November 10, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Malibu Country”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’


Previously… on MALIBU COUNTRY:  When Reba MacKenzie (Reba McEntire) discovers that her country-music star husband has been cheating on her, she packs up teens June and Cash (Juliette Angelo and Justin Prentice) and sassy mom Lillie Mae (Lily Tomlin) to move to part of her community property, hubby’s beachside house in Malibu, where Reba intends to start up her long-postponed singing career.  While that simmers, immediate new acquaintances include flaky next-door neighbor Kim (Sara Rue), and very gay music industry assistant Geoffrey (Jai Rodriguez).

Episode 2:  Enough time has passed since the pilot so that there are several references to “back when we first moved to Malibu” this time around.  Also, it may merely be a quirk of the episode, but Reba’s ambitions for a music career are barely mentioned here.  The episode, written by Consulting Producer Pat Bullard and directed by Andy Cadiff, is set mostly in the MacKenzie home, and centers on the romantic lives of mother and daughter, as Reba is convinced by her mother and Kim that it’s time to start dating, while June is distraught when Kim’s supposedly gay stepson Sage (Hudson Thames), who “practice kisses” her until Reba calls a stop to it, moves on to kissing other girls. The two plots collide when Reba’s motherly duty of listening to June’s problems cause her to unintentionally stand up her date, the positive spin being that at least now she’s ready to enter the dating pool again

Aside from the lack of interest in Reba’s ambitions, the tone of Malibu Country remains the same as it was in the pilot, an old-fashioned comfort food multicamera sitcom.  In this context, it makes sense that Geoffrey acts like a gay best friend from a 1990s rom-com, with his gags about Reba’s “upstairs” endowments and strong opinions on fashion, and that June seems to have wandered off the set of Bye Bye Birdie.  The content is practically paleolithic, but the show continues to go down easier than its companion piece Last Man Standing, largely because it sidesteps that show’s mix of self-righteousness and belittling humor.  Reba is likable and knows how to sell a joke, and Lily Tomlin does as much with feisty old woman schtick as anyone this side of Tyler Perry’s Madea.

Anyone who tunes in to Malibu Country will know within five minutes whether they’re a fan or someone who needs to stay far away–for better or worse, the show has a clear and consistent tone.  The show got off to a tremendous start in the ratings last week, and its biggest challenge may be internal:  series creator Kevin Abbott had to leave the show abruptly due to personal issues, and Co-Executive Producer Nastaran Dibai is taking over as showrunner.  A shift in command during a show’s first season will always cause some disruption, but Malibu Country is one of the least delicate shows around, so assuming Dibai is on its wavelength, there’s no reason to think it can’t maintain a steady course as an unmemorable but well-executed half-hour of comedy for–sorry to put salt in the wound–the Romney demo.


PILOT + 1:  As Long As You’re Not In the Community/Happy Endings Demo


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."