As the first original single-camera comedy from TV Land, "Jennifer Falls," premiering Wednesday, is something of a step forward for a network built on looking back.
Classic multi-camera, live-audience comedies have been the network's small stock in trade since it began making its own scripted programming, with "Hot in Cleveland," way back in 2010. Indeed, "Jennifer Falls" — created by Matthew Carlson (whom I will here thank for the underappreciated "Townies") and starring Jaime Pressly as a fired executive who finds herself back home living with her mother (Jessica Walter) and working in a bar — was originally intended to follow in that mold. You can practically build those three-walled sets yourself.
Bold stylistic advance into the 1990s notwithstanding, much about it feels familiar. As a person who has come down in the world to work in a bar, Jennifer is Shelley Long in "Cheers"; and as a waitress with an attitude, she is Rhea Perlman in "Cheers." That she loses her whatever-it-is, high-paying job because of "anger issues" and has to bunk in with her mom suggests a kind of "Enlightened Lite," as well as numerous more conventional sitcoms in which failed adults go home again.
Though described as "terrifying," Jennifer is on balance, conciliatory and compromising, which makes the show feel undecided, divided against itself. Given the setup, there is something almost timorous about what follows, as if sharp corners had been padded and points tipped with rubber.
Jennifer doesn't like working in a bar, but she doesn't not like it all that much. If anything, the point seems to be not only that you can go home again, but that you should.
Conflicts dissolve into air: "Can't we just go back to the way things were?" Jennifer asks her estranged best friend (Missi Pyle), and after a beat or two they do. By the pilot's end, Jennifer sounds positively enlightened: "I've gone from maximum profits to minimum wage," she tells the camera. "I work 10 hours a day, then go home, cook, clean, take care of my kid — which is crazy and exhausting and apparently is something that 33.7 million working mothers do in this country every day."
It might just be a matter of knowing one's audience; TV Land is not all milk and cookies — its own shows are more vodka and crudités — but it is adventurous only in casting actors other networks might consider unprofitably middle-aged.
It's a fine cast, and one wishes they had something a little more focused to do, something a little less predictable, something that wove the isolated good moments into a consistent whole. Perhaps, post-pilot, they will.
Pressly throws her whole body into the part; Ethan Suplee (her costar in "My Name Is Earl") has a relaxed, rumpled presence as her brother, in whose bar she works; as Jennifer's teenage daughter, Dylan Gelula (also in ABC Family's "Chasing Life" this summer) makes a quick strong impression. And I greet with an automatic sigh of gratitude any appearance by Pyle.
Pressly's best exchanges are with Walter, playing a warmer variation on the self-involved, difficult mothers she played on "Arrested Development" and plays on "Archer." A therapist, she offers to treat Jennifer "for free, or maybe a little yardwork."
"You're not listening to me," says Jennifer. "I said, 'No.'"
"Give me one good reason why not," says her mother.
"Because you don't listen to me."
"You see, you can't."
Where: TV Land
When: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for coarse language)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun