When Abby’s premiered at the end of March, I had been tracking it on my prediction list since back in September. The only thing I really knew about it was that it was about a woman operating an informal / unlicensed bar in her backyard. I saw a few quips here and there online about it being a DIY version of Cheers, and I thought I could at least give it a chance. Then I read a review of it by a writer who used to work on Cheers, which is perhaps not the most unbiased of view but also one of the most informed, and after seeing the first episode, I have to generally agree with him. It’s neither welcoming nor funny. I have to admit though that my bar for sitcoms is pretty high; there are very few that I can tolerate.
The owner of the bar, Abby, is played by Natalie Morales who has been on a series of shows that I never watched. Even her guest spots aren’t generally shows I’ve seen. However, here’s the weird part…she was on almost a full season of White Collar, a show that I quite enjoyed. I didn’t remember her character. I went back and found a photo from her 2009/10 season, and I *still* don’t remember her. And while I wouldn’t have put the two together and thought they were the same woman, I obviously didn’t feel she had any presence before. She looks a bit like Nancy McKeon from her Facts of Life days, the blue-collar girl connecting with the locals. And they have her as a two-tour Marine, running a tight unit for the bar — there are rules, and a vetting process to even become a regular to sit at the bar instead of at benches or patio chairs. And honestly? I don’t care one whit about her character. Nada. Zip. Zilch. There was NOTHING there.
In the pilot, we meet her new landlord, Bill (played by Nelson Franklin), who has inherited the property and is surprised to find out there’s a bar in the backyard. Most of the conflict in the first episode is him asking for Abby to make some changes and Abby resisting his common sense suggestions. Franklin seems familiar, but the only show I could find in his bio that I ever watched is going WAY back to Dollhouse (also 2009) but he was only in two episodes so maybe not. Strange though that he seems familiar from two episodes and Morales not at all from a whole season? Anyway, he’s got a few good lines with a bit of a self-aware comic foil angle for the stupidity of some of the characters.
In the pilot, there are four other main characters introduced…Beth (played by Jessica Chaffin), a mom with two psycho kids, who doesn’t want to go home and look after them but she can see their window from the bar; James (played by Leonard Ouzts) as the resident bouncer who hates conflict and is also fat, so he must be funny (oddly enough, his stand-up comedy skills do show as his delivery is perfect); Rosie (played by Kimia Behpoornia) as the waitress / extra bartender / busgirl, who alternates in the opener between insightful and stupid; and Fred (played by Neil Flynn) who has known Abby since she was a girl and has a soft spot for her, almost like friendly uncle. Flynn is actually pretty solid for most of the episode.
So where does that leave me? Liking the landlord and one of the regulars, and not caring at all about Abby or three other regulars. But it’s the first episode, hard for them all to be lovable out of the box, right?
Except I didn’t laugh once. The WHOLE episode was boring and dull. There are two small scenes that had potential…one actually partly works where Fred has a trivia challenge of something Beth says, and when he loses his challenge, they go to the “punishment” cooler and he has to drink a lime-flavoured non-alcoholic beer. The second is Bill about to “document” things and taking notes on his phone, not realizing that Abby has a rule against cellphones in the bar, and she kicks it out of his hand into the next yard like Charlie Brown and Lucy, except she connects. But Bill looks at her like she’s an idiot, and for the joke to work, she has to commit to it. Live with it. Act like it’s normal. Instead, she shrugs sheepishly, apologizes, and then goes to get the phone back. Even the initial premise of him bending low so she could kick it didn’t even make sense.
And so I would stick with my original prediction — CANCELLATION. The show’s premise (a backyard bar) might lead everyone to know your name, but it had none of the original charm of Cheers.