There is fun, new kind of comedy series on ABC, “Imaginary Mary”, it’s totally worth checking out!
About Imaginary Mary:
Alice is a fiercely independent career woman whose life is turned upside-down when she meets the love of her life–a divorced father with three kids. This triggers even more upheaval when the slightly unhinged imaginary friend she created as a child suddenly reappears to help her navigate the transition from single girl to a woman ready for a family.
“Imaginary Mary” stars Jenna Elfman as Alice, Stephen Schneider as Ben, Rachel Dratch as Mary (VO), Nicholas Coombe as Andy, Matreya Scarrwener as Dora and Erica Tremblay as Bunny.
The live action/CGI hybrid comes from “The Goldbergs” team Adam F. Goldberg (writer/executive producer), David Guarascio (writer/executive producer) and Doug Robinson (executive producer). Mary CG animation is designed by Patrick Osborne (creator of Academy Award-winning animated short, “The Feast”), who is also executive producer. The pilot was directed by Shawn Levy (“Arrival,” “Night at the Museum,” “Cheaper by the Dozen”), who is also executive producer. The series is a co-production with Sony Pictures Television, Happy Madison and ABC Studios.
During my recent visit to L.A. we had the opportunity to screen the pilot and the first episode of Imaginary Mary, followed by an exclusive interview with Jenna Elfman (“Alice”), Stephen Schneider (“Ben”) and Executive Producers David Guarascio & Doug Robinson.
“The Mom Seal” – When Ben asks Alice to help him with her first mom-like task to pick up Bunny from dance class, Mary quickly discovers the simplest parental tasks are fraught with difficulty. Afterwards, Ben is disappointed when Alice tells him she can’t help with the kids anymore, but things change when Andy enlists Alice’s help to overcome his fear of taking a driving test.
This premiere episode airs tonight, 4-4-17 @ 9:30–10:00 p.m. EDT, on The ABC Television Network. If you like to laugh, this is one you don’t want to miss. Coming from a blended family myself, the writing on this series is pretty spot on, and brings back a lot of memories – it feels great to be able to laugh at them now. The cast has incredible chemistry, that you don;t always see in a new comedy. I also really enjoy the physical comedy in the show, as Jenna Elfman is one of the best. I’m sticking with Imaginary Mary and hope others will tune in as well.
Q: Where did Imaginary Mary came from and how did each of you become attached to the project?
DR: I had a meeting with an animator named Patrick Osborne who won the Academy Award for a short film called Feast, and he was doing his victory tour and, we were sitting down talking, and I said, do you have any ideas that you want to do in television. And he said, I’ve always wanted to do a show about somebody who has an imaginary friend. I produced the Goldbergs with Adam Goldberg, and there’s no one in touch with his inner child more than Adam, so I was like that’s the perfect guy, and Adam is busy running a show. He said, I know the exact story that we should do, and David was a writer on The Goldbergs, and we’ve both known him for a long time, and a lot of this mirrors David’s life, so we brought David in, and that’s sort of where it all came together.
DG: Basically a divorced dad with kids; started dating a- just like Alice- a single career woman who really did not plan to have family in her life, and I was just too damned charming, basically. You’ll realize that as we continue to talk. Adam and I had worked together previously, and I would just tell these stories about my wife, what she sort of did with sort of trying to slowly get integrated into life with my kids and, we just thought it’d be a great idea for a TV show. So that’s sort of where it came from
JE: And then they sent it to me. And I had said to my agents, I’m not doing another network show. Don’t even bring it to me. Don’t bring any network shows, because I’d just become so frustrated with my experiences in the last several years with network television. But it hadn’t been on ABC. I hadn’t been on ABC since Dharma and Greg, ABC’s actually doing well with their comedies and then this came to me. A network show that actually films in Vancouver, Canada. I was like, GUYS!!
Then I read it and went, oh, that’s just so interesting because I love that there’s, the romantic part as the leading lady, and then there’s, the fish out of water aspect with the kids because she has no point of reference for dealing with children at all, and has no plan for it, and has a negative point of reference of childrearing. And then she’s super accomplished; she’s a woman on her own, which I liked, and then as an actor dealing with comedy, I have to now also deal with something that doesn’t exist but that I see, but that they don’t see, and then do physical comedy, and fish out of water, and it was just like, oh my god, that’s a lot of balls to juggle. And I felt like I can take that on, and it felt like the next new level of challenge for me. And then everyone involved is so great, and it was really hard to say no to. I just couldn’t find a reason not to do it, so that’s how I came into it.
DG: And we had Shawn Levy directing which was, was a huge plus. He was great. Then we got stuck with Stephen…
SS: Nobody else would take the part, and I still had to audition twenty times for the role. I had just become a dad myself, and I’ve never played a father on TV.
JE: You do it so well.
SS: Thank you. It was a very cool challenge to be able to have the insanity of juggling three children. I mean you guys know, kids are crazy and just one is a lot, but imagining having to deal with three? I thought it would be a fun experience to basically get me to get a vasectomy, That’s where I’m going after this.
DG: Then I also just think for us, it was really important that they have great chemistry and that we felt like there was a romantic comedy also played while we’re doing a family show because we just felt like it’s something you don’t see as much, and that’s just something that they sort of clicked together in a way that was really organic. Yeah.
SS: First of all, I though the writing was incredible. When I read it, I just thought it was really funny and it was grounded in a great way, yet it had this really different interesting element and it’s fun to be a part of something that’s new and this has never been done as a network comedy before where there’s an animated character. Then when we did a chemistry read where I come in and basically see how awkward I am or not…
Q: Jenna, how much do you bring to your character? She is pretty quirky sometimes, wondering how much of that is the character and how much is you?
JE: I’m quirky. My husband would say- I never think I’m quirky, and then he’s, always pointing it out but not in a bad way. He’s just always, like, well I’m not sure who’s quirkier, though because it’s like the pot calling the kettle black, I never know if I’m quirky or if he’s just weird. But I think I don’t know, crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. I don’t know. I guess I’m quirky.
SS: Yeah, but you’re also, in terms of the character, you’re a super successful, you know, independent woman…
SS: And at the same time, you’re juggling…
DR: And you’re a mom, so a mom.
DG: And you you identify with it personally.
JE: Yeah. I thought it was fun to play something in terms of, she’s super not a mom and has no idea what she’s doing, and I mean, as much as us mothers do know what we’re doing, you know, we feel like we have no idea what we’re doing, and we also feel like, I got this depending on the day and depending on how much sleep your kid ahs had- or sugar they had the day before. I thought it was fun because I had a conversation with myself of how am I gonna play someone who doesn’t know anything about this when I’ve been doing this for nine and a half years in real life.
And I went, well, my character, is like, the “me-ness” like me and she’s in a really high operating level of, being an only one, and as a mother, you lose all that. That’s the whole thing. It’s like you make that sacrifice as a woman when you have children. And our eternal struggles, just like have a flippin’ Sunday on the couch which we never get to have, or go to bed at seven when you’re really tired. It never gets to happen. I’m just gonna, go full forward into luxuriating in the selfishness of being me as a girl, and it’s like a vacation in a way playing this role, because I just get to be super, she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything. She’s got time, and sleep, and money, and so much “me” time in her life.
Q: Do you ever find yourself talking to Mary outside of work?
JE: No, because my kids are always talking to me. I can’t even hear my own thoughts, it’s just Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama… Um, no, I don’t, but we have a great actress- because when I was doing this, I was like, okay, guys, I can’t just have some random script supervisor doing Mary’s lines off camera, “uh, go see him; go to him,” I need kind of comedic presence; to have that energy and that rhythm. They’ve got a great, improv comedy actress to do lines with me, so she actually helps me learn my lines, because she has some extra time, I find myself talking to her, but that’s to learn my lines. There’s not a lot of spare time in my life when I’m filming this show because we’re doing sixteen hour days.
How do you handle it all? Do you drink a lot of wine?
No. I had a learning curve when we first starting filming because I didn’t expect those days to be that way, and it’s not like I had all this downtime either. We only had ten minutes between takes; between setups and I was like, oh my god, making my choices; learning my lines for the day, and then the next day, the next day, and the next, trying to make sure I’m well rested and I really saw, I could not eat sugar. It was like a race car, like, the highest- the best kind of gasoline. And, in my life, I can’t do the perfect diet, I have no interest in doing that to myself. I used to do it- I can’t do it anymore. I wanna enjoy my pizza and my ice cream. But I couldn’t survive; I couldn’t remember lines with no sleep. Saturdays, I would just wanna face plant, and I had to be a mom, so I would just sort of bring them into bed with me for the five hours of the day and stay in bed, and then I’m like, yeah, I’ve gotta get out and do stuff, and then I had to learn my lines for the next week. So it was really challenging. That was super intense. So I don’t always do it great, I’m tired, and then I have to keep it together and not be cranky with them, and then sometimes I’m cranky, and then I feel horrible, and then I go take a nap if I can- I mean it’s the thing we all do.
It’s like everyday is like the little sliders on the equalizing board, you know? And you’ve gotta, just try to keep it all above the make/break mark, but sometimes they crash.
DG: Which is really the key to the whole show which is…
DG: Sort of learning to like what you can’t control, and that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
DG: And Alice comes to a place of, it is perfect- her life appears perfect. She’s very controlling of everything she does, and now she’s in a situation where it doesn’t work anymore, and that’s what every parent faces, basically.
Q: What are you hoping the audience takes away from the show?
JE: Laughter, and joy and entertainment, and feeling better about the lives they’re living. That’s all, personally, I just wanna make people have relief, you know? Like, we’re all in this together. We know how hard it is.Life’s freakin’ hard. Sitting here listening to you guys laugh and react, that’s everything to me. That’s why I do it because it removes you from the stresses of life for that moment. And in those moments, you rehabilitate a little more life juice to go on, and that’s all I want to do for people.
Q: Are we gonna see more physical comedy as it keeps going?
JE: Yes, please.
DR: Yes, they’re so both great at it, so we try and find moments for whoever we can and, that’s definitely- the physical aspect of Mary and Alice’s relationship but particular is something we keep building on through future episodes and try to make it a unique part of our show, so for sure.
Q: You do have exceptional chemistry- with the kids, too. How could you tell, was there any tricks?
JE: We all are just decent human beings with not a lot of neuroses and weird baggage that we’re dramatizing everywhere. Everyone’s just really hardworking and cool.
SS: We don’t take ourselves too seriously. It also helped that we were in Vancouver. We didn’t know anybody there. I mean, we just had our families and the people that we were working with. And these kids. Nicholas Coombe, who plays my son is twenty-one in real life.
JE: And he’s Australian.
Q: How did you decide on what the imaginary character would look like?
DR: Our co-creator, Patrick Osborne, who’s also an animator, he really came up with the design and sort of just worked with us about what she would look like, and he wanted to do something that was loveable-looking particularly because, an important part of Mary’s character is that she’s not always saying the right thing, so to speak, and she is a defender of, in a very important way, of Alice’s independent streak and her feminist side, so to speak.
We felt like we could get away with Mary saying more of what she shouldn’t say if- the cuter she looked, really. So, he just wanted to make sure she sort of had that appeal. It was hard, we had a lot of different concepts and worked over time and shot a pilot with one aspect, and kept tweaking it until we finally came to this, this look here. So really it just came from his brain.
DG: We completely changed her between the pilot and the series. We redesigned her just because we found that certain things worked, and certain things didn’t work, and we sort of just made her rounder and cuter, and just kept, refining her the whole time. It was great.
Q: What’s your favorite part of playing these characters?
JE: I just love the sensation of the dynamic with the other characters. It gives me a lot of sensation. I feel really alive when I’m acting with him and the kids and, the humor, and the warmth, and the awkward, there’s all these fun elements that I like the way it makes me feel. I like being at work, and I love working. It’s just fun.
SS: First of all, I really love working with Jenna- every time we’re on the set together or off camera, we’re just cracking each other up. Farting and stuff..
JE: He farts, not me!
SS: I also like the ability to play a single dad, you don’t see that a ton on TV, a good guy that’s just trying to do the best for his kids and has custody of his kids, it’s cool to play that and hopefully it brings some humor and reality to that.
Q: We obviously know part of Alice’s backstory, but are we gonna see some more of Andy’s and the dynamics of his relationship with his ex wife?
SS: I don’t wanna give it away, but there’s some really funny stuff that David created, idea wise that they thought of beforehand. Again, he’s drawing from his own life, so I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s really funny.
DG: Well I, you know, what it is. I think in today’s day and age, when you get divorced, you really try and do it the best you possibly can so, for Alice to have this sort of other woman in the picture who’s also co-parenting with him, it’s just another thing for Alice to be dealing with which is sort of really difficult and it just sort of like, “it takes a village” kind of a way, that you just try and live now just because we’re more, I guess, evolved, than many years ago, so even though you go through the way that sort of the marriage splits but the family tries to stay together as much as possible. So it’s something we do explore as we go forward.
JE: But Alice does not know the politics of, and how to conduct herself with the politics of a marriage, and the politics of a divorce, and then the politics of two parents raising children that are divorced, I’m like, yeahhh, like, I have no idea.
JE: So she’ll be a bit of a bull in the china shop on how to handle the kids, and the ex-wife.
DG: And then just his personal emotional life for Ben, it’s, when you’re a dad who’s taking care of your kids and you have a woman who’s sort of leaning forward, but leaning back, there ends up being a lot on your shoulders, as the guy who’s driving this forward. And he has his own breaking points. In the series where it becomes a little too much, where then the situation gets reversed, and Alice has to be the one who’s sort of strong for the two of them, emotionally, and help take them to the next step. So it’s just part of the dynamic of any healthy relationship where you’re sort of like taking turns; moving it forward.
FTC Disclaimer: I attended an expense paid trip by Disney and ABC to LA press events for Imaginary mary. I was not asked or influenced to write a positive blog post. Photo Credit: Coralie Seright – Lovebugs and Postcards. All opinions shared are always honest and my own. This post contains no affiliate links.