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More frumpy housewife than yummy mummy

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It must have been a difficult gestation period, because the delivery is pretty darned painful.

In the Motherhood, the new ABC sitcom that premieres tonight at 7 (also on Citytv), was conceived by unconventional means (it's based on a series of online "webisodes" inspired by the experiences of real-life moms) but arrives in prime time looking very much like just another lame and limply written TV comedy.

The cast is pretty good, led by Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) and Jessica St. Clair (Samantha Who?) in the roles of three mothers with decidedly different perspectives on the notion of how to be a good parent.

Jane (Hines) is the recently divorced mother of a pre-teen daughter and a baby girl; struggling with the demands of career and single parenthood, she has enlisted the help of a "manny" (male nanny), Horatio (Horatio Sanz), to help her cope.

Rosemary (Mullally) is an aging party girl, married several times but currently single, with a teenage son who's much more mature than she is.

Emily (St. Clair), Jane's younger sister, is an uptight, primly proper suburbanite who views herself as the perfect parent. Prone to outbursts of ill-timed honesty and more-than-occasional self-righteous indignation, she's bound to crumple under the weight of her own smug expectations.

There's the framework here for a pretty workable sitcom; unfortunately, In the Motherhood never matures past the obvious, predictably stereotypical joke. Tonight's opener focuses on Jane's attempt to go on her first real date since her courtship with her recently departed husband, as well as the decision by Rosemary -- obviously past child-bearing age -- to pretend she's expecting because she thinks pregnant women get all the breaks.

The Jane-on-a-date storyline falls flat, and the fake-preggers-Rosemary gag starts promisingly but then goes on too long without really getting anywhere. Neither plotline produces anything in the way of an out-loud laugh; instead the women in the spotlight come off as incompetent and unfortunately shrill (this is particularly true of Rosemary, who's little more than a one-step-removed recalibration of Mullally's Will & Grace character).

Emily, decidedly a back-seat player to Jane and Rosemary in this three-part ensemble, presents as an all-too-familiar uptight sitcom irritation -- the classic holier-than-all-of-thou, stick-up-the-derriere kid sister who ultimately won't have much to offer to the mix.

Sanz, barely recognizable after dropping almost 100 pounds since leaving Saturday Night Live, offers the show's most stealthily effective comic contribution, but he's too much of a fringe player to compensate for the main characters' failings.

A second preview episode, which deals with Jane's failed attempt to take a manny-free vacation and Rosemary's decision to lead the neighbourhood nannies in a strike for better working conditions, does little to improve on the series premiere's lacklustre launch.

It may be inspired by real-life moms' stories, but In the Motherhood is anything but inspired. The betting here is that few viewers will be inclined to adopt this newborn as part of their must-see schedule.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

TV PREVIEW

In the Motherhood

Starring Cheryl Hines, Megan Mullally, Jessica St. Clair and Horatio Sanz

Tonight at 7

ABC/Citytv

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2009 D5

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