It’s a swell idea in theory to put on a new comedy that’s compatible with Lifetime reruns of “Reba” leading into it, but “Rita Rocks” works a little too hard at ensuring the two are virtually indistinguishable. Utterly conventional, the series continues along the path TBS has explored in attempting to fill the major networks’ vacated family-sitcom niche, but this undemanding concept about a mom hoping to reignite her garage-band roots takes the right strategy and plays a tired old tune.
Nicole Sullivan (“Mad TV,” “The King of Queens”) heads a cast of sitcom alumni trying to breathe life into this scenario created by “Golden Girls” writers James Berg and Stan Zimmerman. Rita’s a middle-class mother of two coveting some time for herself, which prompts her to dig out that old guitar and begin jamming with newly befriended mail carrier Patty (“Martin’s” Tisha Campbell-Martin). Rita is supported in this by her husband (“Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place’s” Richard Ruccolo), and the band quickly expands to include a neighbor (guest Ian Gomez) and her daughter’s ever-present boyfriend, Kip (Raviv Ullman).
Mostly, the jokes involve Rita squabbling with her older daughter (Natalie Dreyfuss, the niece of Richard Dreyfuss) about things like wanting a tattoo, or the nosy Patty prying into people’s mail in classic disgruntled-civil-servant fashion. In a subsequent episode, Rita tries to play matchmaker — and winds up with some ‘splainin’ to do!
There’s a moment when the quartet finally performs that exhibits a fleeting spark, but mostly there’s less originality here than the playlist of an ’80s cover band. In fact, Lifetime’s decision to strip five new “Rita” episodes during the show’s premiere week (to be followed by a regular Tuesday-night berth) betrays far more ingenuity than anything in the show itself.
Granted, Lifetime does quite well with movies that follow a familiar pattern, so aggressively pushing the envelope would hardly make sense. Even so, the jokes here are often flatly predictable or improbable, from the younger daughter objecting to her sister saying “vagina” to the none-too-bright Kip muttering, “Dude, it’s like ‘The View’ over here.”
Dude, if only.