Two new shows debuting Monday share a similar premise: parents who don’t quite fit in — for very different reasons.
“Odd Mom Out” on Bravo is a comedy centered on a free-spirited, foul-mouthed mother of three making her way among the status-obsessed mombots on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It stars “Momzillas” author Jill Kargman as a heightened version of herself.
In ABC Family’s “Becoming Us,” Carly Lehwald plays herself: a transgender woman from suburban Chicago who used to be Charlie. The 10-episode docu-series focuses largely on Charlie’s son, Ben, a junior at Evanston Township High School, as his father makes the transition from male to female.
While the subject matter of “Becoming Us” has a lot more gravitas than “Odd Mom Out,” both series deal with topics in the zeitgeist.
Transgender characters have taken the small screen by storm, appearing on scripted series “Orange Is the New Black,” “Transparent” and “Sense8,” among others. They’ve made major inroads in the reality genre as well, with Bruce Jenner’s “I Am Cait,” debuting July 26 on E! and Discovery Life’s recently wrapped “New Girls on the Block.”
“Odd Mom Out” bows at a time when people are paying more attention to conspicuous consumption and the ever-widening wealth gap. It launches in the in the wake of Wednesday Martin’s buzzed-about book “Primates of Park Avenue,” a pseudo-scientific anthropological analysis of Birkin bag-toting thugs clawing their way to the top of the wife-and-mommy totem pole on the Upper East Side.
Kargman, who grew up and still lives in this natural habitat of the One Percent, regaled TV critics earlier this year with her real-life anecdotes, including an invitation for her young child to join a playgroup where the head of child psychiatry at Columbia would coach the kids to bolster their odds of getting into the best nursery school.
“They’re, like, fetuses and they have Mandarin lessons,” added Kargman, whose brother is married to actress Drew Barrymore. “It’s this Newtonian law of energy where all of that drive and ambition for these people who were raised like ‘I’m a strong, independent woman,’ it doesn’t just evaporate. It gets funneled into this nugget. So in the absence of the Harvard Business School degree or the promotions and the bigger office at Goldman Sachs, they need to use the children as a marker to chart their success.”
Kargman’s stranger-than-fiction war stories provided much of the material for the show, which also features Joanna Cassidy as her blue-blooded mother-in-law, Abby Elliott as her bread-banishing, superficial sister-in-law and KK Glick as her down-to-earth BFF.
“Sex and the City” scribes Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky serve as co-showrunners, giving “Odd Mom Out” a whiff of that HBO hit. But unlike “Sex and the City,” it’s hard to get invested in many of these cosseted characters, who start to feel one-note after just a few episodes.
Both “Odd Mom Out” and “Becoming Us” herald a new direction for their respective networks.
Bravo only recently got into the scripted series arena with last year’s debut of “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” “Odd Mom Out” is the cable net’s first half-hour scripted comedy.
ABC Family, a network founded decades ago to expand evangelist Pat Robertson’s television ministry, is doing the opposite, dipping its toe deeper into unscripted territory with “Becoming Us.”
Disney bought the channel in 2001 and built a stable of youth-centric dramas, such as “The Fosters” and “Pretty Little Liars.” The network reportedly has been mulling a reboot designed to appeal to a millennial audience as opposed to being a place where parents and kids watch together.
“Becoming Us” is clearly aimed at millennials, with text message bubbles popping up on screen and a disproportionate amount of time devoted to Ben hanging out with his friends and being a neglectful boyfriend to Danielle, whose dad also happens to be a transgender woman. (The trans movement may feel omnipresent right now, but that’s a hell of a coincidence that begs more explanation than we get in the two episodes made available to the press.)
The Ryan Seacrest production gets points for tackling an intriguing topic from a unique point-of-view: the child’s. The most compelling moments come from this parent-child dynamic, not only with Ben and Carly but with Danielle and her father, who transitioned several years ago.
It’s a shame the show’s authenticity gets watered down by cheap gimmicks, like Ben’s overly rehearsed narration and an abundance of contrived scenarios. Am I really supposed to believe that Ben’s friend sneaks him — and a camera crew — onto the roof of a Gold Coast luxury hotel in the dark of night so Ben can scream in frustration?
“Becoming Us” definitely packs some poignant moments. It just doesn’t make the most of them.
“Odd Mom Out” sparks a few genuine laughs. It just doesn’t offer much else.
That’s another thing these shows have in common: Both are pretty good. Just not quite as good as they could be.
“Becoming Us” airs at 8 p.m. Central/9 p.m. Eastern Monday on ABC Family.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)
“Odd Mom Out” airs at 9 p.m. Central/10 p.m. Eastern on Bravo.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)