Kaitlyn Dever, Tim Allen
I'm a sucker for tradition, and there are probably worse ideas than ABC reviving the "TGIF" concept of family-friendly sitcoms on Friday night. Depending on your generation, you may find yourself thinking nostalgically of watching The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family with the babysitter, or growing up with the Full House-Family Matters-Boy Meets World-Perfect Strangers brand of ABC comedy. Hold on to those memories, because unfortunately, there are few shows this season worse or more grating than tonight's Malibu Country (8:31/7:31c), where the beachfront corn grows awfully and annoyingly high.
We'd hoped for better from Reba McEntire, one of the brightest stars in country, who conquered Broadway for a time and acquitted herself well on The CW's good-natured Reba in the early 2000s. Once again, she's playing a wronged wife, who packs up her two kids and their wacky granny Lillie Mae (a wasted, in more ways than one, Lily Tomlin) and heads to her ex's Malibu beach house to restart her career. Bad and tired idea, and the execution could make you yearn for the subtle sophistication of The Beverly Hillbillies.
Reba endures jokes about not being young and sexy enough —t hough there's no evidence she actually believes this — and has to put up with her kids' whining about their posh new surroundings ("Even the ugly people are good-lookin'"), while adjusting to Left Coast attitudes about such things as kids who may or may not be gay. (A situation Modern Family handled this week with much more aplomb, and which The Middle has been milking for laughs for years.) With the exception of Tomlin's laid-back cackle, as she gets stoned on pot-laced lollipops, everything is played at an unbearably shrill pitch, especially whenever Sara Rue pops in as an aggravatingly perky, nosy, huggy, New Age-y neighbor. These are all such likable performers you can't help wonder what funky karma led them to end up in this Malibu-boo.
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By comparison, companion piece Last Man Standing (Friday, 8/7c) seems almost a comedy classic. It's certainly more topical, as this reverse Home Improvement (Tim Allen the only guy in a house of women) aims for political relevance in the second-season opener. As the presidential election looms in this polarized household, blustery man of the house Mike (Allen) battles his proudly liberal single-mom daughter Kristin (Amanda Fuller taking over the role) as each tries to convince bubble-headed Mandy (Molly Ephraim), who's voting for the first time, to pick their candidate. The broad tone is closer to ham-fisted bunkum than the Bunkers of All in the Family, but as Mike's wife Vanessa, Nancy Travis keeps things grounded and good-humored, by refusing to tell anyone who's getting her vote.
Other Friday notes: At 8/7c, NBC and its many cable offshoots (CNBC, Bravo, E!, G4, Style, Syfy, USA Network) plus HBO are rallying to raise money for those suffering from this week's devastating hurricane with the benefit telethon Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together. With Matt Lauer hosting, expected performers include The Voice's Christina Aguilera, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel and Sting. All proceeds to go American Red Cross relief efforts. ... CBS' Undercover Boss opens its fourth season (8/7c) by setting up an elaborate reality-show-within-a-reality-show ruse to explain why cameras are following this clownish Bluto with a ridiculously guttural false voice and fake walrus mustache as he takes on menial jobs in the ranks of Modell's Sporting Goods. We know it's really CEO Mitchell Modell going incognito, but he might as well be wearing a sandwich board to announce something's up — and to prompt hard-luck cases to put their best foot forward to suddenly and miraculously become valued and generously rewarded employees. ... The new ABC sitcoms push back Shark Tank an hour to 9/8c, with Family Guy creator (and soon-to-be Oscar host) Seth MacFarlane showing up to help a friend pitch a new fly trap. Wonder how many voices he'll use.
Moving on to Saturday, where comedy is the main event, as NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c) airs its last new original show before Tuesday's election. Could either presidential candidate make a surprise appearance, or is that sort of levity deemed inappropriate after a week of such calamity as the wake of Sandy? Regardless, expect a stirring reminder of New York's resilience as the show goes on — presumably to a full house (no more empty late-night theaters, thank you). Adding to the anticipation: the first guest-hosting stint by outspoken everyman comic Louis C.K. ... Earlier in the evening, Showtime puts the spotlight on "passionate centrist" Larry Wilmore of The Daily Show for a combination stand-up/town-hall comedy special, Larry Wilmore's Race, Religion & Sex in Florida (10/9c), taped in Jacksonville last month.
On Sunday, it's all about the game-changers on some of TV's most electrifying and satisfying dramas.
"Ah man, can't we have just one good day?" wonders Glenn (Steven Yeun) on a truly pivotal, gut- and heart-wrenching episode of AMC's The Walking Dead (9/8c). The answer would be no. Beyond that, you'll have to experience the horror of it all for yourself. ... CBS' excellent The Good Wife (9/8c) piles on the blue-chip guest stars for a briskly entertaining hour helmed by first-time director Josh Charles. Alicia's new client is Amanda Peet, a JAG lawyer taking her sexual-assault case to civil court. Brian Dennehy is the cagey opposing counsel, while Denis O'Hare returns as one of the show's more entertaining judges. Kristin Chenoweth (recovered from her on-set injury) and Miriam Shor are back as rival gossip journalists, but Maura Tierney makes the biggest impact as deep-pocketed feminist Maddie Hayward, who continues to stir up the political waters around Peter's campaign for governor. For those who can't wait to see the backside of Kalinda's sadistically boorish husband (Marc Warren), this episode offers a glimmer of hope. ... PBS' glorious Call the Midwife (check tvguide.com listings) wraps its first season with legal problems for the eccentric and possibly demented Sister Monica Joan (the great Judy Parfitt) and romantic complications for the insecure Chummy (the equally wondrous Miranda Hart), when her horribly snooty mother arrives with nothing but scorn for her daughter's unassuming constable fiancé. There is a happy ending, but the elation is tempered by a bittersweet yearning for more. ... On Showtime's Dexter (9/8c), a very dangerous and seductive game ensues between two killers: Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and his latest prey, the seemingly innocent but defiantly mysterious Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski). When he tells her, "I want to take you out," is he being romantic or murderous? Or both? This episode is titled "Do the Wrong Thing" for a reason. ... The question of "Who's playing who?" also informs the latest episode of Showtime's Homeland (10/9c), as Carrie (Claire Danes, intense as ever) puts new double-agent Brody (Damian Lewis) to work, seeking intel that leads fatefully back to Gettysburg. "I do worry about you being so close to Brody again," Saul (Mandy Patinkin) warns Carrie. Saul, we're all worried. But riveted.
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