Best known for reruns of old series (and now some rather tawdry reality shows), TV Land’s original comedy “Hot in Cleveland” — down to the talent — feels as though it could have been on a network lineup 20 years ago, which is surprisingly better than that sounds. Tartly written with good actresses in clearly defined roles, this sitcom hardly breaks new ground but unearths old gags in such unapologetic fashion that it proves reasonably good company. And what better timing than having the indomitable Betty White — newly hot at nearly 90 — throwing around “Golden Girls”-vintage one-liners?
Recently divorced author Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli) is en route to Paris with her pals Victoria (Wendie Malick), who spent the last 27 years starring on a soap called “The Edge of Tomorrow”; and Joy (Jane Leeves), a cynic who compares romantic comedies with “cellulite cures.”
After an uncomfortable encounter with Melanie’s ex-husband, the trio’s plane is forced to make an emergency landing in Cleveland, where these jaded L.A. women instantly discover some Midwestern benefits beyond (for now, anyway) the chance to watch LeBron James play hoops.
“I haven’t felt like a piece of meat in so long,” Joy mutters, suggesting they have crossed into “a dimension where men hit on women their own age.” Plus, the real estate goes for a relative pittance.
A not-entirely-convincing series of events ensue, including Melanie’s whirlwind encounter with a handsome local (guest John Schneider). Before you know it, she’s taken a new Ohio home, one that comes with a saucy old caretaker (White) who immediately refers to the Melanie and her pals as “whores.”
OK, so this possibility of sex in a whole new (and less glamorous) city isn’t the most artful way of placing these West Coast fish on dry land, but the “Green Acres”-like aspect of the premise has carefree potential in a refreshingly unassuming way. And despite the throwback feel, at least nobody tells Melanie to take things one day at a time.
Bertinelli is essentially the pilot’s straight woman, with Malick having the showiest part and Leeves getting all the best lines. But provided that writer Suzanne Martin (like Leeves, a “Frasier” alum) can maintain the pithy patter concocted to get the ball rolling, TV Land might actually have a comedy on its nostalgia-flavored roster to help create some mildly fond new memories.