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Reba’s ‘Malibu Country’ recycles familiar ideas

By Rich Heldenfels, Akron Beacon Journal –

When it comes to TV comedy, Reba McEntire wants to keep her audience comfortable. Her new series, “Malibu Country,” should upset none of her fans, but it may not amuse them much, either.

“Malibu Country,” which premieres at 8:30 p.m. EDT Friday on ABC, stars McEntire (billed only as Reba in some material for the show) as Reba McKenzie, a former singer-songwriter who put her career on hold in order to marry a country superstar (Jeffrey Nordling) and have a couple of children. But, as the series begins, she has learned that her hubby’s been cheating, leaves him and heads to California with the kids and her mom (Lily Tomlin) in order to start her life, and restart her career. But when she gets to California, she has to adjust to a different way of doing things — and to a wacky neighbor (Sara Rue).

Because, after all, what is an old-school sitcom without a wacky neighbor?

And what is a McEntire sitcom without a cheating husband? Fans of the singer will recall “Reba,” the 2001-07 comedy in which she played a woman starting over after her husband had been stepping out. And which also included a de facto wacky neighbor in the form of Reba’s husband’s new flame. Sure, there were differences between the two — “Reba” added some complications with the kids, “Malibu Country” leans heavily on Tomlin’s character and skills — but the similarities cannot be ignored, either. In fact, I’ve seen at least one interview where Rue was asked about her character and her “Reba” counterpart.

Beyond plot, “Malibu Country” is a very old-fashioned show in its presentation, including the very linear storytelling and the jokey dialogue. No one is going to confuse this with somewhat more challenging fare like “30 Rock,” “How I Met Your Mother” or “Happy Endings.” But this is obviously deliberate, as is ABC pairing it with the returning “Last Man Standing,” the Tim Allen comedy that also looks as if it could have aired decades ago. And that’s not just about McEntire fans; it’s about aiming at viewers who are home on Friday nights and don’t want TV to make them work hard.

Is “Malibu Country” funny? Only intermittently. Tomlin is, as you would expect, a hoot. But other parts are far less sure-handed, with the characters at once sketchy and underdeveloped. But, again, it’s not trying to be great television. It’s trying to be a show you’ll consider when you can’t find anything else to watch.

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