THE SERIES “Imaginary Mary”
WHEN|WHERE Previews Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC/7; moves into its regular time slot, Tuesday at 9:30 p.m., on April 4.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Mary (voiced by Rachel Dratch) is literally an imaginary friend who Alice (Jenna Elfman) created as a little girl to help her deal with her parents’ breakup. And Mary never quite left her side through childhood and on through early adulthood. Obviously, this imaginary friend was a frustrated stand-up because she tossed one-liners at Alice who endured them but also heeded them. Mary just wanted her to grow up to be a strong, independent woman, and Alice became a PR executive for sports stars.
By that time, Mary had long since left Alice — until she meets Ben (Stephen Schneider). He’s divorced and a father of two teens, Andy (Nicholas Coombe) and Dora (Matreya Scarr wener), and 7-year-old Bunny (Erica Tremblay). At this point, Mary returns with a vengeance, and she’s got plenty to say, especially when Ben decides he wants Alice to meet the family.
MY SAY You know what you’ve got, Mary? You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk. And you know what else? You've got CGI fur too — a white-and-teal combo with mauve eyebrows. What’s up with that? You’re a color-uncoordinated Teletubby hairball. Plus, you’re in a rom-com, with cute, needy kids and a clueless father. At least in principal, hate that and them, too.
OK, maybe it’s not that bad. (You’re not quite that bad either, Mary.) The kids and dad are perfectly fine. But they’re nonetheless archetypes all — or props in service of a 22-minute network relic that can’t let go of the past, and has all of the achingly familiar earmarks to prove it. For example, in next week’s episode, titled “The Mom Seal,” Ben asks Alice to pick up Bunny from dance lessons. Mary warns that this would be a bad idea, because it would be one more step in the direction of mom servitude. From that point, sitcom disaster ensues, a happy sitcom resolution is reached, and a wise piece of sitcom wisdom is dispensed along with a hug (Ben: “Parenting is a learning curve and you’ve gotta go at your own pace . . . ”)
“Imaginary Mary” probably looked pretty good on paper. Showrunner Adam Goldberg is a talented producer who turned “The Goldbergs” into a big success for ABC. Dratch is always funny. Viewers love cute furry animated talking things. But “The Goldbergs” is largely about him and his own childhood. This one’s about a gimmick.
Elfman also brings what she usually does (and did so long ago in “Dharma & Greg”), which is the zany, put-upon life force who can’t quite get out of her own way. That CGI pompom named Mary serves mostly to constantly remind her of that. The joke grows old fast.
Elfman is good (as usual), but Alice doesn’t give her a whole lot of room to expand either. She’s a working woman with commitment-phobia who finally likes someone (Ben) but is forced to take his kids, too. There’s not much more here, other than those standard sitcom garnishments, and that spunky, chatty fuzzball.
This Teletubby’s in your court, reader.
BOTTOM LINE A weary sitcom with a gimmick — and even that’s weary.