Labor Pains -- TV Review

Disney -- and by extension ABC Family -- is Lindsay Lohan's spiritual home. Sure, she might have earned her celebrity success outside the Mouse bosom, but lately her most widely seen appearances have been courtesy of "Access Hollywood." So perhaps it's appropriate that she returns to her home base with "Labor Pains."

Glad that she did: "Pains" succeeds because of Lohan. As Thea, a publishing-house secretary living on the financial brink who rashly lies that she's pregnant just before her boss fires her, Lohan is a bright light in the center of an otherwise a fair-to-middling telefilm (once destined for feature release). When paired with the delightfully sardonic Cheryl Hines, the two provide a chemical camaraderie that lifts the script from its "Three's Company" premise.

Now, "Labor" was never going to be a neorealistic treatise on society's emphasis on breeding. We are in Disneyland, folks, the place where Thea can get away with stuffing her belly for months (even the younger sister she's raising is unaware; their parents are dead). But what was a single-episode subplot on ABC's briefly lived "In the Motherhood" (also featuring Hines) doesn't stretch well. As Thea's colleagues get into the prospect of her single parenthood -- baking brownies, knitting booties, offering marriage -- what was a slightly demented lark turns ugly.

When Thea starts buying into the delusion, the script enters a weird area: Is this a comedy or a look at someone whose cheese has slipped off her cracker?

To her credit, Lohan plays it all straight-faced, firm-jawed; we believe that she believes she's pregnant. But the dissonance between the story start, where it goes and where it ends (in a nice, Disney-esque bow, I promise) is bewildering. Perhaps the writers did start out with a treatise on breeding that made a gradual descent into darker depths rather than a trip into the abyss. But when Disneyland comes calling, you have to enter the land of make believe.

So pretend this is a true comedy. Enjoy the inappropriate reveals, the casual violence toward animals, the misogyny-as-humor and the poo jokes. As Billy Joel once said, It's just a fantasy. It's not the real thing. But sometimes a fantasy is all you need.

Airdate: 8-10 p.m. Sunday, July 19 (ABC Family)
Production: Nu Image/Millennium Films, Latitude Films, Overnight Prods., Plum Pictures
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Luke Kirby, Chris Parnell, Aaron Yoo, Bridgit Mendler, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kevin Covais, Bonnie Somerville, Cheryl Hines, Creed Bratton, Janeane Garofalo
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Brian Edwards, Danny Dimbort, Boaz Davidson, Trevor Short
Creators-writers: Stacy Kramer, Lara Shapiro
Producers: Rick Schwartz, Celine Rattray, Lati Grobman
Director: Lara Shapiro
Director of photography: Daniel J. Stoloff
Production designer: Daniel Bradford
Costume designer: Roemehl Hawkins
Casting: Matthew Lessall