Emmys 2021: Allison Janney fills ‘Mom’ farewell with hilarity and heart — can she pull off an upset?

Allison Janney’s time as Bonnie Plunkett on the CBS sitcom “Mom” began and ended in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a community rec room, but a lot has changed in her performance over the intervening eight seasons and 170 episodes. Janney won two Emmys for the role as an uproarious if not exaggerated recovering alcoholic mother and grandmother, but her farewell nomination this year recognizes a much more mature but equally hilarious version of the character. Bonnie Plunkett has grown, and so has Janney’s performance. Can she pull off an Emmy upset?

In a previous Emmy spotlight published before the nominations, I hoped voters would recognize Janney for her “gamut-running” and “touching” performance in the series finale. Janney submitted the episode, titled “My Kinda People and the Big To-Do,” for Emmy consideration, and it stands out as a tailor-made awards submission complete with a grand speech that caps off the half-hour. Throughout, Janney’s Bonnie navigates a particularly challenging day with highs like her friend Jill’s (Jaime Pressly) wedding and lows like her husband Adam (William Fichtner) getting diagnosed with treatable lung cancer. Her final AA share – during which Janney and the stellar ensemble no doubt shed real tears – reflects on how selfless Bonnie has become, and she movingly calls herself a “grateful alcoholic.”

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The episode perfectly encapsulates how the series handled difficult subjects like relapses and overdoses with both humor and heart. Beyond the series finale, Janney struck precisely that balance across the entire final season as Bonnie processes her daughter (former series co-star Anna Faris) moving away in “Bloody Stumps and a Chemical Smell,” seeks closure about the untimely death of her first love (Kevin Pollak) in “Sober Wizard and a Woodshop Workshop,” and unexpectedly falls apart toasting her best friend Marjorie (Mimi Kennedy) at a gala in her honor in “A Community Hero and a Wide Turn.” In each episode, Janney moves seamlessly between the sentimental and the slapstick with her masterful timing.

Janney currently ranks fourth in our combined odds for Comedy Actress, trailing category frontrunner Jean Smart (“Hacks”), Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”) and Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”), with Aidy Bryant (“Shrill”) rounding out the category. “Mom” certainly doesn’t have the industry buzz that “Hacks” and “The Flight Attendant” do, but this season of the show had its best showing at the Emmys since 2016, also earning nominations for directing for veteran James Widdoes and multi-camera picture editing, the latter of which lost at the Creative Arts Emmys to “The Connors.”

WATCH our exclusive video interview with James Widdoes (‘Mom’ director)

If Janney pulls off an upset, she will be the third comedy lead actress in recent history to win by submitting a series finale, following Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”) and Helen Hunt (“Mad About You”). Even more impressively, the win would be Janney’s very first victory as a comedic lead. Janney won her two “Mom” trophies in supporting, but has been submitting in lead since the fourth season. She’s earned three nominations in the category but not yet won. A win would mirror her trajectory for “The West Wing,” when she won two trophies in supporting actress before successfully making the leap to lead, where she won two more times.

In all, Janney has nominations in five different categories at the Emmys and wins in four (including Drama Guest Actress for “Masters of Sex”). A last hurrah for “Mom” would bring that tally to an impressive five-for-five.

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