Review: 2019 sitcom line-up

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, September 13th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: something to laugh about.

Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and premium cable channels like HBO, have dominated watercooler conversations for the last few years. They’ve also cleaned up at industry awards shows. It seems the age of broadcast superiority is in the cultural rearview mirror. At least when it comes to dramas or documentaries.

REICHARD: But there is one genre the younger outlets haven’t, for a variety of reasons, taken over yet. When Americans want to laugh, they still tend to turn to one of the big four networks. 

Megan Basham is here now to dish on the buzziest new options they’re serving up this fall.

MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: Perhaps no actor or actress on television right now has a stronger track record than Patricia Heaton. She played Ray Romano’s long-suffering wife on Everybody Loves Raymond for nine years. And she played the perpetually frazzled, blue-collar mom Frankie Heck on The Middle for another nine. So Heaton is always a good bet for ratings. The question is, will audiences give her a second (or really third) act in CBS’s new series, Carol’s Second Act–a show that doesn’t trade as much on the travails of motherhood?

CLIP: And how do your migraines typically present? Dizziness. I get those flashy lights. What are they called? Auras. Yeah, my uncle had migraines like that. They’re commonly stress-related and, long story short, yoga helped him with his migraines, but not with his alcoholism and he died.

It’s an iffy call. The pilot requires too much heavy-lifting from Heaton, who plays a retired teacher embarking on a new career as a doctor. The rest of the much-younger cast fail to match her physical comedy and way with a one-liner. But this could be the fault of directing. 

CLIP: Will we be starting rounds right away? I hope so. I’ve waited a long time for this day. A long time to be chief resident? Me? You think I’m chief resident? No! No, this is my first day. I’m an intern just like you. But you have a clipboard. Yes, I love clipboards. But you have a long coat, like a resident. Oh, it’s not long. I’m just short. But you’re— Older, yes. I know.

And it’s not unusual for sitcoms to take a few episodes to find their feet. Remember that Seinfeld’s first outing wasn’t all that funny. Given a few more episodes for the stars to gel, Heaton’s latest venture could come together in the end.

The next show is one of the buzziest new sitcoms this season. And it highlights a popular subject across television right now: the immigrant experience. 

CLIP: Ok, guys. I understand you’re getting stressed out. I think what it is is that you’re a little too focused on what you have to know. Being American is just as much about how it feels. Grab your stuff. We’re going to take a field trip. 

Unfortunately, Sunnyside’s preaching is so heavy-handed and unfunny, it’s unlikely even a left-wing choir will want to tune in to hear it.

Former Obama administration official Kal Penn stars as an Anthony Wiener-like disgraced city councilman. After one scandal too many leaves him out of office, he’s reduced to leeching off his sister. That’s when a group of immigrants hire him as their tutor.

CLIP: Garrett, I’ve been in surgery all day. You can’t let a bunch of strangers into my house. Ok, rude. First of all, it would only be illegal if we were soldiers and the government were forcing you to house us here. That’s a little thing I like to call the Third Amendment. Boom.  

He’s supposed to help them pass their citizenship tests and navigate the red tape of becoming naturalized Americans. One doesn’t expect a lot of political nuance from sitcoms, but with characters whose entire description can be summed up with, “Dominican lady who holds down a lot of jobs,” NBC’s Sunnyside doesn’t even try. 

The third show everyone’s talking about comes from sitcom veteran Chuck Lorre. 

CLIP: If you like, I can tell your family you’re sleeping and to come back in the morning. Ah, that’d be great. Thanks, Abby. Abishola. Abishola, sorry. You can call me Bob. Goodnight, Bob. (laughs) What now? I never liked the sound of my name. But when you say it, it sounds nice. Say it again. Goodnight, Bob. Ah, yeah. That’s way better than B-ah-b!

If Patricia Heaton has the best on-camera record on television right now, Lorre certainly wins that title behind the scenes. Around Hollywood he’s known as “The King of the Sitcom.” Christian audiences may not have appreciated the lazy sexual puns he traded on in series like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. But there’s no denying he has a gift for hooking an audience. 

His latest show shares Sunnyside’s interest in immigrants, with the difference that it’s actually funny. In fact, Bob (Hearts) Abishola is one of the most entertaining (and certainly the sweetest) pilots the man with the golden laugh-track has ever produced.

CLIP: I am not looking for a husband. Let me be the judge of that. What does he do? He makes socks. He sounds like a woman. No, it is his business. Ah, so a businessman has come to your house to court you. It is not courtship! He just brought me socks. Like this man. He’s a white man. Eh, a woman of your age cannot be picky. 

The premise is deceptively simple. Bob, who runs compression sock business, goes to the hospital after a heart attack. While there he develops a crush on his Nigerian nurse, Abishola, played by Folake Olowofoyeku. He spends the rest of the episode trying to track her down so he can begin wooing her. 

CLIP: What do you want with Abishola? Is she in trouble? No, no. Nothing like that. Close the door. There’s something wrong. Why does there have to be something wrong. There’s a white man at the door. Tell me, when has that ever been good. (knocking) What do we do?

I don’t use an antiquated term like “wooing” without purpose. Perhaps because the actress herself is a Nigerian immigrant and executive producer Gina Yashere is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, the pilot focuses on the culture clash inherent to their courtship. It contains almost none of the lame double-entendres that are Lorre’s hallmark. By presenting two well-developed, specific characters, instead of lazy types, it encourages the viewer to see our daily experiences through the eyes of the newly arrived. 

Yashere told CNN she hopes Bob (Hearts) Abishola will offer common ground for people at all points of the political spectrum to laugh. If it continues as it begins, it seems likely to succeed.

And that’s your 2019 sitcom preview.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(CBS via AP) This image released by CBS shows Billy Gardell as Bob, left, and Folake Olowofoyeku as Abishola in a scene from “Bob (Hearts) Abishola,” a comedy about a nurse and the former cardiac patient who pursues her. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.