Mar 30, 2017

Channel Surfing: Imaginary Mary - "Pilot"

Scene from Imaginary Mary
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
To a large extent, the phrase "It's all been done" can be applied to TV series. Even the highly acclaimed shows owe some fragments to other series. It's generally why Imaginary Mary has some promise from its description. Alice (Jenna Elfman) plays Alice: a woman who is confronted by her childhood imaginary friend Mary (Rachel Dracht) when she gets thrown one of life's many curve balls:: a man who is married with kids. It's an insecurity that would set things up nicely for the show, especially if the camaraderie managed to depict a balance between the grudging experiences of adulthood and the joys of being a child.
For those needing a rundown of what Imaginary Mary plans to achieve, it is laid out in every sense in an opening montage. There's the origin story of Mary as she's created from crayons. There's the friendly antagonism that follows as Alice gets older. However, there is one part that does create a bit of a snag for the series: Mary exists solely as an enabler for Alice to do reckless things. This isn't just something that is seen. Alice even mentions it directly in her voice-over as Mary fades from her life when she finally has sex and, by the show's implication, "grows up."
The issue with Imaginary Mary is that there's no childhood naivety that would come with imaginary friends. There's already an antagonism that exists more as confrontational desire to revert to a rebellious teenager, but with access to booze and adult stuff. Mary doesn't really have any purpose as a moral center, and more exists as a superego meant to get Alice to be as nasty as she wants to be. It is something that theoretically could work, but Mary never feels like a character that Alice created at childhood. It feels more like someone given a pamphlet on how to do broad humor that exists solely to make the "Adult" Alice seem stingy. By the episode's end, there's not even a real understanding of what Mary is supposed to do within the conventions of an otherwise familiar sitcom format. She doesn't provide the episode's thesis nor does she feel like she functioned in a way that lead to a reasonable conclusion.
It may be inopportune to criticize a sitcom in detail, but there's something at the root of Imaginary Mary that is missing. There's no understanding of Alice and Mary other than that they're a bad influence. It raises the question as to what the end game would be for the series. Does Mary grow a conscience? She cannot provide advice to anyone not named Alice because, as the title suggests, she's imaginary. If she does grow as an imaginary character, why does the audience even care? Are there going to be other imaginary friends who come and try to have a powwow where they solve Alice's strange inner emotional struggles? This may all sound like terrible nitpicking, but it's tough to figure out how the show could evolve from Mary being a bad enabler to a genuinely sympathetic character.
The only logical hope is that the show resets itself from any pilot errors and makes Mary more of a rounded character. There's plenty to like about her on a basic level. When she is allowed to be cute and innocent, she manages to share great chemistry with Alice. She has the type of lines that would work if she was a childhood friend character. However, there's too much of the toxic and more emphasized type of humor where Mary encourages Alice to be reckless and get drunk. There's no real lesson learned. Mary just continually brings out the worst in Alice, and that makes it almost a pointless reason to green light a show.
Imaginary Mary has its moments, but has way too many problems to have a successful start to its run. There's too much reliance on humor pulled from bad behavior. It may make for a great series of gags, but how does it impact the character in any significant way? The show introduces the world as being built on antagonism and bad choices. Where is there really to go from there? Alice almost seems to be getting worse as a character since Mary came along. There's a lot that could've been fixed to make the show better, but the results are botched on a promising premise. The show, at best, could show a larger depth to Mary's impact on the show. Otherwise, she'll go down as one of the most baffling new characters of 2017.

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