ABC’s new sitcom “Imaginary Mary” is mindless, and not in a good way. Struggling to find comedy in the conflicted life of a never-married, wealthy marketing executive, “Imaginary Mary” tells the story of Alice, (Jenna Elfman, “Dharma & Greg”) a woman caught off-guard by a handsome salesman, Ben (Stephen Schneider, “Broad City”), who is divorced and has three children. Alice’s childhood and adolescence were spent in turmoil following her own parents’ divorce. As a result, a figment of Alice’s imagination, Mary (voiced by Rachel Dratch, “SNL”), appears to guide her. The framework of the comedy is glaringly obvious: Watch this successful woman try and fail to face her childhood trauma, conveniently delivered in the form of a hot man with kids! There is nothing subtle and in turn, the show fails to capture the audience by surprise — which is a cornerstone of humor.
After Ben and Alice’s first meeting, time flashes forward to the two of them in bed being interrupted by Ben’s kids. Jenna flees, unable to face them so suddenly, igniting the tension between the couple and within Alice that causes the eponymous character, Mary, to appear. Mary’s main job is to reveal Alice’s character and provide some asides, which are snappy and sharp. However, for a character whose existence is inherently strange and maybe funny, she fails to contribute anything truly significant except bad advice. She appears only to Alice and the viewer, but the show struggles to take advantage of potential for comedy here, too. In ensemble scenes, Mary gets swallowed up by the real, living characters’ actions.
“Imaginary Mary” is clear in demonstrating that its comedy supposedly lies in Alice’s foibles and Mary’s commentary. It’s no secret that Alice falling for someone — a divorcee, no less — is ironic. Alice’s maneuvers to avoid the sudden reality that she may be both a mother figure and a wife take shape in Mary, who gives awful advice to a middle-aged woman. There’s humor in this incongruity, too. However, the show’s form does not complement any of the ironies present. For a 30 minute sitcom, the program packs in plenty of background and exposition through jumps in time and montages, but the consolidation of time stifle the completeness of the characters and core conflict of the series. By the time Alice and Ben arrange a formal meeting with the kids, Alice is a woman afraid of marriage and Ben is a hunky divorcee who is ready to set the plot in motion. There are no other major descriptors or traits that complicate the story.
Despite large structural flaws, there are some charming moments. Ben is delivering a presentation to Alice when they first meet, but his computer freezes on his dating profile. His webname is DivorcedRadDad and his profile picture depicts him wearing crocs and socks. Sick moves, dude! Later, when Alice opens up to the idea of meeting the kids, Ben starts getting an erection, and explains that “emotional stuff gets me excited.”
While some of its missteps may be due to the amount of exposition necessary to establish the framework for the sitcom, “Imaginary Mary” fails at making a strong first impression. Alice, the protagonist, is a flat character who is hard to root for. She is characterized only by her childhood trauma, which is explored briefly. The issues may be fleshed out with more episodes, but the show still fails to hit any comedic high notes. Don’t wait up for this one.