Lake Bell has built herself a bit of an under-the-radar career over the past decade, proving herself not only being a fine comedic actress, but a behind-the-camera force as well, as we saw in In A World, the 2013 movie she directed and starred in. With New Girl‘s Liz Meriwether, she has created Bless This Mess, about a city couple who drops everything and move to a farm in Nebraska that needs a lot of TLC. Does Bell give this show her magic touch?
Opening Shot: A therapist tells her most needy clients that she’s closing up her New York practice and moving to Nebraska. The clients don’t take it well; one suggests that she’ll move to Nebraska, too.
The Gist: Rio (Lake Bell) is that therapist; she explains to her clients that her husband Mike (Dax Shepard) inherited a farm from his great aunt, and they’ve decided to abandon the city and their careers and become farmers in Nebraska. “Bam, I’m livin’ in a Pinterest page,” she says as she holds up an old photo of the idyllic farmhouse. Mike, a music journalist, also quit his job; the newlyweds, who claim they’ve never had a fight in their one whole year of marriage, get in their Nissan Leaf with all their stuff in a U-Haul and head to Nebraska.
On the trip, Rio gets a call from her mother Donna (Susie Essman), reminding her how afraid she is of cows and how this move is a mistake. Mike is confident that he can be a farmer, given he’s from the midwest (a St. Louis suburb) and can pick heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods.
When they get to the farm, they notice that the house is in a lot worse shape than than they thought, with a massive hole in the roof and crumbling floors. Their resolve in their decision is shaken, but Mike insists he can fix the house up. Even when they find out that the weird and blunt neighbor Rudy (Ed Begley Jr.) has been living in the barn since losing his farm (Mike’s aunt let him stay there), they’re undeterred. “Better fix that hole,” Rudy says. “A storm’s comin’.”
But when neighbors Kate (Lennon Parham) and Paul (David Koechner) come over with their son Jacob (JT Neal), they offer to buy the place, informing them that the land hasn’t grown anything in years. Rio and Mike refuse, determined to make it there and have that life they want. Of course, that will be tested when the storm does come and Mike tries to fix the gaping hole in the roof with a surfboard and no carpentry skills whatsoever.
Our Take: We laughed a lot during the pilot of Bless This Mess, and that’s due to the great talent in front and behind the camera. Bell co-created this show with Elizabeth Meriwether (New Girl, Single Parents), and Meriwether’s style is apparent in the pilot, with jokes layered on top of one another and naturalistic dialogue that you might miss if you’re not paying attention. Of course, sometimes that kind of mumble-humor works and sometimes it doesn’t. But given Bell and Shepard’s chemistry and very capable abilities to handle this kind of writing, it works well here.
It helps that Begley is playing a bit against type as Rudy, who claims “I don’t need therapy; I’m not a Jewish person,” but a funny side story is the attraction between him and Constance (Pam Grier), the town’s sheriff and general store owner; one of the best scenes is when he comes into her store and compliments her pants. Of course, Parham and Koechner are pros, as is Essman in her guest role as Rio’s mom.
But if this show is going to make it, it’s really going to be up to Bell and Shepard. And when we see Rio get so scared by an actual cow she scrambles up to the roof, we knew this show might have that x-factor that will get people to tune in, whether it’s on linear or when people decide to binge it on Hulu. It makes us wonder why ABC decided to wait until mid-April to premiere the show.
Sex and Skin: Besides seeing Rudy in an open robe (wearing boxers, thankfully), nothing.
Parting Shot: After the storm, Constance and the Bowmans come to help Rio and Mike fix the roof, after an emergency call from Rio’s mom. Rio sees something growing and screams, “Alfalfa!” “When do we tell them that it’s a weed?” Constance asks Rudy. “Soon,” says Rudy, then they both laugh.
Sleeper Star: We loved Grier as Constance, especially during her speech to Mike that “the best kind of love ain’t happy; the best kind of love is honest.” That prompts Mike and Rio to have their first row as they’re stuck on the roof, getting rained on. But there, Mike reveals that he got laid off and Rio admits that she’s scared and doesn’t want to be completely disconnected to her old life.
Most Pilot-y Line: Rudy’s line about Jewish people and therapy would have been a clinker if not delivered in such an effective deadpan.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Bell and Shepard are a winning pair, but we hope that Bless This Mess allows their chemistry to grow, and it uses its fine cast well, instead of drowning them in clever asides.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company’s Co.Create and elsewhere.