Imaginary childhood friend helps Jenna Elfman in her return to series comedy

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23 March 2017

ABC, Sneak peek, March 29, 8:30 PM ET

By Jeff Pfeiffer

Jenna Elfman returns to series television in this ABC comedy, which sneak-peeks Wednesday before airing regularly on Tuesdays beginning April 4.

Elfman plays Alice, a fiercely independent career woman whose life is turned upside down when she meets the love of her life — a divorced father (Stephen Schneider) with three kids. The surprise of meeting the kids seems to trigger an upheaval in Alice, as suddenly Mary, her imaginary friend from childhood (a fuzzy little CGI creation voiced by former SNL-er Rachel Dratch), reappears to help her navigate rough patches in her life.

Acting with a character who wasn’t really there must have been similar to having an imaginary friend for Elfman. But reporters at a recent press conference for the show wondered if she actually did have a made-up pal as a kid.

“I didn’t have one,” she offered, “but if I did, I think I would want it to be Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. I think that would be really awesome to have them as little imaginary friends, because you’d just be snort-laughing all the time.”

It may seem challenging to act with a character that isn’t there, but Elfman says some of the show’s filming techniques helped.

“We had rehearsal with a stuffed, life-size puppet,” she said, “and we had an amazing puppeteer, so we would rehearse with her. And we had a comedic actress on set to do all the lines, so I felt like I had a comedic partner, because Rachel is in New York. And then we would film one take with the puppet, so that the animators had a reference for her in that live space. And then they would take her away and there would be nothing. … It was actually a really great challenge comedically to maintain the scene with [Mary] — and the believability, the focal points — while doing the scene with [Stephen] and the kids. I literally had no reference except during rehearsal.”
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