Normally, screening a pilot yields about a page of notes. By contrast, sitting through “Malibu Country,” ABC’s twangy and rusty Reba sitcom vehicle, produced nothing but an empty pad. Granted, nobody is looking to reinvent the wheel or even the pickup truck with this Friday-night companion to Tim Allen’s equally creaky “Last Man Standing,” but the result is even less ambitious — and has less to recommend it — than the country singer’s old WB show. This is the fall’s final new network series, and nobody can accuse ABC of saving the best for last.
“Malibu” continues ABC’s country-themed programming strategy, which has already exhibited mild promise with “Nashville,” a music-based drama. Like “Nashville,” this latest show incorporates “He done me wrong” songs into the formula, with Reba playing Reba (presumably to cut down on confusion at the craft-services table), a successful singer who gave up her career, then walked out on her cheatin’, good-for-nothin’ husband after discovering his infidelities.
Taking refuge at what once was the family’s vacation home in Malibu, she brings her brood West, including stock kids seemingly ordered from the Sears catalog and her wacky momma, played, inexplicably, by Lily Tomlin, channeling Irene Ryan from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Not surprisingly, the kids are a trifle gaga about their new surroundings, with all those Hollywood-beautiful types; there’s a ditsy New Age neighbor (Sara Rue), because California stereotypes are every bit as lazy as Southern ones; and the little question of getting Reba back into the studio, for all the obvious reasons.
Most of the producers are “Reba” alumni, but the series was actually created — again, inexplicably — by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Reba (who has shed her surname as a performer, but keeps it as a producer) has always proved a natural presence onscreen, but every beat of the new show is so stale and familiar the audience can practically sing along to the punchlines — which, perhaps, is the point.
There’s nothing wrong with the comedy equivalent of comfort food, and ABC’s goals for the hour are clearly modest — aimed at an audience more apt to be home munching fried fare on a Friday night. Perhaps they’ll turn up in sufficient numbers, but for anyone with slightly higher expectations who dares venture into “Malibu Country,” sweet dreams are not made of this.