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So you've seen all of the new shows this fall - but what about the ones that didn't make the cut? For the next 30 days we're going to take a "first look" at a collection of 30 pilots that didn't land on the 2009-10 season schedule. Are there any gems that got passed over or are they all deservedly locked in the networks' vaults? Stay tuned.
BLESS THIS MESS (ABC)
(written by Amy Welsh & Rob Hanning; directed by Jamie Widdoes; TRT: 19:48)
What is it? A multi-camera comedy about an overworked stay-at-home mother of three.
Who was behind it?: Amy Welsh & Rob Hanning ("Courting Alex") co-wrote the half-hour based on Anita Renfroe's stand-up material. Jamie Widdoes directed while the Tantamount trio of Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum and Mitch Hurwitz executive produced.
The plot in a nutshell: Anita (Anita Renfroe), like all [TV] moms, is the lone sane voice amongst a sea of insanity. Whether it be her clueless pastor husband Paul ("The Drew Carey Show's" Ryan Stiles); her growing-up-too-fast daughter Libby (Skyler Samuels); her equally clueless son Doug (Spencer Breslin); or her, well, also clueless youngest child Michael (Tucker Albrizzi), there's just not enough hours in the day to get everything done. And so while "clean" may not be the operative word in their house, everybody gets to work/school [mostly] dressed and [mostly] on time. Said facet however isn't good enough for Paul's mother Cookie ("Designing Women's" Dixie Carter), who finds endless joy in pointing out her shortcomings ("Oh my, it's the cereal that looks like little powdered donuts. I always wondered what kind of mothers would let their kids have this.").
Even worse, Cookie's just dropped the bomb that they have to host the town's monthly open house for the members of the church. (Paul, like all [TV] dads, let it slip his mind.) And if that wasn't enough, Paul's taking over the aforementioned pastoral duties from his [late?] father, who's been beloved by their town for the past 50 years. In short: if the open house doesn't go well, it could torpedo Paul's chances of ever being accepted by the town. Further complicating things: Michael needs her to track down a piece of art he gave her six months ago, art that she doesn't have the heart to tell him got thrown out; Libby wants to buy a skimpy new outfit; and Doug thinks buying a motorcycle helmet will improve his mystique with the ladies.
Things however begin to look up when Anita stumbles across a pair of her "magic jeans" at the local department store (Roxanne: "Do they make dinner and put the kids to bed?" Anita: "Better, they take my butt down from a Super Size to a Happy Meal."), bribes Libby with the risque apparel to keep quiet about Michael's missing art project (as long as she promises not to wear it until she's 18), and convinces Michael to start over and do something even better for said project. Back at home, Paul has improbably cooked and cleaned, or at least taken credit for Cookie cooking and cleaning for him. This not surprisingly leads to a blow up between Paul and Anita about responsibilities in the house, which in turn spills into the open house, horrifying their guests. Anita nevertheless manages to save the day during Paul's first sermon when she gets her fellow parishioners to admit they aren't perfect either (Dad: "I give my son cough syrup to fall sleep!" Kid: "Grape is my favorite!"), including Cookie ("I have, at times, been disapproving.").
What works: I'm not familiar with Anita Renfroe's stand-up but...
What doesn't: ...one can only hope it got lost in translation. "Bless This Mess" is every bit the cliche-filled, proudly-boilerplate, painfully-unoriginal family comedy as you can imagine. And just in case you didn't figure that out: each act opens with random mom cliches ("I'm gonna count to three," "I don't care who started it, "Eat your broccoli," "What's the magic word," "Go to your room," etc.) as pieces of text that fly across the screen. Yes, "Mess" is right off the assembly line of family comedies - smarter than everyone mom, check; doofus dad (his previous hit at his old church: Gary the Gospel Sock), check; clueless kids, check; annoying in-law, check.
Its twist then is that once in a while Anita will have a fantasy sequence that's equally cringe-worthy: she pictures herself in a jail cell after murdering Cookie ("Someone made dinner for me? And you're bringing it to me?"); after Cookie mentions she "found a dust bunny over there the size of a boulder," she imagines Cookie getting run over by a boulder "Indiana Jones"-style. That and Anita is proudly Christian and proudly average looking ("I read somewhere that like the average size American woman is a 14, and I thought, who in their right mind wants to be below average?"). Throw all of the above in with an overly intrusive laugh track and you have...
The bottom line: ...well, you knew this was coming, a mess.