‘Malibu Country,’ working hard for laughs
Country singer Reba McEntire returns to TV in this ABC sitcom
November 1, 2012
The next best thing to a show that we like is a show that makes us want to like it.
ABC's new sitcom "Malibu Country" is a conventionally written and acted show with a hard-working cast headed by the country singer and actress Reba McEntire, a sitcom natural who convinces us that we should be laughing even when we're not. Viewers who are willing to settle for smiles rather than laughs should enjoy themselves.
In the premiere episode, airing this Friday, Nov. 2, Reba Gallagher (McEntire), divorces her country-music star husband, Bobby (Jeffrey Nordling), after he is caught having an affair with a backup singer. She decides to relocate from Nashville to a home that Bobby owned on the beach in California.
She's brought their two teenagers, June (Juliette Angelo) and Cash (Justin Prentice), and her mother, Lillie Mae (Lily Tomlin). They're immediately visited by their next-door neighbor, Kim (Sara Rue), a very California blonde who shares too much about her husband's sexual predilections.
Fans of "Reba," the WB and CW sitcom in which McEntire starred from 2001 to 2007, will notice repeated themes: a cheating ex-husband, teenage kids and a dumb blonde who keeps dropping by. Although one might expect this to be the mark of a veteran sitcom hack, the series, oddly enough, was created by the British musician Dave Stewart, best known as the keyboardist in Eurythmics.
Other characters are familiar from many other comedies. When Reba decides to try to revive her career as a singer and songwriter, which she put on hold to raise her family, she encounters Geoffrey (Jai Rodriguez), a music producer's snarky, foreign-accented assistant, who is equal parts Bronson Pinchot from "Beverly Hills Cop" and David Spade's receptionist character from "Saturday Night Live."
The hard-drinking, tough-talking Lillie Mae recalls many previous sitcom grandmas. Her discovery of medical marijuana should be funnier than it is.
All of the supporting players get support in turn from McEntire, who is always willing to share the spotlight or to step back and let the others strut their stuff. Her nonplussed reaction shots give some mediocre punch lines an extra boost.
One subplot, in which June gets very close to Kim's stepson, Sage (Hudson Thames), who says he's gay, feels original, but it's hard to imagine that the writers will be able to drag it out much longer.
Too many of the lines are dead on the page, forcing all of the players to work too hard. Some jokes depend entirely on McEntire's down-home pronunciation of words like "moron" and "cigar."
McEntire's fans will probably enjoy seeing her in anything, but it would be nice for her to get a sitcom that's as good as she gives.
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