy of CBS

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the Jan. 22 episode of CBS' Mom, "Three Smiles and an Unpainted Ceiling."]

CBS' Mom has never been afraid to tackle the big issues — addiction, poverty, cancer, teen pregnancy — and in the Jan. 22 episode, "Three Smiles and an Unpainted Ceiling," the Plunkett family was hit with a massive loss when Alvin (Kevin Pollack), Christy's (Anna Faris) father and Bonnie's (Allison Janney) rekindled love, died unexpectedly.

Alvin's death came at an especially inopportune time: after abandoning Bonnie when Christy was born, he had only recently begun to reconnect with them (and Christy's two children). And after Alvin's heart attack at the end of season 1, Bonnie, reluctantly admitted she still loved him, which led to Alvin deciding to move across the courtyard from Bonnie and Christy in "Three Smiles and an Unpainted Ceiling." But the family's happiness wasn't meant to last.

"[Mom co-creator] Chuck [Lorre] very sensitively pulled Anna and me into a dressing room to say what the episode was going to be about," Janney told The Hollywood Reporter. "We were really shocked; we loved the character [of Alvin], and Kevin is an amazing actor. We enjoyed the family coming together again … and forging that family bond. To hear it was going to be torn apart, we were like, 'Are you sure?' They really want to show these women surviving. They're not exempt from having things like that happen … you can't, in a series like this, have everything tie up in a bow: Alvin is back, they're a family unit again, and live happily ever after."

"It was devastating," Faris acknowledged. "And fulfilling is the wrong word, but I couldn't believe that we are graced with that emotion. That we have the support of the studio, the producers and the writers who will take us to these challenging places. So, in that way, it was [amazing], but it was devastating. I want to see Kevin all the time."

Adding a wrinkle to the grief the women had to portray on-screen was the fact that Mom traditionally films in front of a live studio audience. "Some of the more sensitive scenes we did [pre-]shoot, not in front of the live audience," Janney shared. "We have shot some of these [emotional] scenes in front of a live audience, and they're sometimes challenging to do; if you don't get it right away, you have to go back and there's a lot more pressure on you. I think I prefer to do the pre-shoots. It's a bit more quiet, and I can focus, and there's not a lot of crazy [things going on]. Live shooting tends to be a bit of a circus act, and it can be hard to focus. I think we probably pre-shoot things more than the other [Lorre] shows; Big Bang likes to shoot everything in front of a live audience. We have a mix … which I prefer to tackle for the more emotional things. For [Anna's] last scene, we did it in front of the audience, which was beautiful … it was so moving. I love the opportunity to do this kind of work."

See more On the Set of 'Mom'

"There is that unbelievable reward when you have our audience [there]," Faris said. "It makes us better actors, I think. We're engaged with them, and we feel their gasps and their silence. The stakes are high. I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful we can film in front of a live audience, in general. And episodes like that, you can feel, it's very palpable. Allison and I, we really support each other. One of the best things about the show is getting to work with her … And I think not only are we compatible as actors and friends, but the show, in the best way, forces us to lean on each other."

As they navigated filming the tough scenes, Pollack actually kept the mood light on set. "On the actual day, Kevin made a lot of jokes," Janney shared. "Kevin's such a funny guy that he made a lot of jokes on his last day. He kept us all laughing, through it all. Which is what Chuck wants us to do: laugh through the pain, laugh through the tears, laugh through life."

"They walk the line of having the tragedies be funny — even the way he died [during sex], where he died," Janney laughed. "Seriously?! It's absurd and funny, and I'm not going to say it hasn't happened before. I'm sure people have died in worse places. But they still manage to make it funny and sad and relatable. It's amazing. I'm really proud to be a part of this show. Enormously fun to act, but really challenging."

And now that the Plunkett women will have to pick up their lives post-Alvin, their grief will continue to color the series.

"Bonnie has a harder time with it for a while, and then it starts creeping into Christy's life," Faris previewed. "But she suppresses it; she has to, she has two kids … she has a lot to manage. I think it comes up in different ways."

"[Bonnie]s definitely going to have issues that come up," Janney added. "Spiritual crisis, anger, all the things people go through when they go through a loss. We go through a lot of those stages with her. She doesn't just move on to the next guy — she has some personal things she has to deal with. Octavia Spencer comes back, and she's instrumental in guiding Bonnie through some of her struggle." 

Mom airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on CBS. Were you surprised by the Mom loss? Will you miss Alvin? Sound off in the comments section below.

Twitter: @marisaroffman

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