MALIBU COUNTRY: Friday 8:30PM starting November 2 on ABC – Worth A Look
Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall. Pilots are often reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot. These critiques shouldn’t be taken as full pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
For decades, Friday night was one of TV’s homes for family comedies, particularly on ABC. In the 1970s, shows like The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and Nanny and the Professor all made their nests on Fridays, and in the 1990s, the “TGIF” line-up included Full House and Boy Meets World. With the upcoming 2012-13 season, the network is trying to bring back those days for its 8-9PM hour. The night will start with the sadly lacking Last Man Standing, but then things perk up a bit with the surprisingly pleasant new sitcom MALIBU COUNTRY.
Malibu is a vehicle for Reba McIntire, for whom it was created by Kevin Abbott, formerly an executive producer on Reba, and more recently on Last Man Standing . (Pilot director John Pasquin also hails from Last Man.) She plays Reba Gallagher, who as the pilot opens has learned that her country star husband has been cheating on her. She uproots her teen kids, son Cash (Justin Prentice) and daughter June (Juliette Angelo), as well as grandma Lillie Mae (Lily Timlin), from their Nashville home, and moves them into hubby’s previously unknown Malibu beach house. There they interact with flighty, very LA neighbor Kim (Sara Rue, whose role here required the recasting of her character on Guys With Kids) and Kim’s stepson Sage (Hudson Thames), whose sexuality is ambiguous, while Reba tries to pursue the singer/songwriter career she had abandoned years earlier for her husband and family.
There’s nothing at all cutting-edge about Malibu Country–the show has its quota of LA plastic surgery jokes, and doggone it but Reba’s just isn’t gonna give up until those music producers listen to her new song–but the show has an easygoing charm. Although its creative staff comes from Last Man Standing, this show doesn’t have that one’s overemphatic cookie-cutter self-righteousness. Perhaps the difference goes to the Reba persona as compared to Tim Allen’s: while every episode of Last Man has to push an agenda of dad being a fool but with his heart in the right place, Malibu is much more relaxed about its fish out of water premise. When Reba finds out her mom has gotten a prescription for medical pot lollipops, she tells her to keep them out of the house, but doesn’t seem all that concerned when Lillie Mae is clearly stoned again later on; similarly, when she finds June making out with the “gay” Sage, she breaks up the party, but doesn’t make any dictatorial pronouncements about the situation. Despite all the jokes about the locale, there’s almost a level of meta-humor, because Reba seems pretty laid-back already and likely to thrive in her new environment, and that’s a lot more engaging to watch than a character who constantly has to maintain that he’s right and everyone else isn’t.
The low-key feel extends to the performances, which belie the usual multi-camera staginess. Tomlin, of course, is an all-star, and she and McEntire play well together, with a minimum of the kind of cartoonishness that usually accompanies middle-aged children and their parents on sitcoms. Rue is playing a much broader character, but her Kim isn’t a complete idiot, either. Everyone, including the teens, gets to keep some dignity, which is more of an accomplishment with this kind of broad material than it should be.
The bar is low for success on Friday nights, which is good for Malibu Country, because it won’t be getting much of a lead-in from Last Man Standing. The shows on the other networks–CSI NY, Touch and Community–are all lucky not to have been canceled in May, and while Community provides direct sitcom competition, it’s aimed (or at least it used to be, before its creator was purged) at a completely different audience. An older crowd that wants chuckles rather than a procedural–or whatever Touch is meant to offer–could give the show a welcoming berth, and provide ABC with a scripted foothold to bring the network back to its Friday future.