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With 'Abby's,' NBC Hopes Everyone Will Know Her Name
March 28, 2019  | By David Hinckley

NBC’s new comedy Abby’s comes from Josh Malmuth, the fellow who created The Good Place.

That alone should earn him a free beer. Still, it must be said that Abby’s turns out to be a rather more traditional sitcom than the wonderfully quirky Good Place.

Abby’s, which premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET, revolves around a bar, its owner and its off-center cast of patrons – which might also tap into memories of another bar-centric sitcom, Cheers, that ran Thursday nights on NBC for 11 years.

Abby’s isn’t Cheers, either, and that’s okay. It’s got a promising lineup of its own, starting with title character and bar owner Abby, played by Natalie Morales.

Abby’s, the bar, differs from most bars in that it’s set up in Abby’s back yard. Well, the back yard of the house she rents. The house is in San Diego, so outdoors isn’t a problem.

More potentially troublesome, Abby’s doesn’t have a liquor license. Or insurance. It’s sort of a feral operation in which Abby personally vets each potential customer.

Customers must agree to 162 house rules, beginning with “No Visors.” Also, no cell phones. There are bets and arguments all the time, and if no one is sure of the answer, someone goes to the shelf and looks it up in a reference book.

Now that’s old school.

Abby’s, the bar, isn’t for everyone. Those who survive the probationary period become a tightly bonded family, with Abby as a kind of tough-love Mom.

Regulars include Fred (Neil Flynn), who has been on the same stool every night for five years and still hasn’t mastered appropriate conversation. He’s not creepy or menacing, just sometimes not helpful.

Beth (Jessica Chaffin) can see the window of her house from her seat at the bar, so she can get home if, say, she sees flames shooting from the window.

She loves her family, she says, don’t get her wrong, but spending more time with them “is a non-starter.” They expect her to make them food, stuff like that.

James (Leonard Ouzts) is nominally the bouncer. He looks like a bouncer.  He just has no bouncing skills. He sometimes seems to play the straight man.

Given how well Cheers parlayed ordinary bar life into a great sitcom, Abby’s might not need more than this. It gets more anyway.

In the first episode we meet Bill (Nelson Franklin), who unbeknownst to Abby recently inherited her house, and therefore the yard on which the bar is located, from his late aunt.

Bill at first seems horrified that this modern-day speakeasy is running on property for which he is legally responsible. But it wouldn’t be much of a show if he just shut it down now, would it, so he and Abby start trying to negotiate a deal.

This raises the inevitable question of whether two single people on the same sitcom will overcome their initial suspicion and become an item. If that should happen with Abby and Bill, it would be an interesting twist on the Cheers storyline, but here, frankly, it look to be a ways down the line.

Among other things, Bill recently split up with his wife, a fact he notes in the context of her having “taken everything,” including their fish.

Abby herself seems steelier, having served two tours in Afghanistan. When her bar is threatened, however, we quickly see how attached she has become to her peeps.

Abby’s has neither the quirky story nor the breezy conversations of The Good Place, and that’s fine. It has the potential to create an endearingly dysfunctional family of its own, and if it happens, well, we’ll drink to that.

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