TV Review: ‘Imaginary Mary,’ Starring Jenna Elfman

Imaginary Mary ABC
Courtesy of ABC

A woman relies on the help of her childhood imaginary friend when she starts getting to know her boyfriend's three grown-up kids

“Imaginary Mary” is a show about an adult woman with a fuzzy, CGI imaginary friend — which is to say, “Imaginary Mary,” right out of the gate, is a show that makes no sense. Children have imaginary friends; not adults with 401(k)s and mortgages. The contrast between Alice (Jenna Elfman)’s sophisticated life as a public relations executive and her Pixar-esque, Furby-like security blanket, Mary (voiced by Rachel Dratch) is foundational to “Imaginary Mary’s” premise, which seeks to illustrate how even the most poised adult can be swayed by their long-held fears and fantasies. But the purposeful asymmetry of the premise doesn’t resolve into unified storytelling, in either of the two episodes sent to critics. Instead, “Imaginary Mary” feels most often like a family sitcom that is haunted by its own flawed idea, personified by a mostly cute but sometimes terrifying white-and-blue creature who usually has really bad advice.

The audience is introduced to Alice as a lonely girl with a neglectful upbringing, who, with the help of her imaginary friend, Mary, (developed with crayon, on paper, at the age of 6) manages to become a reasonably functional adult. But when she starts dating a divorced dad (Stephen Schneider), her anxieties go into overdrive — not because of him, but because of his three school-age kids. Alice’s fears around parenting appear to stem from her take on her own parents, but it’s otherwise not totally clear why meeting Ben’s kids would send her into a panic spiral. Especially as Mary’s contributions to Alice’s problems are… questionable, at best. Dratch, who does her best to make Mary winsome, still cannot cross the gulf of acting required when the primary relationship in a show is between a human and a work of Photoshop.

This is especially jarring because ABC has become so skilled at constructing believable, unconventional families around different premises, whether that is a black family trying to hold onto its identity in an affluent white neighborhood or parents with a special-needs child trying to keep their finances in order. But partly because Elfman is required to emote to something inanimate, the actual family sitcom elements of this sitcom seem weirdly superficial. Alice’s character promises quite a bit of depth, and it’s not difficult to see how she might find a way, through pitfalls, to creating lasting relationships with her quasi-stepchildren. But that sounds like a more fruitful premise for a show than a show with an imaginary friend; “Inside Out,” which probably inspired “Imaginary Mary,” evinced a much more carefully thought-out concept of personifying elements of the human psyche than anything the ABC sitcom has to offer.

And indeed, it’s haphazardness that most radiates from the sitcom. “Imaginary Mary” feels a little hasty and half-baked, with a few ideas that point to interesting concepts without the full force of consideration behind any of them. (Who is really the audience for a show about a career woman with a stuffed-animal bestie? Will Mary always be in Alice’s head, and if so, how does that stay interesting over multiple seasons? And if Alice’s fears are one day conquered, does Mary… die?) Of course, it is a real hurdle to date someone with children when they aren’t in your life plan — or to confront anxieties from the past while seeking comfort in familiar patterns. But “Imaginary Mary” can’t get out of its own furry, bug-eyed way long enough to really tell that story.

TV Review: 'Imaginary Mary,' Starring Jenna Elfman

Comedy, 9 episodes (2 reviewed): ABC, Wed. March 29, 9:30 p.m. 30 min.


Executive producers, Adam F. Goldberg, David Guarascio, Doug Robinson


Jenna Elfman, Stephen Schneider, Nicholas Coombe, Matreya Scarrwener, Erica Tremblay. With Rachel Dratch as the voice of Mary.

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  1. Mary Jacobs says:

    I see this as some kind of a Mary Poppins/Sound of Music theme- the new wife/girlfriend relates to the children better than the father, and although in this case, the mother is not dead, she seems to be a bitch, which is what most first wives are to the girlfriends. I like seeing the truth of divorce and dealing with the children’s mom, the new problems that no one signed up for. Mary is like a voice in anyone’s head. We just don’t see them blue, perhaps, but they are there- telling us good advice and bad advice and distracting us from focusing on what the best course of action might be. It’s a very real show about real people, and I like Mary. I have the same name. What if that Mary were the Virgin Mary or a guardian angel? We all have imaginary Mary’s… mine is Our Lady of the Terrorists in East LA.
    The only thing I would like is if the boyfriend were a tad more tall. He seems to be out of his league. I agree. He needs to shave and be a bit more affectionate.

  2. sal says:

    Get rid of the guy who played Elfmans boyfriend.Not only is he unlikable he looks like a bum.Shave.!Miscasting,
    .A succesful business women with a bum looking contractor.I wouldnt give him a job at my house he looks homeless.

  3. Hayden says:

    Absolutely LOVE IMAGINARY MARY!!!!!! Lots of us in the same situation. Helps that there’s a show that can make me laugh about it :)

  4. Elena says:

    Love Imaginary Mary
    Add more of Mary with Alice . They are one .
    Alice needs Mary and viceversa.
    My teens laugh an love the fun Mary .
    We understand Thai is a show . Let enjoy it as it is only a show . Add Mary more
    Thank you

  5. Gary says:

    I loved her when she played Dharma but this was a disappointment. One and out for me.

  6. Helen Watts says:

    Why don’t we just call it Female Ted. Unoriginal.

  7. Steve says:

    Sounds like there’s not enough polish in the world for this turd!

  8. Helen says:

    sounds like a rip-off of Drop Dead Fred from the 80s.

  9. Bri says:

    Asinine spawn of deranged no. Talent pHollywood. Why am I not surprised Hollywood has barfed up more drek?

  10. Beverly says:

    Wasn’t this a movie in the 1980’s? Something about Fred.

  11. Dunstan says:

    Jenna Elfman is enormously appealing but this sounds like she got pulled into another clunker of a show.

    • Sasha says:

      Elfman is evil. I’m glad this show is a huge piece of crap, she deserves it

      • Sasha says:

        That’s not harsh, that’s actually putting it mildly. I have friends who have had the unfortunate nightmare of waiting on her. She treats restaurant and hotel staff like trash. Meaner than a snake. I never would have wrote that if it weren’t true. Why do you think she’s in a ridiculous pos like this? Cuz no one wants anything to do with her and her scientology BS.

      • JoeMcG says:

        That seems harsh! What, do you know her? Have you worked with her? Known people who have worked for her? Look… I’ve been around the business for a while, so I know there is some high-maintenance talent out there… but if you’re going to call someone “evil” then you better back it up!

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