ABC couldn't have planned for President Barack Obama to schedule a televised press conference on Tuesday that would push FOX's "American Idol" to Wednesday and Thursday, which would put the singing juggernaut on opposite the series premiere of "In the Motherhood." For ABC, this is obviously a bad thing, because what was already a suicide time slot for "Motherhood" and "Samantha Who" will be extra tough this week.

For the talented cast of "In the Motherhood," President Obama's speech and the subsequent schedule shuffling and inevitable Thursday crushing may be a blessing. "In the Motherhood" is astonishingly unfunny, so this will just accelerate the process of getting Megan Mullally, Cheryl Hines and Jessica St. Clair back into pilot casting circulation.

[More after the break...]

Created by Jennifer Konner & Alexandra Rushfield and adapted from an allegedly popular web series based on the actual parenting adventures of real mothers, "In the Motherhood" hardly seems to be about mothering at all.

The series focuses on Rosemary (Mullally), Jane (Hines) and Emily (St. Clair), three mothers and friends (well, Jane and Emily are sisters, but I guess they're also friendly). 

In the one episode I've watched, the episode I think ABC is airing as the premiere, only one of the mothers actually does any parenting at all. That would be Emily, whose two seemingly perfect kids with Jason (RonReaco Lee) are the product of rigorous honesty, nurturing and development that get undone by the spur-of-the-moment revelation that there's no such thing as Santa Claus.

Yes, I know. You're thinking, "Finally a sitcom prepared to tackle the tough issues."

The babies in the premiere's other two arcs are props, either literally or figuratively.

Jane, recently returned to work after maternity leave, is ready to date again, which forces her to leave her infant with manny Horatio, while also facing the reality of the Three Date rule.

Yes, I know. You're thinking, "It's about darned time a sitcom discussed how the Third Date is the Sex Date."

It's too bad the three ladies don't discuss, um, new styles in personal grooming, because that would have pushed this show into realms of overdone cliched raunch where I'd have been comfortable just turning off the episode.

[According to press notes for the series, Jane has another child, who apparently isn't worth meeting in Week One.]

In the third plotline, Rosemary decides that she's fed up with the kindness strangers show to pregnant women, so she decides to pretend to be pregnant herself, with Horatio's help.

[According to the press notes, Rosemary actually has a well-adjusted son, who isn't seen or referenced in the premiere.]

So you have a premiere of a show about mothers where one of the mothers never sees her kid, one of the mothers never sees one kid and keeps leaving the other with a fairly irresponsible manny and the third mom is a coddling pill facing a decision about Christmas in the middle of March. 

Does ABC have anything invested in the success of this show at all?

In ABC's world, multi-camera comedy means "According to Jim," but "In the Motherhood" is proof that some shows are just supposed to be traditional multi-camera sitcoms. Shooting "Motherhood" as a single-camera show lets pilot director Richard Shepard accentuate some truly excellent choices in production design, particularly Emily's house and the daycare where she sends her kids. [See? I have some nice things to say about the show.] It does nothing for the humor.

The script is punchline-driven and all three actresses, Mullally in particular, seem to be waiting for the canned or studio laughter to kick in. Hines, so splendid in the naturalistic confines of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," can't figure out why pauses have been built into the script and rhythms, so she hits ever laugh line too hard. And St. Clair doesn't have anything funny to do. The result is that the three main characters have several long and mirthless conversations that Shepard can't begin to pace properly.

There isn't even a hint of a well-developed male character in sight. Sanz' character makes four different taco jokes in his first scene and makes a chalupa joke later in the show. Not only does it make Horatio an instant stereotype, but it's ridiculous since real Sanz has lost so much weight that he doesn't look like he's eaten a taco in years.

But hey... I'm not the target demographic for "In the Motherhood," so maybe there's a whole audience out there that will find the show hilarious.

That audience will be watching "American Idol" on Thursday night. And they'll probably tune into either "Bones" or "Survivor" next week.

On a side note, by pairing "Samantha Who?" with "In the Motherhood," ABC seems to be indicating that I'm also not the target audience for Christina Applegate's series, which is sad, since I continue to find it quite funny.  

Since ABC made this Thursday's episode available, I watched it and, after having missed much of this season, I continue to be impressed with how much value the show's writers have been able to get out of a premise that was strained very early on. Samantha still only fleetingly remembers who she used to be. She and Todd (Barry Watson) are still circling each other with romantic intentions. Her two best friends (Jennifer Esposito and Melissa McCarthy) are still a bitch and a dithering fool. Her dad and mom (Kevin Dunn and Jean Smart) still aren't going to win any parenting trophies. The show's funny part is still Tim Russ as Frank the Doorman.

And yet, despite that lack of narrative movement or character progression, "Samantha Who?" keeps giving the actors funny things to do. ABC has been justifiably disappointed in how well "Samantha Who?" was able to capitalize on its "Dancing with the Stars" lead-in, so maybe the reverse psychology of  putting it on after "In the Motherhood" will help people realize how solid Applegate and company are? Yeah. That doesn't make any sense to me either.

"In the Motherhood" premieres on Thursday, March 26 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

 

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