There are many great sitcoms on the air. NBC’s Community, ABC’s Modern Family and FOX’s Raising Hope and New Girl all follow the sitcom formula while simultaneously pushing the envelope, creating comedic situations and developing interesting characters. And then there’s FOX’s I Hate My Teenage Daughter, a mediocre sitcom with a loud laugh track and a weak premise. I Hate My Teenage Daughter stars Jaime Pressly, best known for her Emmy nominated role as Joy Turner in My Name Is Earl, as Annie Watson, and Kate Finneran as Nikki Miller. Annie and Nikki were both, as Annie puts it, “social outcasts” in high school. Annie because her family was super religious and controlling, and Nikki because she was overweight. The two women have since come into their own and are now best friends. They’re both divorced from their husbands, and raising daughters that are strikingly similar to the girls who used to torment them in high school.

The episode begins with the two mothers griping about their daughters and the mean things they say. The daughters then enter and get roughly 30 seconds of screen time, just long enough to establish that they are, in fact, mean girls, and then they leave. Mackenzie, Nikki’s daughter, and Sophie, Annie’s daughter, whispers and giggle about their mothers right in front of them while their mothers cower in fear. This is one of many times the show goes to great lengths to demonstrate the audience how Nikki and Annie are reduced to nothing but the insecure social outcasts they were in high school when in the presence of their daughters.

Shortly after we’re introduced to the other three cast members; Nikki’s ex-husband Gary, Annie’s ex-husband Matt, and his brother Jack. This being a pilot episode and all, the relationships between characters have yet to be fully developed, but it seems like the divorced couples are all on friendly terms with each other. Gary is a golf pro and Matt is a musician, and they both seem to fill the role of the sitcom’s obligatory man-child character. Jack, on the other hand, is the voice of reason – the practical one, the mature one – all of this is indicated by his respectable suit, of course. It’s clear that Annie has a crush on him though, so it’ll be interesting to see how their relationship progresses as the show goes on.

The main conflict of the episode becomes clear when Annie and Nikki are called into the principal’s office to discuss Sophie and Mackenzie’s behavior. Coincidentally, the school principal is the same mean girl who used to bully Nikki high school. The principal informs Annie and Nikki that their daughters locked a boy in a wheel chair in the bathroom. The two mothers have to decide how to handle this, and even though it pains them, they forbid their daughters from going to their first high school dance.

After hours of fighting and yelling, Sophie confides in her mother the real reason they locked the boy in the bathroom – he was bullying Mackenzie, and the two share a heartwarming mother-daughter moment. Annie and Nikki agree to allow their daughters to go to the dance, and even accompany them inside as a way of living vicariously through their popular daughters. The warm fuzzy feeling is short lived, however, because Annie and Nikki quickly realize that they were lied to and manipulated by Sophie and Mackenzie. The episode ends exactly where it began, with Annie and Nikki hating their teenage daughters.

There are a few funny lines in this show, but most of the jokes fall flat. There’s a recurring gag throughout the episode in which Nikki denies a rumor about herself from high school in which she was said to have eaten her cat. It’s actually a little embarrassing to watch a grown women run off screen hysterically proclaiming, “I did not eat my cat!” There’s also a scene where Nikki eats an entire pie with her hands that’s painful to watch. These jokes are meant to emphasize how pathetic Annie and Nikki are, and certainly do, but maybe too well. Annie and Nikki come off as so desperate for approval from their daughters, and so pathetic that they’re simply not believable characters.

It will be interesting to see if this premise is strong enough to support an entire series, because after watching the pilot episode it seems like the show doesn’t have enough traction. Will every episode follow the same formula with Mackenzie and Sophie doing something horrible and Annie and Nikki struggling to punish them? I Hate My Teenage Daughter thrives on the concept of role reversal between Annie and Nikki and their daughters, but how long can this go on before it makes the transition from funny to just plain sad? The answer is roughly 22 minutes.

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