Call Your Mother is lame enough as it is. But a major extra shortcoming of ABC’s latest sitcom, which recently debuted with a pilot episode, is that one of its foundations is a banal juxtaposition of Flyover Country with the coasts.
Get this: A central premise of the show is that an empty-nester widow moves to Los Angeles from Iowa to be near her two adult kids who like living in California right now. In that important regard, Call Your Mother is so, well, 2019 – and so heedless of the current zeitgeist.
It’s amazing the network just launched a drama that is so tone-deaf to new realities even after ABC had all of Covid to decide whether to pull the lever. But its decision shows, among other things, what Hollywood still thinks of us out here in the “sticks.”
Call Your Mother stars Kyra Sedgwick as Jean Raines, a helicopter mother who bolts for California when she can’t get her son on the phone for four days. Hilarity is supposed to ensue when she surprises her son and her daughter, who have moved to California to pursue careers – or is it to escape her?
In any event, Sedgwick’s character in no way threatens the achievements of other classic TV moms such as All in the Family’s Jean Stapleton (playing a dimwitted and innocuous Edith Bunker) and Everybody Loves Raymond’s Doris Roberts (playing a not-so-dimwitted and definitely not innocuous Marie Barone).
Nor does Call Your Mother hold a candle to more recent sitcoms whose central conceit is that geography dictates a certain dull charm, as in The Middle, which was fabulously anchored by Patricia Heaton as Frankie Heck and set in mythical Orson, Indiana. The Conners, set in Pittsburgh, had promise until Roseanne Barr stuck her political neck out too far.
In any event, besides its lackluster execution, another big problem with this sure-to-fail new sitcom is that it asks us to believe a mother, however lonesome, would be eager not only to visit her adult kids in LA right now but also to leave Flyover Country permanently to move there. The graphics for the show’s opening leave no doubt about this when they show a corn-stalk icon, an airplane flying from right to left on the screen, and palm trees.
So much is so off about this plot line that Call Your Mother begs you to excuse it by mistakenly believing it is set just before the pandemic. And, to be clear, there is absolutely no social distancing.
For example, why would anyone these days move to California voluntarily, where you still can’t even eat outdoors at a restaurant? The reality is that thousands of people are leaving Los Angeles and San Francisco because of how California government has treated them during the pandemic and because, now, they can seek a much lower cost of living elsewhere, likely working remotely in their current jobs -- especially in the heartland.
Another thing: Jean’s son, Freddie, played by Joey Bragg, moved to LA to follow his passion for designing video games. Of course, his new girlfriend, Celia, played by Emma Caymares, is a “social-media influencer.” In the new era of remote working, if he didn’t like Iowa, why didn’t this 23-year-old at least move to somewhere livable as well as exciting, like Miami?
If it chose to excuse all of this, ABC could say that the dynamic of kids leaving Flyover Country for the coasts remains a strong pull despite all that has happened in the last year.
True. But the culture warriors who control TV and film from the coasts couldn’t help but give away their biases with just one little scene in the Call Your Mother pilot.
Celia tells Freddie and Jean she has a cousin she doesn’t hear from, who lives in Florida. “Deep Florida,” Celia intones, as if to say, "You know what that must be like." Then she shakes her head a bit, sort of rolls her eyes, and moves her mouth as if to say, “Eeeuuuw.”
What do you think ABC is trying to say?