What sort of lyrics would Reba MacKenzie, one-time country music superstar, write to describe her new life in California?
The first verse might go like this:
Come and listen to a story 'bout a woman named Reba
A one-time country star from the land of Tennessee-a
But her cheating hubby just made her feel real blue
So she packed up her kids, and she moved to Maliboooo
(Beach, that is. Good Vibrations. Baywatch.)
Clearly, writing country music ain't as easy as it sounds. Neither, for that matter, is raising a family. Reba knows all about both, and now that she's divorcing her husband and trying to rekindle her music career, she'll need to do both simultaneously—a task made exponentially harder by adjusting to a new house, a new state and a completely new culture.
Malibu Country, ABC's new vehicle for country music icon Reba McEntire, is itself a little like a country music song: It aims for the heart but sometimes hits below the belt.
At the center of this fish-out-of-water story is, of course, Reba, trying to adjust to a new life in tanned-and-toned Malibu while retaining her down-home Tennessee sensibilities. In tow are her two teen children. Her older son Cash, who was Mr. Popularity back in Nashville, is now just a new kid with a funny accent. And 14-year-old June has exactly the opposite problem: She finds that she fits in much better in So Cal than she ever did back home (giving Reba a new set of headaches to deal with).
Reba's not raising them completely by herself. Her own mother, Lillie Mae, is in pocket as well—a firecracker senior always armed with a snappy one-liner and a baggie of medicinal marijuana. Reba's new neighbor, Kim, does her best to acquaint the newcomers with the finer points of California living, from what boutiques to visit to how much cleavage to bare.
I mentioned hearts earlier. And I can confidently say Malibu Country's heart is usually in the right place. Reba wants to be a good mother, and the sitcom (in its own surfacy way) hits on many a parent's struggles: How to balance work and family, how to stay connected and relevant to your kids as they grow, how to start over. It steers away from explicit profanity and even embraces a few traditional values along the way. Indeed, those familiar with Disney Channel sitcoms may feel that this ABC program comes with a vaguely Mouse House sheen, with its makers shucking a fair amount of corn as they craft a show for families to watch together.
But there are elements here that make that "whole family" thing a tad difficult.
While characters seem to steer clear of hard-core cursing, it's not unusual for them to make some pretty obvious references to vulgarity. "You have a middle finger," Ellie Mae says in a recent episode. "Use it." Obligatory references to Malibu's sand-and-sex-drenched culture are unavoidable. The program showcases two openly gay characters—June's best friend from school, Sage, and a guy who works at a record label, Geoffrey. I've already brought up Lillie Mae's winking use of marijuana.
Malibu Country is still better (at least in terms of content) than most sitcoms on broadcast television. It's not even in the same icky time zone as Two and a Half Men. But it's not The Cosby Show or The Andy Griffith Show or even The Beverly Hillbillies either.
(Aren't you happy I didn't try to write that concluding thought in verse form?)
"Not With My Daughter"
Cash is insulted by his peers and thus feels emasculated (which he calls "immaculated"). So Lillie Mae decides to teach him about manhood by leaving him outside for a night, blindfolded.
June, meanwhile, starts hanging out with Kim, who introduces her to emoticons, high-priced boutiques and questionable fashion statements. Under Kim's influence, June gravitates toward outfits that bare a bit more shoulder, chest and leg than she's used to. When she show her mom one revealing outfit she wants to buy, Reba exclaims, "You're not wearing that without pants. Or pepper spray." June also picks up a form of non-spiritual meditation and juice cleanses. "In my day we had a cleanse," Lillie Mae says. "We called it dysentery."
Reba doesn't just crack wise about June's clothes. She encourages her daughter to dress modestly and not bury her face in her phone. And after unwisely trying to be as "cool" as Kim, gives it up. "I'm your momma, not your buddy," she tells June.
We see significant cleavage (from Kim), and hear references to Brazilian waxes and castration. "Middle fingers" are talked about twice, and Reba reads the crude acronym "LMAO" on her daughter's phone. God's name is misused once or twice. There are some glancing references to lesbianism and gender-bending.