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Reba McEntire returns in ‘Malibu Country’

Chuck Barney

There’s a good news/bad news aspect to this week’s arrival of “Malibu Country,” an ABC sitcom starring Reba McEntire.

The good news is that five years after her first series ended on The CW, McEntire is back in prime time, and her considerable spunk and charm are still very much intact.

The bad news? Her show isn’t that good.

McEntire plays a one-time country-music singer named Reba (imagine that) who put her career on hold in favor of her family, only to discover that her husband — a Nashville legend — has been cheating on her.

The strong-willed Reba isn’t about to stand by her man. At a news conference, she announces she’s leaving his “lyin,’ cheatin’ butt” and bolts, with her two kids and cranky mom (Lily Tomlin), from Tennessee to Southern California. There, she reasons, she’ll get a fresh start and perhaps revive her singing career.

That’s the writers’ cue to serve up a heaping helping of lukewarm fish-out-of-water, culture-clash jokes about the country kin struggling to find their footing in this strange, alien land. Reba immediately begins sparring with her meddlesome, free-spirited neighbor (Sara Rue), and there are gags about homosexuals, plastic surgery, hippies and medical marijuana. It all comes off just a notch or two less broad than an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

“Malibu Country” is so old school, in fact, that it feels like a leftover from ABC’s TGIF days, complete with a studio audience, an irritating laugh track and a sitcomy march-time pace. Then again, that’s apparently what they’re going for, as Reba’s show is paired with Tim Allen’s equally old-fashioned “Last Man Standing.”

Yes, it’s all part of ABC’s bipolar approach to comedy. The same network that produces progressive, cutting-edge shows like “Modern Family” and “Suburgatory” also gives us some pretty corny blasts from the past.

It’s not that “Malibu Country” doesn’t have its assets. I presume this type of sitcom will feel comfortably familiar to some fans, and its star is just naturally appealing. Meanwhile, Tomlin, being the reliable pro that she is, does manage to wring some mild chuckles from the generally weak material.

It’s just that both women deserve better.

‘Malibu Country’