“Like a fish out of water” is as tried and true a premise as a sitcom gets, which means two opposing things. One the one hand, the setup has a proven track record of success. On the other, it gets harder to innovate with every new iteration. “Bless This Mess,” to both its credit and detriment, doesn’t especially try to reinvent this particular wheel.
ABC’s new comedy, co-created by Lake Bell and Elizabeth Meriwether, takes a yuppie New York City couple (Bell and Dax Shepard) and throws them headlong into an ill-advised adventure taking over a farm. Neither has any experience growing their own food, fixing their own house, or generally operating in the world without some serious shortcuts. But one year into their curiously conflict-free marriage, Rio and Mike are determined to make the most of their lives by upending them completely. Rio quits her therapy practice, Mike leaves his writing career behind, and just like that, they’re off to Nebraska to live in marital bliss off the grid. (Or at least, that’s what they hope.)
This being a network comedy pilot, Bell and Meriwether’s script has precious little time to set up what the series is going to look like, and therefore gets to quick work making it all happen as soon as possible. Rio and Mike get to their new crumbling home and meet their off-putting neighbor Rudy (Ed Begley Jr.), the scheming couple (Lennon Parham and David Koechner) trying to buy the farm out from under them, and the local jack of all trades (Pam Grier) within minutes. Mike confronts his fear of conflict; Rio confronts her fear of cows. Bell and Shepard are fun together, but their enthusiasm can’t quite distract from the fact that, for a show about a couple uprooting their livelihoods to move halfway across the country, the stakes here are remarkably low.
As with any comedy, this show may live and die by how quickly the writers and cast can gel into dynamics all their own, and there’s no doubt that they’re game and up for the task. Meriwether moving from the wild single friends antics of “New Girl” to produce a slightly more adult version of the same with “Single Parents” and now “Bless This Mess” is a logical move; as seen in her movie “In a World,” Bell is a sharp writer and director. And in their one brief scene together, Begley and Grier instantly click into an oddball rhythm that almost steals the entire show. If “Bless This Mess” is going to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack, it’d be smart to follow their lead.
“Bless This Mess” premieres Tuesday, April 16 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.