Transforming a Web series into a sitcom, "In the Motherhood" mostly demonstrates that enlarging a picture often does little more than exaggerate its flaws. Cheryl Hines, Megan Mullally and Jessica St. Clair portray three mothers juggling disparate problems, but the result is tonally uneven, too-rarely funny and rehashes material that isn't as relatable as it should be to the average parent. An amusing line occasionally burbles out, but ABC's latest attempt to establish a Thursday comedy beachhead mostly just manages to make the timeslot's usual occupant, "Ugly Betty," look gorgeous by comparison.
Hines stars as Jane, a divorced mom with two young kids (one a mere toddler) struggling to manage a career and get back into the dating scene. Her support system includes a "manny," Horatio ("Saturday Night Live's" Horatio Sanz); her sister Emily (St. Clair), who's raising two young kids with her equally yuppified husband Jason (RonReaco Lee); and the free-spirited Rosemary (Mullally), who has a teenage son and, apparently, an extremely fungible moral code.
If the Web inspiration demonstrated the guilt and apprehension associated with parenthood, the series appears content to attack this terrain as obviously as possible. The two central characters, moreover, ostensibly have nothing in common and come across as unlikely friends forced to share a disjointed comedy. So while Hines' character deals with problems that are at least somewhat reality based, Mullally never advances more than a half-step away from her over-the-top role on "Will and Grace."
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the ensuing half-hour is slightly confounding. In the premiere, Jane flirts with a co-worker, while Rosemary fakes being pregnant in order to secure various privileges and freebies. A subsequent (marginally better) episode finds Jane trying to enjoy some "me" time while Rosemary organizes a revolt among Horatio's fellow nannies -- a potentially promising gag that finally fizzles.
ABC is understandably eager to capitalize upon the "Grey's Anatomy" female fanbase by pairing this new program with "Samantha Who?" (even though its last Thursday sitcom, "Jake in Progress," couldn't establish a ratings toehold). Unfortunately, writer-producers Jennifer Konner and Alexandra Rushfield have adapted David Lang's Web creation without unearthing the inherent humanity (or much humor) in parents' fears that, amid the frenzy of modern life, they might forever scar their little angels. There's a mere hint of that, in fact, when Jane looks at her baby after screwing up and soberly says, "Now you bury that memory deep, deep down."
Not a bad line, but "In the Motherhood" doesn't birth enough of them -- which helps explain why the memory won't last for long.