July 24, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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It’s entirely possible that BAD MOM wouldn’t have worked as a network TV series.  It represented an unusual attempt for a broadcast network (ABC) to step into the “edgy” sitcom territory that’s been the property of cable networks like HBO, Showtime and FX, and the pilot was clearly uncomfortable about just how far over that line it could go.  Even if the show had successfully arrived at a tone, it’s not necessarily one that audiences would have watched in the numbers that broadcast networks need.  That being said… ABC is the network putting Last Man Standing, Man Up and Work It on their air next season (see our pilot reports here), and Bad Mom was infinitely more promising and funny than any of those. (The network seems to have filled its “edgy” quota with the definitely enjoyable–if more conventional–Suburgatory.)

The single joke of Bad Mom is in its title:  Julia (Jenna Elfman) is a hopelessly incompetent, careless mother who’s aces at her job selling barbecues, but has no idea how to take care of her 2 kids–and her husband Ted (Tom Everett Scott) is no better.  She’s managed over the years by relying on her mother Marian (Frances Conroy) for childcare, but when we meet Julia in the pilot, Marian’s been on a summer vacation, and Julia doesn’t even know where her children are spending their days.  When it turns out that Marian’s met a guy while she was away, and she’s not going to be as available to Julia as she’s been in the past, Julia stubbornly insists she can take over, with predictably disastrous results.  
Not all that surprisingly, the script for Bad Mom is by a British writer, Sharon Horgan–the casually anarchic tone of the piece is more like Shameless than Malcolm In the Middle. (Horgan is also an actress, and she appears in the Bad Mom pilot as another mother who sometimes helps Julia out.)  While American sitcoms that toy with neglectful parents (Raising Hope, Roseanne) are mostly at pains to let audiences know how loving, albeit dysfunctional, their families are, the best that can be said for Julia in Bad Mom is that she’s occasionally well-meaning. (When their son’s hamster is feeling ill and he demands a visit to the vet, Julia’s advice to Ted is to drive around aimlessly until the pet expires.)  
This is potentially dark stuff, and the show doesn’t have the nerve that a series like Louie or Nurse Jackie needs in order to work.  Had Bad Mom gone forward, no doubt it would have had a constant problem with drawing laughs from ignored children while not alienating a mass audience.  But even in its uneven pilot form, Bad Mom has some solid laughs, and an expert cast.  Elfman does her best work in years as Julia, and Frances Conroy (who’s already joined the cast of FX’s Ryan Murphy horror series) is a terrific foil.  Even the kids are allowed to be sharp-witted.  Chris Koch, who’s been directing episodes of shows like Modern Family and Cougar Town does a good job driving it all forward–there’s even a familiar slapstick stunt involving someone sliding on a wet stage but shouldn’t work, but does. 
Bad Mom‘s failure to make ABC’s schedule is understandable (if you don’t compare it to the shows they picked up instead), but a missed opportunity.  This is a pilot that could profitably be redeveloped into a snappy star vehicle for a network with more appetite for risk.
The Sked’s Verdict:  Worth Another Look
Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."