My affection for Reba McEntire, the Orange Wonder, Milady of the Orange Heavens, She of the Orange Everything, knows no bounds.
OK, actually it does know bounds, and “Malibu Country” may have found them. Her new ABC show, which premieres Friday night at 8:30 on Channel 5, is a traffic jam of culture-clash cliches, numbing laugh track cackles, and fake stage-set lighting. About a Nashville family that moves to California, it’s the country-mouse-in-the-city trope, it’s “Green Acres” in reverse, it’s tired and offensive sitcom stereotypes all over again.
Look, we get to watch Reba work her wry ear-to-ear smile and her “get this one” expressions, which are every country-style drag queen’s dream. And that’s not nothing, if you’re a fan. Reba has great old-timey comic timing, as if she’s fresh from a run of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Plus, we get to see Lily Tomlin with gray hair in a regular gig as Reba’s mother, Lillie Mae, a tough-talkin’, pot-lollipop lickin’ lady who believes in “hard truths.” The role is all forced eccentricity, but Tomlin’s likability helps to counteract the predictability. She’s a friendly foil to Reba’s more polite persona.
But, you know, the writing, oh the writing.
The premise of “Malibu Country” bears many similarities to Reba’s long-running self-titled sitcom. The media caught Reba’s country star husband (Jeffrey Nordling) running around, and so she has decided not to stand by her man. She, her mama, and her two teenaged kids move to Los Angeles, where she hopes to get her music career going after ignoring it for 15 years. In their beachside home, they see real live gay people, hemp clothing, and marijuana stores for the first time. Holy hee-haw! You may find yourself waiting for Jethro Bodine from “The Beverly Hillbillies” to emerge in his skivvies looking for the “cement pond.”
Although on “Malibu Country,” it’s only the city folk, and not the hillbillies, who are made ridiculous. The embodiment of LA absurdity is Reba’s neighbor, a touchy-feely blond bimbo named Kim, played by Sara Rue. Every time Kim pops in and hugs Reba, Reba gives her “ick” face to the camera and the audience howls. A very odd subplot involves Kim’s teen stepson, named Sage of course, who says he is gay. “You don’t seem gay, you seem normal,” Reba exclaims in the flattest and most hostile of the show’s look-at-these-city-flakes jokes. Sage and Reba’s daughter are new BFFs, but then Reba catches them making out. So all bets are off.
No bets are off, though, when Reba goes to meet with a record executive and has a sass-off with her assistant, played by Jai Rodriguez. Like “Partners” and “The New Normal,” “Malibu Country” also features an assistant with catty attitude who mouths off to the lead characters. He’s so Bravo!
ABC has slotted “Malibu Country” after the returning “Last Man Standing,” Tim Allen’s fusty gender sitcom. Together, as a programming block of seasoned stars delivering antiquated material, the two retro shows are unpaving new paths in comedy.