The opening scene for the pilot of Fox’s “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” tells you everything you need to know about the multi-camera comedy: Over coffee, two women discuss being slighted by and terrified of a couple of mean girls, calling them bitches but soon cowering at the sight of the bullies in question — their teenage daughters. It’s the kids who have all the control here. Never mind what the show’s actors are selling to the press about the teens being products of their instant-gratification generation; it’s the parents who have helped make them this way, and it’s the parents viewers are supposed to feel sorry for for 22 minutes each week in between laugh tracks. That’s doubtful. Even as “Daughter” earns a few chuckles here and there, it ultimately proves as difficult to stomach as the teens in question.
The immature adults in question are Annie (Jaime Pressly) and Nikki (Katie Finneran), mothers to Sophie (Kristi Lauren) and Mackenzie (Aisha Dee), respectively. Both are divorced and spend all their time together, essentially sharing houses along with their worries that they’ve made some pretty big mistakes by spoiling their daughters. In the moms’ desire to help their kids avoid the tormented upbringing they had as social outcasts — Annie was raised in an ultra-conservative and pop-culture shunning household, while Nikki was obese and had skin problems — they have given them the rule of the roost. The dads aren’t much help either, Sophie’s father, Matt (Eric Sheffer Stevens), being more distant than Mackenzie’s dad, Gary (Chad L. Coleman). Matt’s brother, Jack (Kevin Rahm), also is a father figure and the only one of the bunch who sees the teenagers for what they really are.
These girls are bossy, condescending and rude, but “Daughters” isn’t set up like the superior 2004 film Mean Girls. These girls, at least in the pilot, aren’t given much screen time, let alone character development. The dynamic here is between the adults, and Finneran by far has the best comedic timing as the ridiculous Nikki, who still struggles with her eating habits and wants to be the cool mom. The pathetic way in which she stuffs pie into her mouth by hand is reminiscent of “30 Rock’s” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey, who wrote Mean Girls) chowing down on ham while in a wedding dress — pathetic, yet likable. Pressly’s Annie is harder to nail down. She must have abandoned her strict upbringing to marry Matt, a womanizing back-up musician, although she now has eyes for Jack. But so much of her time is spent willing Sophie to like her it’s hard to determine what there is to like.
Writers Sherry Bilsing-Graham (“The New Adventures of Old Christine,” “Friends”) and Ellen Kreamer (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”) have experience with sitcoms and get a few good lines in, but they also infuse “Daughter” with name-calling unseen outside the fake corridors on “Glee.” Even the school’s principal, Deanna (the fabulous Wendi McLendon-Covey), is a mean girl, still tormenting Nikki all these years later. Nikki and Annie care what she says, as well as care about chaperoning the school dance, because mentally, they’re still in high school.
Viewers who think reality shows such as “Toddlers & Tiaras” are relatable will enjoy and sympathize with “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” Hopefully they realize just who is creating the little monsters. Their complicity in the matter is only dawning of Annie and Nikki, and perhaps as they grow backbones and stand up to their brats — and said brats are given more nuance and believability — the comedy will work. For now, just like its characters, it needs to grow up.
“I Hate My Teenage Daughter” airs at 9:30/8:30 p.m. CT on Fox.
Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh corgi.