Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pilot Review: Significant Mother

Significant Mother (Mondays at 9:30 on The CW)

The CW has shied away from producing half-hour sitcoms in the past. In fact, the networks has only aired one sitcom in the regular season that it developed: Aliens in America, which aired for just one season from 2007-2008. Since then, they have attempted to gain some more footing in the comedy genre by experimenting with turning web series (which have aired on The CW's digital platform, The Seed) into full-length sitcoms. So far, it hasn't been too successful. Last summer's Backpackers was the first attempt, and it lasted only two episodes before being pulled from the schedule (it aired alongside Canadian import Seed, which also didn't do very well). Now, the network is trying again with Significant Mother, which likely won't do any better for them, if the quality of the pilot is anything to go on.

Created by actors Erin Cardillo & Richard Keith, Significant Mother treads familiar ground. Restaurateur Nate (90210's Josh Zuckerman) returns from a business trip with the news that he has won an award for his hipster restaurant in Portland. But waiting at home for him is the discovery that his roommate/best friend Jimmy (another CW vet, The Vampire Diaries and The Originals star Nathaniel Buzolic) and his mother Lydia (Krista Allen) are sleeping together. It's the kind of teen-comedy trope we've seen dozens of times before, most memorably in American Pie. But the reason the subplot of Finch and Stifler's Mom never took up much screentime is because there's just not much there to build comedy upon. You can get a little mileage out of some cougar jokes, some discomfort and anger from the son/friend, and that's about it; is such a thin premise really enough to build an entire series upon? Significant Mother makes the case that it is not.

The concept is tiresome after merely one episode, so I can't imagine how the series will sustain itself. Just in the first ten or so minutes, the gags about Nate's discomfort with his best friend and mother's sexual relationship tried my nerves. Visual gags involving panties, a cucumber, a leather couch, a trenchcoat all are well-trod ground. There's almost no pay-off to these because we've seen all of these situations before. The dialogue is similarly groan-worthy, replete with puns ("Don't turn this into a Nate of Emergency!") and seriously off-putting references to Jimmy's previously non-sexual relationship with Lydia ("You practically raised me") and weird, forced chemistry between the leads and supporting players, such as Nate's co-worker Sam ("Do you need one of those hugs where you end up between my boobs?") and his father ("You expect me to eat this hipster bull?"). The characters are thinly drawn, especially Lyida. Her entire character is based on the "humor" of her blurting out things she never meant to say and then trying to backtrack by acting like she never said anything ("And I want Jimmy!" - "Who?" - "... Hmm?"). No one really has any dimension to them. Nate is just pissed off that his mom is sleeping with his friend; Jimmy is a womanizer who has possibly found someone to care for in Lydia; and Lydia is the older woman who is coming into her own after ending a loveless marriage. Cardillo & Keith have given us nothing unique, and the actors get nothing fun or fresh to work with.

The script does them no favors, but the cast is universally weak. Zuckerman provides some awkward line readings, particularly in any scene he's opposite Emma Fitzpatrick's Sam. Buzolic is full of energy but has little variation in his voice and personality; he's permanently set to 10. Allen gets the worst material in the episode, and she's just not funny enough to elevate it. The best performance is actually from Jonathan Silverman (Weekend at Bernie's) as Nate's father/Lydia's ex-husband. He's not over-the-top the way everyone else is, and his timing is the best in the cast. Everyone else is acting broadly and loudly, like it's a 90s multi-cam when it's actually a single cam.

There's really nothing to recommend in Significant Mother, except that there are some fun future guest stars in Denise Richards, Jerry O'Connell, and Dallas matriarch Linda Gray. But unless the writing dramatically improves, even they won't be able to pull the show out of the sludge before it sinks.

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