This fall, we’ve got so many writers who’ve seen these pilots that we thought getting two takes on each show would be helpful to you. The first review is the “official” TV Club review, and the grade applies to it. But we’ve also found another reviewer to offer their own take on the program. Today, David Sims and Ryan McGee talk about I Hate My Teenage Daughter.
I Hate My Teenage Daughter debuts tonight on Fox at 9:30 p.m. Eastern.
David: Hey, guys! Have you ever wanted to watch a show with two lead characters are a pair of ineffectual, flailing fools, easily bamboozled by their terrifying, remorselessly cruel daughters? Well, even for you guys, I think there’s probably something better out there for you. I Hate My Teenage Daughter takes a rather nasty concept, which on paper sounds like some sort of merciless parental satire, and turns it into a damp rag of a laugh-track sitcom about two quivering single mothers, both former high school weirdoes, who live in fear and awe of the mean girls they somehow spawned.
I Hate is very cartoonish, with daughters Sophie and Mackenzie functioning as blank-faced robotic avatars of cruelty spitting insults at their mothers. But, perhaps knowing that the demographic for this show might end up being mothers and daughters, it tries to have its cake and eat it, tossing in some hugging and learning and vainly trying to present our leads Annie (Jaime Pressly) and Nikki (Katie Finneran) as competent parents doing their best. But that’s hard to do in the same show that has Nikki madly eating a pie with her hands in one scene.
The show is packaged into the blandest multi-camera sitcom format imaginable. There’s a brief hint of a plot (the girls were mean to someone, so they don’t get to go to the dance…or DO they?) and all of the adults talk to each other as if they have never met before, dispensing their personal histories, job situations and updates on their love lives as if it’s new information. That’s especially strange considering the ensemble here consists of Annie, her ex-husband Matt (Eric Sheffer Stevens), his brother Jack (Kevin Rahm) and Nikki’s ex-husband Gary (Chad Coleman, so wonderful as Cutty Wise on The Wire). Gary’s a deadbeat musician who wears a cool jacket, while Gary’s a golf pro who never takes off his sleeveless argyle sweater, and Jack’s a sarcastic lawyer who’s always clad in – guess what – a suit.
The show lays down a particularly lame hint at romantic tension between Annie and Jack, but otherwise these characters are entirely defined by the brief descriptions I just gave you, and seem to exist mostly to bounce jokes off of, and to make Annie and Nikki look like competent parents by comparison. There’s a coffee shop Annie works at and a rival of sorts in school principal Deanna (Wendi McLendon-Covey, seriously under-served), but it’s hard to see what the show looks like week-to-week. Sure, you’ll have the two kids being awful to their mothers, and their mothers marveling at how simultaneously beautiful and cruel their offspring are, but that gets tiring after about ten minutes.
Still, with all of I Hate’s inherent flaws, you could do worse than Emmy-winner Pressly and Tony-winner Finneran as the leads of your sitcom. I’ve been waiting for a decent TV vehicle for Pressly, always a standout as firecracker Joy on My Name is Earl, but the role of Annie is all wrong for her. Sure, she gets in a couple of jarringly feisty lines – at one point, in response to Nikki saying working moms are pathetic, she calls her a “lazy stay-at-home whore.” But Annie is written as a weird sheltered religious kid who dressed like a sister wife in high school. Pressly gives no hint of any such peculiarity, except for having never heard of various 80s pop culture milestones.
Mostly, she plays Annie straight alongside the demented Nikki, a formerly obese teen who also once suffered from alopecia and can’t shake a rumor that she ate her own cat in high school. I don’t blame Pressly for toning it down, because Finneran is as over-the-top as humanely possible in her role, screeching and crying and dancing madly and crumbling in the face of any bully, be it her daughter or Deanna, her high school tormentor. I pray this show gets canceled before the inevitable flashback episode where Nikki’s in a fatsuit, given how overboard Finneran goes in the pilot without the aid of makeup.
The aforementioned pie-eating scene, where Nikki, seemingly in the grip of a nervous breakdown, digs into a pie with her hands and is told, “Use a fork, you’re not a bear!” is the best example of how badly I Hate handles tone. The show mashes together ham-fisted slapstick, Married With Children-esque one-liners and sappy family comedy and doesn’t really succeed on any level. There’s a competent family sitcom buried in here somewhere that I wouldn’t watch, but I would happily ignore, but the approach is so scattershot and half-assed that what ended up on the screen was a big mess.
Fox’s confidence in the show is obviously close to nil: it’s been edited a little from the pilot I watched in the summer summer and it’s debuting the week after Thanksgiving just as sweeps have ended. But even then, it’s a surprise I Hate My Teenage Daughter managed to make it to air.
Ryan: Well, it took nearly three months, but we finally have a winner in the “Worst Television Show of Fall 2011” contest. Shrill, tone-deaf, and criminally unfunny, I Hate My Teenage Daughter will produce more slacked jaws than belly laughs when it airs tonight on FOX. The network must know this as well: why else would they hold off until after Fall sweeps to unceremoniously premiere it?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with building a show around unlikeable people. But these people need to be either really funny or really identifiable in order to make their borderline pathological actions be watchable. Daughter doesn’t have one character you won’t either want to slap, yell at, or slap while yelling at them. Character is replaced by caricature at every step of the way, yielding a series of cardboard cutouts shrieking at each other for the entire episode. Daughter assigns one characteristic to each person, and then reinforces that characteristic with each line spoken to or by that character. After all, if you didn’t get that Jaime Pressly’s character was raised in a religious household without access to any pop culture the first dozen times, maybe it will sink in with Lucky Number Thirteen.
The men of this world don’t fare any better, either. Both Annie and Nikki have exes who don’t serve to inform these mothers how awful they are so much as inadvertently reinforce their own neuroses and delusions. Indeed, the majority of the pilot centers around people justifying their own inadequacies, without a smidgen of self-awareness. Were any of these people acting horribly while understanding why such actions were horrible, then maybe Daughter could mine some pathos or at least wring some laughs from these scenarios. But that would involve these characters actually changing in some meaningful way. The premise of the show dictates that no one fundamentally change. Annie and Nikki will alternate between hating their daughter and hating themselves. Lessons will be temporarily learned and then instantly discarded. Cutty from The Wire will occasionally show up with a look that says, “I hate my agent.” Soon enough, the hate that audiences will direct at themselves for watching this show will outweigh any hate onscreen.
Daughter is a show destined to be the answer to a really difficult question at Bar Trivia, not destined to be a show that makes it to the Fall of 2012 on FOX’s schedule. So if that’s something useful to your particular social lifestyle, by all means tune in tonight. If you’re into Trainwreck Television, go for it. Otherwise, avoid this at all costs. We watch these shows so you don’t have to do so yourselves. Don’t let our sacrifice be in vain.