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New ABC Comedy 'Bless This Mess' Transplants City Folk
April 16, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

“Goin’ Up the Country” by Canned Heat is a great choice to play a prominent musical and thematic role in the new ABC sitcom Bless This Mess.

Bless This Mess, which premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET, follows two New Yorkers on their change-of-life migration to Nebraska, where they blithely expect they will lead the contented lives of happy farmers instead of stressed-out city folk.

Neither Rio (Lake Bell) nor her husband Mike (Dax Shepard) apparently has ever grown as much as a geranium, but Mike assures Rio he has a natural instinct for it, because after all, he’s really good at picking out the best tomato at Whole Foods. (Bell and Shepard, top.)

What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, Hallmark makes approximately 500 movies a year, including 300 around Christmas, that assure us people like Rio and Mike are making the right decision.

In every Hallmark movie, without fail, stressed-out city dwellers who have no intention of relocating arrive in a small town and discover it’s a magic elixir that dissolves all their cares and sets them up to live happily ever after.

Rio and Mike may or may not be headed there. Their chances will improve, or at least they will get more time to figure it out, if Bless This Mess stops consisting almost entirely of every predictable riff about city slickers in cow country.

They arrive at their new home sweet home, which Mike inherited and hasn’t actually visited, and whoa, what a surprise to find it’s falling apart.

Neighbors arrive soon after, leading Rio to expect one of those classic neighborly rural welcome wagon moments, except it turns out the Rowlands have something else in mind.

It wouldn’t be fair to spoil exactly what that is, but it doesn’t involve sex. That’s right. It doesn’t, and considering almost every other sitcom on TV these days, that may be the single most startling and refreshing element in Bless This Mess.

Anyhow, complications mount rapidly as Rio and Mike meet two more folks destined to become regular sightings.

Rudy (Ed Begley Jr.) lives in their barn, thanks to the previous owner. But the barn has no bathroom, so Rudy strolls into the big house bathroom at, yes, you guessed it, an awkward moment. 

Rudy talks and acts weird. Since Rio was a therapist back in New York, we get some of Rudy’s backstory when Rio gets him to talk about why he acts weird.

Then there’s Constance (Pam Grier, right with Begley), who owns the general store and is the chief of police, which is more creative than making her a best friend.

Bell cowrote Bless This Mess with Elizabeth Meriweather, and let’s guess they think there’s more nuance and material in this city/country business than Hallmark movies explore. If so, she’s right, because it’s a subject artists and civilians have been portraying and debating at least since ancient Greece.

Bless This Mess, unfortunately, feels like it’s channeling many of those previous portrayals. And jokes.

But let’s accentuate the positive here, which is “Goin’ Up The Country.”

The melody was written in 1928 by Ragtime Henry Thomas for a record titled “Bull Doze Blues.” For words, he scrambles together a half dozen stanzas from a hundred previous blues songs, which is fine because the result is delightfully catchy.

It’s also notable because Thomas accompanies himself on quills, a reed instrument related to the zamponas heard in South American music and heard only very sparingly in the U.S.

Canned Heat uses a flute to replicate the quills, and quite faithfully.

Canned Heat uses the original melody note for note, in fact, though lead singer Al “Blind Owl” Wilson rewrote the lyrics. And quite well. Wilson, a devout student of early blues, nails the tone and feeling.

Now that Bless This Mess has sent Rio and Mike up the country, it’s got to rise to that level itself.

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Am I the only reader who senses a thematic resemblance to that old CBS chestnut from the 60's, Green Acres? Will the protagonists stumble across the gravesite of Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in Episode 5? Does Arnold the Pig get a guest shot? Surprised DH never mentioned how this much this concept sounds like the recycling of a half-century-old bad idea.
Apr 16, 2019   |  Reply
Vince Everett
I agree, first commercial I saw , I thought “ A Green Acres for the 21st century”.I liked Green Acres, i laughed out loud (ok , I was 12) I still laugh if I catch an episode (ok, nostalgia) but one thing I NEVER got was , how could a NY lawyer be SO stupidly naive & gullible and never wise up? Here’s my prediction for the new show— if the leads are likable but naive overwhelmed , out of their element people who slowly wise up (a little) the show has a chance, if their idiots it’ll be gone quickly
Apr 16, 2019
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