Season 1, Episode 1
Air Date: Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 9:30/8:30c on ABC
“Ben is a dad. That means if you’re with him, you’re a mom.” – Mary
Growing up, Alice (Kadence Kendall Roach) had a lonely childhood that was exacerbated by her parents’ nasty divorce. Needing a companion, Alice dreams up an imaginary friend named Mary (voiced by Rachel Dratch). Even though Alice’s parents were never around, Mary was always there for her to provide unconventional words of wisdom. But as Alice grew older, she found herself needing Mary’s guidance less and less until eventually, Mary faded away. That is, until stressful events in grownup Alice’s (Jenna Elfman) life trigger the reemergence of her childhood playmate. Will Alice suppress Mary once and for all or will she embrace her inner child’s creation?
When it was first announced The Goldbergs creator Adam Goldberg was developing a live-action/CGI animated hybrid about an imaginary friend, I questioned whether it would ever make it to air. Despite my love for The Goldbergs, the concept for Imaginary Mary did absolutely nothing for me. The first trailer for the show did little to change my opinion of what I assumed would be an awful show. When the first two episodes showed up for me to screen, I figured I’d watch a few minutes just to solidify my initial thoughts. So, imagine my surprise when my biggest disappointment after watching the episodes was that there wasn’t more to watch.
Imaginary Mary sheds light on an oft-untapped subject matter. No, not those of us who have imaginary friends, but single people who find themselves dating someone with children. Countless shows have focused on the struggles of a single parent trying to get back into the dating world but few have addressed it from the date’s perspective—single and going out with someone who has kids.
Having dated single mothers in the past, I found myself relating to Alice’s plight as she starts dating Ben (Stephen Schneider). It isn’t long before she meets Ben’s kids—Andy (Nicholas Coombe), Dora (Matreya Scarrwener), and Bunny (Erica Tremblay) —which leads to chaos. I still remember the first time my then girlfriend asked me to watch her kids for the day. Even though we had been seeing each other for a while, there was a moment of panic when I realized the gravity of my situation. Elfman is hilarious when Alice conveys similar emotions as she goes from independent single woman to someone responsible for three kids. This is the source of much of the humor in the Imaginary Mary “Pilot” and I loved every minute of it.
What surprises me about Imaginary Mary is for a show about a career woman whose imaginary childhood friend suddenly reappears, Mary, as a character, is relatively insignificant. Sure, Mary has some funny one liners but they serve little purpose other than entertaining commentary. She reminds me of the Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf when the cantankerous duo heckle people from their theater box in the balcony. They provide entertaining moments but have little impact on the story. Mary isn’t necessarily a bad character; she simply did not impact my enjoyment of “Pilot” in any way. In fact, you could remove the CGI creature entirely and it wouldn’t change the overall series other than the initial premise.
CGI is always a challenge on television and creating Mary was no exception. While her fundamental look stays relatively the same as what I saw in the first trailer, Mary’s face and the texture of her fur went through several changes before being finalized. Even series creator Goldberg seemed surprised by the undertaking involved in bringing Mary to life when he told me, “CGI is tough to pull off. I know that now!” That said, when I asked him which was harder, coming up with Mary or casting someone to play himself on The Goldbergs, he responded, “Finding a young TV me, for sure.”
Despite the title character being almost irrelevant, what’s left is a charming family comedy with a tremendous amount of heart. Regardless of my opinion about Mary, Imaginary Mary is the most fun I’ve had watching a sitcom pilot in years. Elfman is just delightful as Alice, and her chemistry with Schneider and her young costars is enchanting to watch. Imaginary Mary is an entertaining series worth checking out, especially if you’ve ever dated someone with kids or entrusted your kids to someone like Alice or me.
The real question is will adult viewers give a show about an imaginary CGI friend a chance? More importantly, will ABC give Imaginary Mary enough time for the show to find its audience? Already, well before the comedy’s premiere date, the series faces an early uphill battle as ABC has cut the original series order from 13 episodes to nine.
Tweet me @Staffaroadtrip or leave a comment below to let me know what you think about Imaginary Mary, “Pilot”
Tune in to Imaginary Mary Wednesday at 9:30/8:30c, only on ABC.
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All photos © 2017 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
© 2017, Greg Staffa. All rights reserved.
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