Many television comedies have explored the differences between people who live in small towns and those who dwell in larger cities. Shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres have explored members of these two worlds colliding.
The new ABC comedy Bless this Mess attempts to keep the genre going.
In the program, New York City-dwellers Mike (Dax Shepard) and Rio (Lake Bell) decide to move out to Nebraska. In the city, Mike was a music journalist and Rio was a therapist but they’ve chosen to become farmers and live on land that Mike has inherited from his late aunt. “I’m not a New Yorker. I’m a Midwesterner at heart,” Mike says. “I’ve got farming in my blood.”
Of course, their move and their professional transitions doesn’t come as easily as planned.
Neither of them know how to farm and they quickly realize how dilapidated their new home is. They also realize how close-knit their new community is.
That community includes a weird tapestry of unique personalities. There’s Rudy (Ed Begley Jr.), the enigmatic ne'er-do-well who lives in the barn. Then, there’s Constance (Pam Grier), who owns a hardware store, runs the local theater and serves as the town sheriff. Lastly, there are the Bowmans: a family led by the condescending duo Beau (David Koechner) and Kay (Lennon Parham). The Bowmans want their new neighbors to move elsewhere.
The show’s familiar format could work well but in the two episodes that were available for review, the program never quite finds the right footing. When Rudy and Rio discuss therapy, for instance, he notes “I don’t need therapy. I’m not a Jewish person.” That type of prejudice doesn’t fit well in a show that aims to be light-hearted.
Other characters, like Bowman’s happy-go-lucky son Jacob (JT Neal), come across as a one-note additions to the cast. The running joke with Jacob is that he keeps reminding Mike and Rio what his name is (although they clearly remember it).
Despite that, some of the main actors do solid work here and their likeability helps elevate the material. Neal’s character may be one-note now but the actor’s charisma shines through and if the show takes advantage of the situation, his character could become a solid supporting player.
As the two leads, Shepard and Bell have a natural chemistry and they could really make a show like this work if the writing becomes more consistent. There are certain elements here that work despite the uneven script. Pam Grier’s supporting work here is great and Susie Essmen, who plays Rio’s tightly-wound mother Donna, delivers a few great one-liners.
However, the show itself never feels fully formed as it stumbles along the way. The cast’s strengths help it get over a few hurdles but they aren’t enough to stabilize the material. At times, the show’s message about the benefits of local communities come through (that’s one of the highlights of the premiere) but the program often mocks members of those same communities.
Lake Bell co-created the show with Elizabeth Meriweather (who created FOX’s hit comedy The New Girl) and also served as the director of the first episode. That episode and the one that follows show the promise of this concept: a concept that unfortunately never quite works as well as it could.