Review: ‘Life With Bonnie’

Flighty, funny but a little forced, "Life With Bonnie" may very well signal the beginning of the end of ABC's doldrums. An likable leading lady, the actress best known for providing comic relief in bigscreen projects ("Jerry Maguire," "Jumanji") is quick with a quip once again, armed with sarcasm and unafraid to bust the chops of everyone she knows.

Flighty, funny but a little forced, “Life With Bonnie” may very well signal the beginning of the end of ABC’s doldrums. An enormously likable leading lady, the actress best known for providing comic relief in bigscreen projects (“Jerry Maguire,” “Jumanji”) is quick with a quip once again, armed with sarcasm and unafraid to bust the chops of everyone she knows. The Alphabet needs a fast hit, and this one should do the trick for now despite a hyperactive start that may turn some people away right off the bat.

Airing on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (after a two-week tryout at 8:30) between “According to Jim” and frosh “Less Than Perfect,” show isn’t particularly unique — it’s actually rather cliched — but eventually surfaces as a solid laffer that’s running on all cylinders. It’s obvious the net is trying to create a must-see night of its own (CBS has its Monday laffer lineup, and Thursday still belongs to the Peacock), and “Hunt” should certainly serve as the anchor.

Within the debut’s opening minutes, everyone in Chicago morning talkshow host Bonnie Malloy’s (Hunt) family is introduced via her mad dash for the office after a late wakeup. Husband Mark (Mark Derwin), looks for his shoes, daughter Samantha (Samantha Brown-Walters) has gum in her hair, and son Charlie (Charlie Stewart), a deliriously cute moppet with firey red locks, has to help mommy “hide” her figure by stretching her sweater. All the while, a newborn is looked after by Gloria (Marianne Muellerleile), a smart-aleck maid who would rather work out than work hard.

At the TV station, Bonnie is hounded by uptight producer David Bellows (David Allan Grier) and a couple of wisecracking assistants. There’s also Tony Russo (Anthony Russell), the sidekick piano player who sounds more like a cheesy Las Vegas lounge act. Pilot’s funniest moment hands down comes as Malloy improvs a booze-filled faux cooking seg with real-life Italian chefs Valerio Castellano and Leonardo De Stefano.

None of this is new — every other comedy in the history of television has gone through these motions — but Hunt’s wisecrack reactions and eye-roll cynicism makes it distinctive. ABC has sensibly let her do most of the heavy lifting, riffing with creativity that makes the time spent seem more like good live TV than anything scripted (it could do, however, without the overbearing laugh track).

As Malloy, Hunt is a perfect blend of nerves and confidence, always on edge about her daily routine, but never above criticizing the skinny wife of Mark’s colleague or the egocentric authors who appear as guests on her show. Grier, who never clicked in his own series two years ago (remember “D.A.G.”?) shines again in a supporting role. Domestically speaking, the kids are adorable, and Derwin’s take on Bonnie’s hubbie is appropriate: He adores her, but she drives him crazy.

Tech credits are typical, with Hunt’s set looking suitably “local” (meaning low-tech) and her two-story brownstone looking appropriately cramped and cluttered for a busy family of five.

Life With Bonnie

ABC, Tues. Sept. 17, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Bob & Alice Prods., Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake; director, Hunt; writer, Hunt, Lake;

Crew

Camera, Nick McLean; editor, Leo Papin; production designer, Robert Strohmaier; music, Nicholas Pike; casting, Deborah Barylski. 30 MIN.

Cast

Bonnie Molloy - Bonnie Hunt Mark Molloy - Mark Derwin David Bellows - David Alan Grier Gloria - Marianne Muellerleile Tony Russo - Anthony Russell Samantha - Samantha Browne-Walters Charlie - Charlie Stewart
With: Beth Littleford, Tom Virtue, Cristine Rose, Valerio Castellano, Leonardo De Stefano.
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