“Imaginary Mary,” television’s first comedy blending live action and CGI, premieres at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday evening on ABC.
“Financially and logistically it’s just never been possible,” executive producer David Guarascio told City News Service.
Guarascio describes “Imaginary Mary” as “a family show with more of an adult sensibility a la `Modern Family,’ exploring relatable family issues with heart and humor.”
“Imaginary Mary” stars Jenna Elfman as 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 children (Nicholas Coombe, Matreya Scarrwener and Erica Tremblay).
The CGI elements are used to depict Alice’s slightly unhinged imaginary friend Mary, who she created as a child and who suddenly returns to help her navigate the transition from being single to ready for a family and who only she can see.
“Mary is fiercely loyal to Alice and only wants what best for her,” said Guarascio, who like fellow executive producers Adam F. Goldberg and Doug Robinson also hold those roles on the ABC comedy “The Goldbergs,” which precedes Wednesday evening’s episode.
“Mary thinks Alice deserves it all and will not let Alice sacrifice her identity as a successful career woman just because she’s slowly slipping into family life. There’s a real modern sisterhood between these two.”
“Imaginary Mary,” which will regularly air Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., is also a romantic comedy unlike others on television, Guarascio said.
“Most adult relationships you see on half-hour comedies feature married couples who are trying to `keep the spark alive,”‘ Guarascio said. “Since these two just met, they couldn’t put extinguish the spark if they tried. This gives the show a whole other dimension.”
Mary’s CG animation is designed by Patrick Osborne, creator of the Oscar- winning 2014 animated short “The Feast.”
Osborne had long wanted to do “a show about an adult whose childhood imaginary friend returns to help him or her navigate life, thinking it would be a great way to blend live action and CGI,” Guarascio said.
Osborne first met with Robinson, who then brought Goldberg and Guarascio into the project, who thought they could build a show that loosely based on Guarascio’s life — a divorced father with children who meets a career-oriented single woman who never planned on “family life,” Guarascio said.
For scenes including Mary, Elfman said she rehearsed with a puppet and an actress reciting lines.
“Then we would film one take with the puppet, so that the animators had a reference for her in that live space,” Elfman said at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour.
“Then they would take her away and there would be nothing. I didn’t even have a green ball,” a reference to her previous project that incorporated animation, the 2003 film comedy “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”
Elfman recalled one scene where Mary walked across the room, hopped on furniture and then came near her.
“Oftentimes I’d have several different eye lines in the set with different dimension focal points, and doing a scene with (Schneider) and he can’t see her, so it was actually a really great challenge comedically to maintain the scene with her, and the believability, the focal points, while doing the scene with him and the kids,” Elfman said.
“Saturday Night Live” alumna Rachel Dratch provides Mary’s voice, recording her lines seeing the filmed scenes.
“I felt like I was acting with Jenna,” Dratch said. “They play her line right before I said mine, so I felt like I had this sort of fake give and take with the actors that were already up there.”
Like with any voiceover project, Dratch said she tries different ways to say her lines.
“You find this needs to be more of a serious moment, or you can really go wild here,” Dratch said. “I had that luxury that you might not have if you’re just on set and you have to get things done so I have the freedom to go crazy.”