Fans of CBS comedy “Mom” follow Anna Faris’ character, single mother Christy, while she struggles with alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions. In real life, Faris’ fans are following the popular actress as she faces a personal challenge: Her breakup with husband Chris Pratt.
Blurring fact and fiction is nothing new in Hollywood. Actors frequently play versions of themselves – in television, that goes all the way back to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who re-created their couple dynamic as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy,” and the Nelson family, who played some version of themselves on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
Of course, that was before social media further eroded the barrier between stars and fans. Tabloids and celebrity weeklies aside, personal lives could still be managed out of public eye. Today, social media is an essential tool in any celebrity’s promotional arsenal, one that can allow them to seem more accessible while still operating at a reserve.
However, that can cut both ways: Faris and Pratt’s outsized social media presences, as individuals as well as a couple, provided fans an endearing sense of familiarity. That’s an optical illusion, of course, but try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of people who shared or commented on Pratt’s Facebook and Twitter posts announcing the split.
As Brangelina showed, there’s a high cost when celebrities’ pop-culture identities becomes entwined with the most personal elements of their private lives. In addition to their red-carpet appearances and social media personas, they played it up their happy-couple status for a skit for the People’s Choice Awards, appeared on “Top Chef” together, and Pratt even appeared as a guest star on “Mom.”
In the episode “Good Karma and the Big Weird,” which aired in January, Pratt played Nick, the nephew of Christy’s AA sponsor. After a horse-riding lesson turns into a (literal) romp in the hay, Nick becomes overly clingy, obsessive, and creepy. (“We have a sexy scene,” said Pratt in the episode promo. “We’ve been rehearsing that for 10 years.”)
It’s the stuff of sitcom, but this was the height of the Faris-Pratt industrial complex: The episode’s very existence and the romantic storyline are a direct result of the couple’s carefully crafted image as the perfect couple. Fans who liked to hashtag their marriage as #relationshipgoals could tune in to see the happy couple meet and fall for each other. The fact that the characters don’t end up together was a wink, since real life created the real fairy tale. (More recently, Faris discussed her loneliness on an episode of her weekly podcast, “Unqualified.”)
In the past, Hollywood stars were idolized for an unattainable glamour. The modern-day equivalent is Instagram-ready clips that go viral as they project a different kind of perfection. Pratt and Faris made a storybook marriage seem attainable and when it failed, its pedestal toppled even harder.
Celebrity mags and TMZ will do what they do to get to the bottom of the failed love story, not that the actual reasons matter (or are anyone’s business). The nationwide wringing of hands isn’t really about wanting two actors to be happy; it’s about the failure of the story they told. Their performance was too good, and it’s ultimately one they couldn’t maintain.
“Mom” writers might have to approach next season with these real-life developments in mind. Ditto the marketing teams behind Pratt’s upcoming films. It’s a reminder that when stars live personal lives in the public eye, the private inevitably becomes public. it can’t help but seep into their work lives. In the case of “Mom” and Faris, that might not be a bad thing, as fans who feel protective of Faris and Pratt’s marriage might feel even more connected to the fictional Christy and her world.