And for his next act, Chuck Lorre will be pivoting to total and complete earnestness.
The powerhouse producer behind “Two and a Half Men” and the recently departed “Big Bang Theory” has now thrown his weight behind “Bob Hearts Abishola,” an unabashedly sweet comedy about a divorced socks salesman (Billy Gardell) having a heart attack and falling for his Nigerian nurse (Folake Olowofoyeku). At first, Abishola mostly just tolerates Bob’s affections, treating his admiration as a silly side effect of a genuinely harrowing experience. But with a little time — and a lot of encouragement from her aunt (Shola Adewusi), uncle (Barry Shabaka Henley (Uncle Tunde), and co-workers (Vernee Watson and Gina Yashere) — Abishola decides to give Bob a bit more of a chance.
There are so many ways “Bob Hearts Abishola” could have gone wrong. It could have treated Bob’s crush on Abishola as a one-sided obsession, rendered her Nigerian family as wacky oddities, and spent all its time on basic (or flat out xenophobic) punchlines. The jokes definitely run on the broader side; very little of the material concerning Bob’s mother (Christine Ebersole), slacker brother (Matt Jones) and melodramatic sister (Maribeth Monroe) lands. And yet it’s laudable that the first three episodes make the most of their abbreviated runtimes to treat the rest of the story, particularly that between Bob and Abishola themselves, with more heart and nuance. Abishola is wary of pursuing a romance for completely logical, understandable reasons; Bob explicitly says that he doesn’t want to push her to do anything she doesn’t actually want to do; both are lonely in ways neither wants to fully admit. The show probably can’t keep them from a relationship for too long without stretching its premise too thin, but for now, their dynamic is a refreshingly unique one for a broadcast network sitcom.
“Bob Hearts Abishola” also undoubtedly benefits from the fact that Nigerian-British comic Yashere, whose scenes opposite Olowofoyeku are so far unequivocal highlights of the series, is also a writer and producer on the series, and can therefore provide the kinds of insights into Abishola’s experience that Lorre and their co-creators Al Higgins and Eddie Gorodetsky simply could not. It’s also frankly something of a shock to watch a CBS multi-cam comedy that can include scenes between multiple black women, each with a different point of view and experience, without making them the butt of the joke. If this is the kind of material Lorre wants to use his influence to promote in a space that might otherwise balk, it’ll be exciting to see what comes next.
“Bob Hearts Abishola” premieres September 23 at 8:30 pm on CBS.
30 minutes; 3 episodes watched for review.