By Ken Tucker
November 30, 2011 at 12:00 PM EST

The title I Hate My Teenage Daughter gets it wrong: It should be called I Fear My Teenage Daughter. This rabbit-y sitcom, which premiered on Wednesday night after The X Factor, doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do: ridicule middle-aged moms, champion them, or dump on teenage girls.

Jamie Pressly and Katie Finneran, both extremely skilled comic actors, may have thought they could find something interesting in material that so openly addressed the tensions between mothers and daughters, but they’ve been sabotaged by the writing, which wimps out in favor of sentimentality and a weird hostility toward the mothers in particular. Finneran’s Nikki is said to have suffered from a poor self-image as an adolescent who struggled with her weight — or as the show so artfully had her hiss, “I did not eat my cat!”

Nicki and Pressly’s Annie are divorced best friends with pasts that have left them insecure and reliant upon each other. Now they each have a 14-year-old daughter who takes advantage of the mothers’ weaknesses, and use the skills of a torturer to get what they want (which the show would have us believe is the right to dress revealingly and communicate chiefly by text messaging). The moms quail at the first sign of the daughters’ hostility. (“Honey, please don’t be mad at me!”)

And the daughters, played by Kristi Lauren and Aisha Dee, were interchangeable ciphers, cruel one moment and gloppily sentimental the next. I know, I’ve had teenaged daughters, I know those adolescent extremes are “true”; it’s just that here, they weren’t “funny.” These girls are the kinds of characters that turn off adolescent viewers and who make adults watching the true haters — they just yell at the TV screen that what these kids need is someone to take away their Blackberrys and force them to get part-time jobs.

This is less the stuff of a sitcom than of a poignant segment on MTV’s True Life: “Our Mothers Are Neurotic.” Annie and Nikki are grasping and needy in distinctive ways; unfortunately, daughters Sophie and Mackenzie are nonstop obnoxious. I’d respect the show more if the two episodes I’ve seen didn’t wrap up with treacly happy endings that betray the essential grittiness of the concept: This could have finally been the Fox sitcom that carried on the vulgar-realist tone of Married… With Children. Should I Hate last long enough, it may yet turn that quality corner — I mean, Pressly is very sharp in her line delivery, and Finneran is a deserved star in the New York theater world — but the title and the general unpleasantness of the pilot worked against it.

What’d you think? “Hate” is probably too strong a word, but did you dislike or enjoy this thing?

Twitter: @kentucker