When Bob, played by Mike & Molly's Billy Gardell, first meets the woman who captures his heart in CBS's new sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola, the sparks don't start flying right away. Indeed, the only electricity between the two comes via the monitors in the hospital Bob's been hooked up to, keeping nurses updated on his ticker after a heart attack.
One of those nurses is Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku), who came to the U.S. from Nigeria. "You look like an angel," Bob tells her, later following that up later with, "I gotta pee. Do I just do it or do I go somewhere?" He's no Cyrano de Bergerac, clearly, but Bob's clumsy reverence for Abishola ends up charting a course for a relationship — and an unprecedented type of sitcom from creator Chuck Lorre.
Lorre, the mind behind hit comedies including The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, has already proven he can make relationship comedies (Mike & Molly) and "opposites attract" stories (Dharma & Greg) funny and successful. But with Bob Hearts Abishola, the king of sitcoms sets out to make an important statement.
"The story I wanted to tell is about the greatness of first‑generation immigrants," Lorre told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour earlier this year. "The focus and discipline, the hard work, rigorous, rigorous honesty that goes with coming here and grabbing ahold of the American dream. The premise of the series is, 'Immigrants make America great.'"
At the core of the series are hardworking, decent people from different walks of life, all contributing to the American dream and trying to take care of their families — with Bob and Abishola learning how much their differences dissolve the more they get to know each other. A full-on romance is ways off though, as the series first introduces viewers to Bob, a salesman under pressure from his business and his boisterous brood at home, and Abishola, hustling to build a life in the U.S. and care for her young son.
"This is a love story for all of us, because we're all immigrants or we're the children of immigrants or the grandchildren of immigrants or the great-grandchildren of immigrants, and it's not a political show in that sense," said Lorre. "It's about people trying to get some safety in this world."
After their unfortunate meeting, Bob can't get Abishola — her name means "born to wealth, born to guide, to look after wealth" — off his mind, and quickly sets about wooing her. And though some of his methods are questionable (Bob pursues Abishola outside the workplace in ways that may have seemed cute in old-school rom-coms but feel slightly problematic today), it's clear his infatuation with her is genuine. Ever so gradually, she thaws the walls she sensibly erected to keep herself safe in place with customs she's not used to. Instead of just being a complement to Bob's story, her life is explored in full: her friends, her family, her single-parent trials and triumphs are integral to the story.
Gina Yashere, a writer, producer and recurring star of the show who grew up in England in a Nigerian household, helped inform the show and infuse it with authenticity. "When [American shows] do immigrants, we're either very downtrodden, poor, or criminal, or our accents are never quite right. It's always an immigrant doing something wrong or being done wrong by somebody else or being killed or just living in poverty," she said. "The the good thing about this show is... they're people. It's a mother trying to put her son through school and have him be successful."
For Bob, Abishola isn't complicated, at least when he first meets her: she's a comforting presence who soothes him at a literal life or death moment, winning his affections. That's it. "Anytime you find someone who makes your life better, or you find something in them that you don't have, you're drawn to them," Gardell told TV Guide. "The story is about kindness. I think we need more of that in the air right now."
Bob Hearts Abishola premieres Sept. 23 at 8/9c on CBS.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS Corporation.)