Booze and Cheers
“Abby’s” on NBC
As the calendar clicks over to April, we find ourselves deep in the weeds of midseason replacement time. Longtime Idiot Box viewers should know that any show a broadcast network is just now getting around to premiering can’t possibly have the confidence of executives and programmers. If it did, it would have premiered back in October with the rest of the new season. April is barely a month away from summer TV season, and that’s just a death slot for “limited series” and endless true crime spin-offs of “20/20.” So what is NBC doing airing the pilot for “Abby’s,” a show with an impressive lineup of industry talent, this time of year? Suspicion is warranted.
“Abby’s” is the work of creator Josh Malmuth, who served as producer on such hit sitcoms as “New Girl” and “Superstore.” Michael Schur and David Miner are also on board as executive producers. You might have seen their names on “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Good Place.” So far, so good.
Set in a working-class San Diego neighborhood, the series centers on Abby (Natalie Morales of criminally underrated superhero series “The Middleman”). Abby is a “bisexual Latina ex-Marine sergeant”—which is commendable in terms of representation, but frankly very little of that ever actually comes up. It seems that Abby has spent years running an unlicensed neighborhood bar in the back yard of the home she rents. The show quickly establishes the “situation” in its sitcom by introducing dorky, jazz-loving engineer Bill (Franklin Nelson from “The Millers” and “New Girl”). Bill is the exact opposite of Abby. Naturally, he’s her new landlord, having inherited the property from his elderly aunt.
He balks at Abby’s illegal establishment, of course; but after 15 minutes of snarky patter, he’s totally on board as her new partner. The excuse is that Bill’s recently divorced and lonely. The sense of community that Abby’s bar fosters—among a stereotyped selection of drunk suburbanites hiding from their nearby families—appeals to him. Or something to that effect. “Abby’s” doesn’t try very hard to build storylines. It’s a straight-up, old school three-camera sitcom with the standard “setup/punchline” joke structure. The one “gimmick” it offers is that it’s recorded live in front of a studio audience—outdoors! (It’s shot on the same studio backlot as Wisteria Lane from “Desperate Housewives.”) Meh.
The cast, including the likes of Neil Flynn (“Scrubs,” “The Middle”) and Jessica Chaffin (“Zoey 101,” “Man with a Plan”), are all old hands at this sort of back-and-forth, insult-heavy banter. They goose the punchlines with conviction. But the lines are just so generic. (Big dude: “I don’t like confrontation.” Bar back: “But you’re the bouncer!” Big dude: “I know, it’s messed up!”) Meh.
The show is obviously hoping to mine comic friction from the partnership between gruff Abby and uptight Bill. But Sam and Diane this ain’t. “Abby’s” tries to wed old school sitcom structure with edgy content. (Did we mention the main character is bisexual?). The cast is gung ho, but the humor is just too mild to qualify as “edgy” or particularly “funny.” With its laugh tracks and its live studio audience, “Abby’s” feels like a leftover ’90s sitcom. Or something from CBS.