“Carol’s Second Act” is aiming to be Patricia Heaton’s third, a defining hit series for a performer who’s previously had defining roles in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle.” But compared to those shows, built around families whose dynamic informed the shows’ stories, this sitcom has an awful lot of situation. We meet Carol, a medical resident, at the same time her cohort does; they assume, because of her age, that she’s their supervisor, and are instead frustrated and baffled by Carol’s eager, uncynical attitude.
A retired science teacher rebooting her life after a divorce, Carol is sunny and eager to what her younger peers would consider a fault. The actual chief resident (Ito Aghayere) seems burdened by an underling with so much more verve than decorum, while a distinguished doctor around Carol’s own age (Kyle MacLachlan, seeming as unclear as the audience what he’s doing there) finds her pleasantly refreshing. Refreshing, too, is the fact that MacLachlan’s and Heaton’s chemistry, in the show’s first half-hour, is premised on professional respect rather than workplace flirting: It makes for a story we haven’t seen too many times before, as opposed to one that’s by now been done to death.
But much of “Carol’s” first installment, from the comic premise of a baby boomer confronting millennials in the workplace to the revelation that the baby boomer’s ways, though unorthodox by contemporary standards, actually may be best, feels warmed over. Heaton is a familiar and gracious presence, far more alive on camera than some of the brittler writing on “Raymond” allowed her to be, and here she is a sharp, kind character doing her best, which makes the competition the show sets up between her and her vacuous, narcissistic colleagues seem beyond the point.
The show, were it like its pleasant main character, would want to find a way to help everyone shine — or at least be fueled a bit more by curiosity than contempt. The challenge as it goes forward will be, now that Carol has proven her mettle in the pilot, to find stories to tell that move beyond Carol’s colleagues finding her annoying and strange. Perhaps the late-in-episode introduction of Carol’s adult daughter (Ashley Tisdale), a pharmaceutical sales rep who will be in and out of the show’s central hospital, points at a way forward, one in which the show transitions to an amiable hangout with a bit less to say about intergenerational resentment, or at least less repetitive ways of saying it. It’s provides some hope for a show that’s promising and that deserves to stick around for a while; even as the show’s first half-hour is hit-or-miss, Heaton, at least, justifies her own new act.
“Carol’s Second Act.” CBS. Sept. 26. One episode screened for review.
Cast: Patricia Heaton, Ito Aghayere, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Sabrina Jalees, Ashley Tisdale, Kyle MacLachlan.
Executive Producers: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Patricia Heaton, Adam Griffin, David Hunt, Rebecca Stay, Aaron Kaplan and Dana Honor, and Pamela Fryman (pilot only).