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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
BAD MOM (BUSTED ABC PILOT)
(written by Sharon Horgan; directed by Chris Koch; TRT: 23:00)
The network's description: "Being a mom is a tough job - which is why Julia (Jenna Elfman) has let her mother (Frances Conroy) handle raising her kids for her. But when grandma decides to get a life, Julia and her husband Ted (Tom Everett Scott) are thrust onto the front lines of parenting. And there are some serious moments of doubt that they'll make it through alive. Let's be frank: Julia Lacey is not a good mother. But if you had to deal with the job stresses that she faces, you'd have trouble remembering where you left your kids, too: was it her friend's house, the indoor playroom, or karate class? That's why when she had children, she decided that she wanted them brought up the way she was, by her perfect mother, Marian.
But when Marian finds love and wants a break from taking care of eleven-year-old Rose (Lizze Broadway) and eight-year-old Kirk (Aidan Potter), Julia and her hapless husband Ted have to scramble to get a hold on the whole parenting thing all by themselves. Too bad they just keep making one outrageous mistake after another, like when Julia bribes a waiter at a Chinese restaurant to babysit. Okay, so it may take time before Julia wins mother of the year, but at least she's trying. And it turns out that her totally perfect mother may not have been so perfect after all - just ask her the real reason why Julia lost her fingertip as a child. Perfect is overrated, anyway; being good enough will just have to be ... well, good enough. Executive producing with Aaron Kaplan (Terra Nova), British writer Sharon Horgan (Pulling) draws on the bittersweet lessons she learned from her own parenting experiences to create this outrageous, goodhearted comedy."
What did they leave out? Horgan herself appears as Julia's pal/fellow mom Linda.
The plot in a nutshell: Julia (Jenna Elfman) is - you guessed it - a bad mom. She forgets where she dropped her kids - Rose (Lizze Broadway) and Kirk (Aidan Potter) - off in the morning, feeds them Slim Fast milkshakes for dinner and shamelessly bribes them when she screws up. Thankfully, Julia's mother Marian (Frances Conroy) has been doing all the heavy lifting on the parenting front for the past 11 years. She's always got an apple pie in the oven, the laundry is always done and her French braids are a work of art. That all changes however when Marian returns from a much-needed vacation with the news that she's done being Julia's babysitter: she's found herself a new man (Miguel Sandoval) and wants to actually enjoy her retirement. Julia is horrified by said development - "I wanted our kids brought up the way I was... by my mother," she explains to her husband Ted (Tom Everett Scott) - but not as much as her kids (Rose: "Who's going to take care of us?" Julia: "Me." Rose: "Oh my God!").
Even worse it couldn't have come at a worst possible time: successful grill salesperson Julia has to deliver a big presentation that night while Ted, in his latest effort to suck up to his demanding boss Kevin (Shaun Majumder), has committed to playing tennis, also that night. And when their last resort - her exasperated friend/fellow mom Linda (Sharon Horgan) - is likewise MIA, Julia does the only thing a bad mother could do: leave her kids at a Chinese restaurant across the street from her office and pray nothing happens to them during her intermittent check ins. This, of course, goes over as well as can be expected - a gold star for you if you guessed fire and singed eyebrows would be involved - and Julia breaks down over her lack of parenting skills. Ultimately Marian comes to the rescue again, by reminding Julia she wasn't as great a mother to her as she always thought. Perhaps there's hope for this "bad mom" after all.
What works: Aside from the amusing image of Tom Everett Scott jumping into a ball pit in search of his son...
What doesn't: ...it's all pretty milquetoast parenting foibles. Julia and Ted are so painfully selfish and unmotivated to actually be parents it's literally not funny. And more than that, the gorilla logic they use to solve their "problem" doesn't even make sense. Somehow we go from being perfectly willing pawn their children off on Marian to pursue their careers, to being horrified at the prospect of hiring a stranger to pawn their children off on (but unwilling to sacrifice their careers), to being cool with pawning their children off on their neighbor (which by the way they've been doing without any bellyaching while Marian was on vacation) to coming to the conclusion it would be best to leave their children with actual, non-babysitting strangers. They're not bad parents, they're stupid ones.
I guess all of the above could to tolerable if there was a hint that Julia and Ted actually wanted to be parents. He's unabashedly checked out ("You don't have to give anything up, okay? You just have to learn to juggle everything," he explains to Julia. "And when you drop something, I'll always be there to pick it up and toss it back to you and you just keeping juggling.") while she's irrationally hysterical ("I'll just see you at Thanksgiving then, okay?" she tells Marian. "You can e-mail me how to make a turkey. No, forget it! I'll Google it!"). Even the few respites from their cluelessness fall flat: there's a running "gag" that Julia's customers love the "meat shelf" on their grills (gag of course being in quotes for a reason) while Linda's teen son Indiana (Johnny Pemberton) relentlessly tries to hit on Julia whenever she stops by. All in all, it's...
The bottom line: ...just best we move on.