Looking for a new family comedy to binge on this summer? Try Bless This Mess, a brand-new ABC comedy that debuted in April with six episodes. The network recently announced it would be picked up again in the Fall.
Leaning heavily on the good ol’ “fish out of water” formula, “Mess” takes an urbane, on-trend New York City newlywed couple to the wilds of Nebraska to try their manicured hands at farming. Mike (Dax Shepherd) has just lost his job as a music writer, so it seems perfectly providential when his great aunt leaves him her farm in Nebraska. His wife Rio (Lake Bell, also the show’s co-creator) is game for a change, and she gives up her successful therapy practice to go play farmer with her man.
Of course, Mike has not visited the farm since he was a child, so both are in shock at the decrepit conditions they find upon moving across the country. (Viewers are less shocked.) Both are completely inept at farming or managing any kind of dwelling situation that doesn’t involve calling a landlord to fix their problems.
But they’re plucky, young, and in love, so they charge ahead with high hopes and a healthy dose of naivete. In the first episode, the door to the farm is off its hinges. They fall through the floor right after stepping across the threshold, and there’s a huge hole in the roof that needs attention immediately because a storm is brewing. (Of course, a storm is brewing; this is a sitcom!)
Obviously, the premise draws comparisons to Green Acres, the classic sitcom about a doctor and his high-maintenance wife who move out of the city to try farming, but “Mess” feels modern and of the moment. It’s all silly good fun, but what I found most winsome were Rio and Mike’s interactions with their Nebraska neighbors. It’s a show less about city slickers trying to eke out a living on the farm than it is about urban people trying to understand country folk and vice versa. Also—and the show hasn’t probed this angle yet—it’s also potentially about the liberal elite in relationship with conservative, blue collar, small towners. Can they bridge the many gaps and understand each other better?
Some neighbors are open to welcoming the couple in their own ways. Rudy (Ed Begley Jr.) is a harmless squatter who lives in Mike and Rio’s barn and names his chickens, goats and guns whimsical monikers. He is a seriously strange (though oddly sweet) bird who manages to steal the show with his bizarre utterances and his hilarious crush on the burly town sheriff/shopkeeper, Constance (played to deadpan perfection by Pam Grier). Other neighbors are threatened by the pair and find passive aggressive ways to diminish and demean them.
However, in the first six episodes, Mike and Rio manage to worm their way into the hearts of the townspeople through mangled efforts at scrapbooking, hunting and potlucks. It’s obvious they are trying their Big Apple hearts out, and they’re just so dang likable.
As with any comedy, this one needs time to bake. Still, we were laughing harder by episodes 4,5 and 6, which I thought was a good sign. And Bell and her co-creator (Elizabeth Meriweather of New Girl) show a sure hand for developing and deepening characters. There’s a lot of potential here, and not just for Rio to conquer her terror of cows.
Paired with Emmy-winning Black-ish, Bless this Mess would do well to start tackling deeper issues. For now, the show balances warmhearted sweetness with zingy one-liners for a winning combination. Hopefully, this charismatic cast and the show’s talented writers will give viewers more cud to chew, next season and beyond. (ABC)