In terms of theatrical value, the business of raising children is limited. It lends itself to revealing anecdotes -- The Day I Glue-Gunned My Son's Face -- amusing little riffs, and the occasional soliloquy of love and rage.
Take it to long form and you can quickly run into trouble. Parenting often boils down to a series of repetitive tasks and maddening dialogue, much of which has to do with such fascinating topics as bedtime, personal hygiene, sibling-on-sibling violence and the nutritional value of Cheetos.
Which is why television comedy writers so often either genetically manipulate the family -- the parents are liberals, the son's a Republican! ("Family Ties") -- or mix and match it -- look, three guys raising kids ("Full House"), two divorced women living together ("Kate and Allie"), a single mom and a male housekeeper ("Who's the Boss?") -- just to keep things interesting.
It also may be why "In the Motherhood" worked as a Web series based on real-life stories but not, it would seem, as a television series based on overused stereotypes.
"In the Motherhood," which premieres on ABC tonight, follows all the traditional formulas. Literally. All of them. You've got your neurotic single working mom, Jane (Cheryl Hines), and her "manny," Horatio (Horatio Sanz), and your obsessive-compulsive stay-at-home sister, Emily (Jessica St. Clair), and her with-the-program husband, Jason (RonReaco Lee). You've even got your wise-crackin', benignly neglectful single mom, Rosemary (Megan Mullally).
In fact, "In the Motherhood" has enough narrative fodder to fuel three separate family comedies, which maybe it should consider. Because what it doesn't have is any sign of working as it is.
OK, Mullally is consistently hilarious through the two episodes made available for review, and she manages to hitch Sanz to her wagon. So if the good folks at ABC somehow persuade the writing team to make the show about Rosemary and Horatio, maybe it would stand a chance.
But Jane is the central focus, and as much as everyone loved Hines in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," her character here is written in such a way that it is hard to believe she is a mother, a worker or a woman. (I don't want to spoil anything, but would any adult woman take the "third date rule" seriously enough to attempt intercourse in the middle of her just-emptied office because her baby-sitter meter is running out?)
And don't even get me started on Emily, yet another version of those handy picture-perfect mothers who conveniently make outrageously judgmental statements on the playground so writer-moms can vent their frustration in articles for the Atlantic Monthly or wherever. The Mean Girl Mom. What would we do without her?
As with most shows about family these days, the kids are either mysteriously absent (Jane's preteen daughter, Rosemary's teenage son) or mysteriously silent (Emily's young son and daughter, who like folding laundry).
So "In the Motherhood" isn't really about motherhood; it's about types of motherhood, as imagined by television executives or magazine editors. Ten years ago.
Now, full disclosure. I'm a mother, so if you're going to ask me to laugh at other mothers, you have to give me a good reason and people I recognize.
Actual living, loving, overworked and underappreciated crazy-imperfect mothers. I actually know a bunch of them, but none, apparently, live "In the Motherhood."
'In the Motherhood'
When: 8 p.m. today
Rating: TV-PG-DS (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and sex)