, the land that time forgot. Reba's sitcom, getting a late and lethargic jump on the new season, is supposedly set in the present, but it's enveloped in such a strong '70s and '80s haze, you'll swear you're watching it on Betamax.
The premise is that Reba (the country singer formerly known as Reba McEntire) is a country singer named Reba McKenzie who put her career on hold to raise her two kids, Cash (Justin Prentice) and June (Juliette Angelo). Too bad the title Carter Country was already taken - by a '70s sitcom starring Victor French and the immortal Guich Koock.
Anyway, Reba's sacrifice allowed her husband (Jeffrey Nordling) to become a big Nashville star. But when his latest affair blows up in the tabloids, Reba doesn't feel like playing the dutiful Tammy Wynette role.
Reba moves with the kids and her own tart-tongued mama (Lily Tomlin) to the California beach house she gets in the divorce. To borrow the theme song from an older but similar show: "So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Malibu." In other words, she's a country mouse trying not to get buried under all the glitter at the Beverly Center mall.
Most of the humor in Malibu Country (Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC) takes the form of back-handed insults to Reba, some of it self-administered.
For instance, when June squeals at how beautiful the inside of the new house is, Reba replies, "Turns out your daddy had a lot of pretty things I didn't know about." Tomlin, plumping a pillow, adds, "Bet he got a lot of action here."
None of the barbs penetrates Reba's leathery hide.
As expressive a singer as she is, Reba has remarkably little range as an actress. She walks through Malibu Country, as she did through her previous sitcom Reba on the CW, with a spooky Cheshire grin plastered on her face.
Her punch lines under-register because they seem so rehearsed, as if she has gone over the script a few dozen times too many.
The show wisely gives her some hefty cast support, including Tomlin as a woman who has lived too long not to speak her mind, Sara Rue as the faddish New Age-y neighbor, and Jai Rodriguez as Reba's witheringly hip record company ally.
Despite the animated efforts of these actors, all these characters appear to have been pulled from some cobwebbed storage room at TVLand.
The fact is that television comedy in general is badly in need of a generational update. Your grandma probably spent more time at Santana and Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts than she did quilting. But TV still pretends everyone over the age of 40 grew up on Sunnybrook Farm.
In the first episode of Malibu Country, there's a recurring joke that has Tomlin getting wasted on what she's completely unaware are marijuana lollipops (which apparently you can buy in California like bottled water). Come on. This woman is a child of the '60s; she could probably teach Wiz Khalifa a thing or two about getting baked.
Part of the old-timey feel of Malibu Country is intentional. By pairing it with Tim Allen's Last Man Standing, ABC is trying to recreate some of its TGIF family vibe. (Those were the days, eh? Perfect Strangers, Full House, Family Matters, Step by Step.)
Putting these shows together would be a smart programming decision. Except that Last Man Standing is an entertaining show. And Malibu Country, because of flabby writing, is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. It plays like a distressingly formulaic Disney Channel comedy.