New ABC sitcom is a pleasant ‘Mess’

ABC’s new sitcom, “ Bless This Mess,” has the dubious distinction of premiering near the end of the TV season.

There’s usually a reason that TV networks hold a series debut until they’ve exhausted everything else on their schedule (read between the lines here), but “Bless This Mess,” in all its cookie-cutter homogeny, is saved somewhat by its pleasant cast and the tempered expectations of a mid-April debut.

The “Green Acres”-type premise finds married city slickers Mike (Dax Shepard), a music journalist, and Rio (Lake Bell), a therapist, chucking their life in busy Manhattan for a bucolic life of farming in rural Nebraska They’ve inherited a house from Mike’s great-aunt, and naturally, once they arrive there, it’s not the “American Gothic”-type existence they expected: the ramshackle place is in disrepair (both its floor and roof collapse) with barren topsoil unable to grow anything; their new neighbors are grizzled Rudy (Ed Begley Jr.), who lives in their barn after losing his house (but uses their bathroom) — and tells Rio that “I don’t need therapy. I’m not a Jewish person” — and Beau and Kay (David Koechner, Lennon Parham), eager to buy the property for their hoped-for slaughterhouse (they’ll put the meat locker there) with their dim-bulb, eager-to-please son, Jacob (JT Neal). And, in the best small-town TV tradition (however dated and unrealistic), there’s Constance (Pam Grier) — who not only owns the local general store but is also the town sheriff and runs the local theatre while dispensing homespun wisdom (“The best kind of love is honest”). She and Rudy, a widow, have a thing for each other, and she’s also raising her teenage granddaughter, Cherry (Madison Curry).

“Bless This Mess” is the type of fish-out-of-water sitcom in which a petrified Rio comes comes face-to-face with a cow … in her front yard … and calls her overbearing mother (Susie Essman from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) for help. It’s that kind of humor.

All that said, Shepard and Bell, who co-created and co-wrote the opener, give “Bless This Mess” a good ride and the old college try, as do Begley (who’s good in everything) and Grier. The series was originally slated for Fox before moving to ABC, which doesn’t embarrass itself here but also doesn’t do much to push the sitcom needle in a new direction.

“Bless This Mess” is a pleasant-enough diversion for the next six weeks. Hope springs eternal, but it’s unlikely to plant itself into ABC’s primetime schedule for next season.

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