'Call Your Mother': TV Review

CALL YOUR MOTHER - KYRA SEDGWICK
ABC/Lara Solanki
Frustratingly timid but not without potential.
1/13/2021

Kyra Sedgwick headlines an ABC sitcom about a helicopter mom who never wants to stop hovering.

For a certain kind of parent, the circumstances in which Kyra Sedgwick’s Jean Raines finds herself at the start of the new ABC sitcom Call Your Mother would be a dream. Both of her adult kids fled the coop some years ago, leaving the retired Iowa widow free to do whatever she wants in her empty nest. But Jean is the kind of mom who gave so much of herself to her children that she no longer knows who she is without them. So she gives herself a new start of sorts — by spontaneously moving to Los Angeles, where she can keep an unwanted eye on her daughter Jackie (Rachel Sennott) and son Freddie (Joey Bragg).

In Call Your Mother, this cross-country move isn’t meant to sound so unhinged. Jean takes two humongous suitcases to the airport, but she tells her best friend (Sherri Shepherd) that she’s only going to California to make sure Freddie is OK. And while she’s alarmed that he hasn’t called her back in four days, creator Kari Lizer (The New Adventures of Old Christine) makes her paranoia more understandable via Jean’s addiction to “murder shows.”

TV has become a more hospitable place for female midlife-crisis stories, but Jean — at least in the Call Your Mother pilot, the only episode made available to critics — is shorn of the kind of thorns, idiosyncrasies and even emotional turbulence that almost always accompany such plights. Save for Freddie’s love interest (a caricature of a social-media influencer named Celia, played by Emma Caymares), Jean is thus far easily the show’s least interesting character, despite the inherent desperation of her show-launching move. (For Jean’s opposite, see NBC’s dearly departed Great News, a series that found wit and specificity in Andrea Martin’s hilariously basic Smother Mother.)

The premiere of the laugh-tracked, multi-cam Call Your Mother is nearly all table-setting, stock characters and unfunny jokes. (Expect a lot of blunt-force dialogue like Jean saying, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be anymore.”) Jean gets a love interest in her Airbnb-ish host Danny (Patrick Brammall), an inexplicably Australian divorcee with a penchant for oversharing. But the only performer who instantly stands out is Austin Crute, who plays Jackie’s queer roommate Lane and delivers some goofily off-beat line readings. “I’m not really ‘LA gay’ yet,” Lane explains, in a promising parallel to Jean’s transplant journey.

If the show is too timid to give its protagonist any flaws other than “loving her children too much,” it’s at least auspicious in exploring how her helicopter parenting has affected her children, especially their relationship to each other. The only surprise in the pilot comes from the siblings’ silent defiance of the roles they were supposed to be playing within the family (of the golden child or the prodigal son) — and the inevitable resentments that follow being pigeonholed since childhood among people you can’t ever escape. It’s a deft stroke, and one that thankfully looks like it will be developed in future episodes.

The production follows the blandness of the characters, with the three Raines in their way-too-nice-looking domiciles. (Since when do Airbnbs come furnished with Marimekko quilts?) Perhaps it’s just as well that the particular ways in which Jean overbears is so bone-deep familiar, like when she walks into Freddie’s apartment unannounced with socks and toilet paper. Not every mom will fly 2,000 miles with nary a text to see her son, but plenty will barge in with drugstore staples and well-meaning but not-so-slightly insulting assumptions.

Cast: Kyra Sedgwick, Rachel Sennott, Joey Bragg, Patrick Brammall, Emma Caymares, Austin Crute

Creator: Kari Lizer

Premieres Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC