Imaginary Mary: Imaginary Friends Can Be Big Trouble!

IMAGINARY MARY – ABC’s “Imaginary Mary” stars Erica Tremblay as Bunny, Matreya Scarrwener as Dora, Stephen Schneider as Ben, Jenna Elfman as Alice and Nicholas Coombe as Andy. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

ABC’s new comedy series Imaginary Mary (Wednesdays, 8:30/7:30C) marks the return of Jenna Elman to series television. This is a Good Thing because she’s a gifted comic actor with a knack for both physical humor and comic reactions.

The series premieres with an episode that sets up the reason for Alice’s childhood imaginary friend, Mary – to deal with a crisis when she was six – and her reappearance now that Alice has apparently found the right guy and it’s time to meet his kids.

Alice created Mary to help her get through her parents’ breakup, but Alice stuck around for a good bit longer – finally vanishing at a key point in the young adult Alice’s life.

Even without Mary, though, Alice has done well. She owns a successful PR firm and she’s happily single – until Ben (Stephen Schneider) interviews for a job, gets everything wrong and somehow manages to charm her into a real honest-to-goodness relationship (despite admitting right off the bat that he has three kids).

IMAGINARY MARY – “Pilot” –  WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29 (8:30-9:00 p.m. EDT)  – MATREYA SCARRWENER, JENNA ELFMAN, STEPHEN SCHNEIDER, NICOLAS COOMBE (ABC/Katie Yu)

After three months, a near calamitous potential first meeting with the kids leads to Alice and Ben deciding the time to actually meet them is right. Which is when Mary (voiced by Rachel Dratch) – returns in order to get her out this jam.

The problem, though, is that Alice doesn’t actually want out of this jam – she’s in love and even though she has no clue about building a relationship with a significant other’s children, she genuinely wants to try.

It doesn’t help that Ben’s kids are in very difficult stages in their lives: Alex (Nicholas Coombe) is being teased about being a nerd; Dora (Matreya Scarrwener) is going through what Ben describes as a ‘death phase,’ and Bunny (Erica Tremblay) is ultra-curious and (far too) slowly learning about boundaries.

Mary misinterprets Alice’s fears about commitment and motherhood for not wanting to try them on for size and makes things difficult. Let’s say that their first meeting does not go well.

Written by Adam F. Goldberg & David Guarascio (with a story by Adam F. Goldberg, David Guarascio and Patrick Osborne) and directed by Shawn Levy, the Imaginary Mary premiere is a bit uneven with only about half of the misguided imaginary friend gags working – though the scenes that clear up Mary’s confusion about why she’s suddenly back are clever and touching.

IMAGINARY MARY – “Pilot” – WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29 (8:30-9:00 p.m. EDT), ERICA TREMBLAY. (ABC/Katie Yu)

Overall, the premiere manages a pretty good balance between slapstick and wit – with the requisite amount of heart to keep us interested.

Elfman is, as usual, extremely good and Schneider (whom I would suggest looks more than a bit like Jake Gyllenhaal) gives good confusion (possibly even better than Elfman’s).

The kids are not especially adorable – with the exception of Tremblay’s Bunny. Mostly they seem like stock kids with varying levels of precocity, which in Tremblay’s case works far better than it should.

Generally speaking, the cast chemistry is pretty good. Elfman, Schneider and Tremblay work together best, but everyone feels right in their roles.

The CGI for Mary are also extremely good. They make her genuinely believable – the scene where she complains about how Alice designed her is priceless.

Given the premise and the front-loaded early trailer, Imaginary Mary holds up enough that I’ll continue to check it out from time to time.

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