In the US: Tuesdays, 9.30/8.30c, ABC
Culture clashes seem to be one of the big concerns of network US comedies these days. Black/white, middle-class/working-class, traditional/modern, famous/unknown – imagine the hilarity as everyone tries to understand everyone else from different backgrounds. Not all such concerns are US-specific, of course. New US arrival Bless This Mess, for example, is somewhat similar to two other recent shows from other countries – Canada’s Cavendish and New Zealand’s Fresh Eggs – in trying to make us laugh at urban/rural culture clashes. But if you’re going to do it, you need to have something new to say and some observations to make. Bless This Mess doesn’t.
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Here, the set-up is that a New York married couple – therapist Lake Bell (Boston Legal, Childrens Hospital) and music journalist Dax Shepard (Parenthood) – inherit a Nebraskan farmhouse and sight-unseen, decide to relocate the countryside for a new life as farmers. Plausible, huh?
However, once they’re there, they discover that the farmhouse is in need of a touch of repair, the farmland is barren and they have all manner of ‘interesting’ neighbours: live-in neighbour Ed Begley Jr, store owner/sheriff/amateur thespian Pam Grier and rival farmer David Koechner (Anchorman) who’d quite like to buy the property from them.
Can they make a success of both their farm and their relationships with their new neighbours?
Bless youGiven its pedigree, Bless This Mess should be hilarious. As well as the accomplished cast, it’s co-written by Bell (who wrote In A World…) and New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether.
It’s certainly not without funny moments, such as when Bell uses her therapy skills to help Begley. Or… Actually, that’s the only one that sticks in the memory. The rest are mildly amusing incidents at best.
Because, to be honest, Bell has been too generous to the rest of the cast. Rather than this being ‘urban meets rural and we can laugh at both’, this is largely ‘urban meets rural and we can laugh at urban’. Most of the jokes are about Bell and Shepard’s lack of preparation and city ways, whereas the country mice aren’t really figures of fun at all.
But it’s not well observed. There’s no air of reality to it, nothing that grounds the comedy and makes it perceptive. It’s not ‘city slickers’ – it’s city idiots.
CursedThere’s also a slight network issue at play. Originally, this was intended as a Fox show, where a Red State audience laughing at clueless Blue State stereotypes is a natural bedfellow. Relocated to ABC, the show is a fish out of water.
But ultimately, Bless This Mess is simply not that funny. I quite liked the characters, but everything is telegraphed. Naturally, the farmhouse is going to be terrible once they get there. Naturally, the couple are going to be hopeless at anything practical. Naturally, Bell’s phobia of cows is going to manifest itself by episode end. Naturally, the new neighbours are all going to weigh in and help out in the couple’s hour of need.
It’s all just so predictable, so that even when there is a decent line or joke, you’ll have already guessed the punchline before it lands.
So I’d advise steering clear of this one. You won’t get to understand either the rural or the urban any better; you won’t laugh; and you won’t see anything you’ve never seen before.
Basically, it’s a mess.