“In the Motherhood”
Thursdays at 8 p.m.

1 out of 5 stars

“In the Motherhood,” ABC’s latest sitcom effort, attempts irony, satire and feigned awkwardness. But instead of succeeding at any of those things, it creates genuine awkwardness. Despite a great cast including Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”), Jessica St. Clair (“United States of Tara”) and Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), the episodes thus far have been laden with embarrassingly derivative comic material. What’s more, a nontraditional sitcom format only makes matters worse — the lack of both a laugh track and a studio audience makes the silences between flat one-liners almost deafening.

“Motherhood” follows a group of three matriarchs, each fitting snugly into her own stereotype. There’s divorcee Jane (Hines), fully equipped with a heightened sense of desperation while trying to get back into the dating world. There’s her younger sister Emily (St. Clair), an infuriatingly moral mother with a fantastic sex life and bizarrely perfect children who enjoy folding laundry. And then there’s Rosemary (Mullally), the blasé and purportedly derisive one, who’s actually just Karen from “Will and Grace” on sedatives.

In a way, “Motherhood” is just as desperate as the recently divorced Jane. It jumps on what ABC writers must believe are trendy bandwagon styles in an attempt to be relevant. The show is practically throwing itself unabashedly at the modern, hip mother demographic, begging to be relatable and fresh. Efforts to distract from the show’s emptiness abound, including an oddly bright color palette, lots of makeup, countless sexual innuendos and plenty of pop culture references. The premiere included Horatio Sanz (“SNL”) as a Hispanic “manny” (male nanny) who speaks in whale language, an annoying coworker (Ken Marino, “Role Models”) who does “Borat” impressions and Rosemary’s “social experiment” that involves faking pregnancy to get free coffee.

And then there’s the writing. Though the show clearly attempts to thwart the sitcom curse of the obvious punch line, it forgets to dodge the equally scene-ruining phenomenon of the unfunny joke. “It’s just like riding a bicycle — without the seat,” and “Get on it, girl!” serve as words of wisdom, offered when Jane finds herself nervous about having sex again. And when manny Sanz falls off a roof in a Santa Clause costume (in yet another hackneyed moment), Rosemary assures Emily’s children, “Don’t worry kids, it’s not blood, it’s Christmas Juice!”

In a similarly conspicuous move, the pilot is chock full of “hip” comedians including Sanz, Marino and Rachael Harris (“Notes From The Underbelly”), who flail helplessly in the sea of predictable writing. Never before has so much comic talent seen so little comic material. But to be fair, the scenes between Sanz and Mullally, in which the two conspire to further Rosemary’s imaginary pregnancy, stand alone as the only truly funny performances.

“Motherhood” is essentially an ill-advised mishmash of pop culture shout-outs and forced irreverence that amounts to no more than its failed sitcom predecessors. The writers of “Motherhood” should realize there’s no reason to revive the split-screen phone call scene or the cheerful montage scene, especially when accompanied by equally jovial music. And it looks like there will be no reason to revive “Motherhood” for a second season, either.

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