Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Abby's

First of all, a disclaimer: I really want this show to succeed. I’m a big fan of Mike Schur. I think the world is ready for the next CHEERS. And I believe strongly in multi-camera shows. For all the knocks on multi-camera series, what’s the most successful sitcom in syndication worldwide – and it isn’t even close? FRIENDS. A whole new generation has connected to FRIENDS; a generation that wasn’t even born when it first aired. Like I said, no other show comes close. And FRIENDS is as standard a multi-camera show as there has ever been.

In an attempt to preserve the form and give it some spin, ABBY’S is filmed outside. Still not sure whether that’s a big plus (audience laughter disappears when not contained, and there are the weather problems to contend with) but points for trying something new.

I don’t know how many episodes they’ve filmed, how much they can correct midstream at this point. My guess is most or all of the episodes are now in the can.

As for the execution, it feels like the writers are not really experienced yet in the form. But they’ll learn. The audience will tell them what works and what doesn’t and they’ll adjust accordingly. There are not many opportunities for grooming young writers since there are not many multi-camera shows on the air. Still, that’s just growing pains. All shows need time to find their way.

But in the pilot of ABBY’S they did something that might prove to be their fatal flaw. And for all their reverence of CHEERS they seemed to miss the single most important aspect of it. CHEERS was where “everybody knows your name.” More than anything else it made the customers (and VIEWERS) welcome.

Diane Chambers enters the bar for the first time. She is clearly not the sort of person who frequents that bar. And yet, everyone made her feel at home.   Diane essentially was us viewers. 

In the pilot of ABBY’S we learn that new customers are not allowed to sit at the bar. They’re not even allowed to sit in chairs just off the bar. New customers are banished to hard benches along the fence and only after a certain amount of time and approval can they earn their way up the ladder. So new customers are essentially dismissed. They don’t want to know your name. It’s not CHEERS, it’s the high school lunch room where only the cool kids sat at the good table.

So let’s say Diane Chambers entered ABBY’S for the first time. Dressed way too formal, clearly a square peg. How would she be treated? My guess: “Excuse me, you can’t sit there. You have to go over to one of those benches.”  Not very welcoming. 


They also made a point of saying there were 164 rules you had to adhere to. That’s a pretty exclusive club.

ABBY’S ratings were not great for its premier. Chalk that up to all kinds of things (they were up against March Madness, etc) but I think subconsciously that exclusivity might have turned off a lot of viewers.

Hopefully, in the coming weeks the creative team moves away from that and people find and like the show. Or, it’s just me and no one else was bothered by that.

In any event, I wish them well and hope they’ll save a spot at the bar for me.

38 comments :

Sean said...

Hard pass. It's all the same high school level jokes that permeate today's "comedies". No real connection to any of the characters because there's no development of them. Another unfunny sitcom that will be gone before most of us even knew it was there.

E. Yarber said...

The "levels of acceptability" aspect of the show's premise exemplifies an unfortunate high-school clique attitude among too many people in Hollywood. Some are always trying to convince you that THEY'RE in the special circle and you have to show them proper respect if you'll ever get such exalted status yourself (which will NEVER happen, since it's too much fun for the anointed to pretend they're superior). This is related to the similar ego trip some have that the grubby public lives vicariously through the lives of people making movies, which is a major reason so many of the not-so-grubby public despise Hollywood.

It really works against projects. One example that comes to mind at once is LEGALLY BLONDE, where Reese Witherspoon shows her likable side by befriending quirky characters meant to stand in for the audience, and then drops the quirky characters like fish heads in the trash for the sequel because obviously all anyone really wants is Reese Reese Reese, not those losers she briefly privileged with her attention. I once lost a lot of points making that argument to Reese Witherspoon's agent, but viewers turned against Pt. Two anyway.

The funny thing is that I've been lucky enough to meet some Names at times, and found many were open, friendly people curious to hear about others. You'd almost think they were artists with an interest in something beyond themselves.

Steve in NC said...

Also really wanted show to succeed. My laughs - the too few - did not coincide with the offputting soundtrack laughs.

A Friday question: On a side note you mention being a big fan of Michael Schur, but I don't recall a column about his shows and their mix of high and low comedy. (I may have missed a column, but try to keep up daily.) I was always surprised at the success of Frasier back in the day, but it always had a great mix with a joke about "that's enough Schoep talk" and killing the eels for cooking in the restaurant episode. As a veteran of classic shows that always had a great mix themselves, do you think his shows are the best these days at hitting that mix.

William C Bonner said...

I find the timing of your article funny, after so recently talking about the normal fate of shows that are introduced at this time of year.

I watched the show last week, and enjoyed it because I recognize most of the actors in a good way. On the other hand the book of rules that are already being broken will seem to get old quicly.

kent said...

The Abby's pilot had another problem. In addition to not making the audience feel welcome, it didn't make us laugh. Let's hope that changes soon.

blinky said...

A Friday query: I just saw a post on Reddit that the medical adviser and Alan Alda co-wrote an episode of M*A*S*H. Tell me more!

Chris G said...

Two more things struck me as off about the pilot, besides the ones you discuss above.

First, the concept of the show - Abby needs the bar because she needs the people she cares about to be close -- is really nice. But it shouldn't be said, out loud, by her, in the very first episode!

Second, the "conflict" with the new landlord was too neat and resolved too easily. I don't get, in the world of the show, why he gave in so quickly. Did he just realize Abby was right? Did he decide he needed a place to hang out more than he needed to comply with zoning? I just didn't buy it. Are he and Abby going to do this every episode?

And whatever costume designer put someone that tall in a thin, tucked-in polo was just being cruel.

Frank Beans said...

I think of the first few seasons of CHEERS as essentially an IQ test: If you identify with Diane the most, you're in the smartest league. Of course she's the protagonist, and the pilot episode spells it out in abundance.

Her character leaving the show after season five was a wise choice, both for Shelley Long as an actress, and for the show as a whole. By that point, it had said what it had to say. Perhaps the Frasier and Lilith saga fulfilled some of that afterwards, but it still wasn't quite the same.

Don said...

If it's a comedy, why didn't I laugh? Not once.

Cat said...

I adore Mike Schur with the intensity of a thousand suns, really, but just the commercial for Abby's was cringey. The rhythm seemed off, too many cuts, the jokes seem written by people with no patience. That's why the Cheers pilot is literally perfect. It takes its time (granted, it had 26 minutes which would be lengthy now), but every joke is earned and the exposition is brought out in the dialogue so well you barely notice you're getting exposition. I'll rewatch that instead.

RMK said...

I saw the 7th episode filming and they showed the pilot for the audience. When I re-watched, it's a lot of setup, just as you've noted about pilots. This was my second time catching a TV show taping, so I did find the outdoor stuff interesting. A huge balloon of lights above the set. A pretty big bocce ball court to the side, for a set. Lots of extras/ neighbors around keeping busy, moving about silently. Someone said they shot on Tuesdays because it was the one night of the week during the fall, that wasn't a Halloween Horror night. Several stops for helicopter noise. Lots of flubbing lines, and some short breaks where the gang of writers came in with new lines. On a personal level I enjoyed the show but man, I can't sit on a bleacher seat for 4-5 hours anymore. My back was killing me since they really don't let you move around (unless you're a victim of the stand-up killing time.) At least I missed the Dodgers losing one of the World Series games. Oh, so there's only 10 episodes. The odds are not in their favor of renewal.

404 said...

I would think low numbers would mean less people are turned off by the rules and such and more people just aren't tuning in. I haven't watched it, mainly because the ads I saw for it were very unfunny. I didn't laugh once -- and, as you've said before, the ads are where they put their best stuff!

I didn't even know about the rule book or anything else you just mentioned, but it certainly doesn't make me more interested in watching.

Tim Ahern said...

As mentioned above, the laugh track was way over done. I was wondering how long it would take for Abby & the landlord to become an item. Deleted before the end of episode.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I had no idea this show even existed until you mentioned it today. That's partially because I watch virtually nothing on NBC anymore. (Except for Dateline and L&O:SVU) At that time I'm usually watching "The Orville," PBS or syndicated fare such as "Star Trek: TNG." Maybe I'll give it a chance. Yet, I have to agree with William C. Bonner, based on what you said earlier, NBC must not have much confidence in this sitcom. It is good to see Neil Flynn working again.
M.B.

Dr Loser said...

An interesting observation, and another Friday question. Several of the more satisfying episodes of Frasier were basically Feydea farce. (I count the aforementioned restaurant episode as one -- it merely substituted eels for frustrated desire.)

Feydeau farces only really work on multi-cam. Do you see a future for them?

Pat Reeder said...

I watched the pilot online. I agree with you on that structural problem: forcing all new characters to sit in the back and shut up severely limits your potential plots to just the handful of regulars at the bar. That will get old fast, particularly since most of those characters don't seem very interesting. Also, Abby is the center of the show, and she's not likable at all. I think they had to make her a military veteran just to provide the character some unearned sympathy. Showing the audience was strange: they seem so far away, but the laughter is so loud and present, even for jokes that aren't particularly funny (and there were too many of those) that it sounded like a laugh track. And running a bar without a liquor license in California isn't a cute little quirk; it can get you a $1,000 fine, up to six months in jail and a ban on future license applications.

All that said, I cut it a lot of slack because it was a pilot, and those have a lot of ground to cover and seldom reflect what the series becomes. I might give it another try, mostly because I like Neil Flynn and the actor who played the new landlord. But it will have to get a lot better fast to keep me coming back.

E. Yarber said...

I try not to spout off about programs I haven't seen unless there seems some wider point to make. Thinking about the premise here made me think of something like that, so here I go twice.

The bit about there being 164 rules to sit at the bar may have been intended as a hook in itself, hoping to attract a cult of fans who want to be "in" with the show by gradually learning all these esoteric conditions. It's different from a running gag in that a the latter becomes a variation on a theme while the former tends to become increasingly constricted over time.

There are real problems with that approach (if it IS the approach). First, it's hard enough to get a audience in the first place, and writers hoping for a hardcore cult from conception will wind up only alienating the general viewers they need more. 164 rules to exclude the public is an off-putting premise, so you lose more than you can possibly gain by trying to draw fanatics into the inner circle.

And while you can lose a mainstream viewership, you can't prefabricate a cult. I've seen people try to concoct ROCKY HORROR sorts of phenomenons with elaborate mythologies and endless pointless details fans are expected to obsess over, yet the chemistry just doesn't gel and the results look needlessly cluttered.

A cult is something that the audience decides upon, not the original creators. Can you imagine David Davis and Lorenzo Music pitching THE BOB NEWHART SHOW by saying, "We think the biggest appeal of the program will be a drinking game where the audience gets loaded every time someone says 'Hi Bob!'" Nobody could have expected that except a relentless alcoholic.

I may be wrong about that business within ABBY, and actually hope I am, but the general principle may be worth dragging out anyway. And that's my second comment on something I haven't seen. Next thing you know I'll start remarking that I have nothing to say about a topic as a means of indicating how much I tower above the subject.

DBA said...

I really wanted to like this but all the rules felt extremely clunky to me. "Look we're expositioning but it's quirky exposition, don't you feel the world-building?" No, I did not. It felt forced. It also made no sense to me that the new landlord guy is all "this is totally illegal stop it right now". I mean, I get that's the conflict, to turn him around, but it just seemed completely preposterous that he could be convinced at all let alone in 20 minutes. There was no ambiguity or wiggle room. This is not an argument she should've ever won.

VP81955 said...

I wish "Abby's" well and love multi-cams, but from your description, it apparently possesses much of the same smug tone that made "Friends" a turn-off for me from day one. Give me bite ("Seinfeld") or wit ("Frasier") every time, thank you.

Pat Reeder said...

To E. Yarber:

I considered trying to start a drinking game where viewers take a shot every time someone on an HGTV show says, "Awesome!," but I was afraid of all the lawsuits from deaths by alcohol poisoning.

Anonymous said...

Have not seen this yet but will look for it now.
A "bar" comedy that I did enjoy that disappeared to soon, in my mind, was Sullivan and Son.
NY neighborhood bar passed onto the next generation with Father and Korean wife still working and characters that included a woman cop, a couple of know it alls the neighborhood woman of commercial virtue and others.
Not great but found amusing and working class sensibilities.

Andy Rose said...

Like Pat Reeder, I just watched the pilot online, and I'm left with the same fundamental question: Why does anybody like Abby? She's generally unpleasant, and there's nothing that seems all that fun about the bar, either.

Paulo Rubal said...

A Friday question: What do you think about How i Met Your Mother? Especially the incorporation of a plot mistery, temporal and structural dislocations, a strong character arc and dramatic elements in a multi-camera sitcom. Are you a fan of Carter Bays and Craig Thomas?

thirteen said...

Sorry, Ken, but I thought it was awful. One and done for me. However, I'm happy to report that the laughtrack absolutely loved it.

Barry Traylor said...

"ABBY’S ratings were not great for its premier. Chalk that up to all kinds of things (they were up against March Madness, etc) but I think subconsciously that exclusivity might have turned off a lot of viewers."

Ken, I watched the pilot episode and wanted to like it, but your comment above is what turned me off. Remined me too much of my own high school days which I would rather not relive.

Keith said...

Every time I see an ad for this show, I think it says "ARBY'S". Then I get hungry. Great, now I'm hungry.

Jee Jay said...

The 'concept' that people have to get past barriers to the place they want to be, that there is a sort-of judge who can let you in or keep you out, that you might always be on the outside looking in, reminds me of another current TV show ...what is it now ...

Oh yeah: "The Good Place". And who created that show now ...
Oh yeah: Michael Schur.

Apparently these are ideas that mean a lot to him.

Tom said...

I'm probably the worst example of a potential viewer but I read this blog, saw Neil Flynn, decided to give it a go via Hulu. I got through about five minutes. The exposition was laboured — which I agree would have been hard to avoid given the no-newcomers rule providing few other options as a path in — and if I didn't know it was a Schur production I'd have guessed it was probably a couple of schoolkids who'd been set an assignment, having approximated the tone and cadence of a sitcom but not provided any substance underneath.

Less charitably, it was a bunch of unmotivated actions punctuated by gurning.

The direction also left a lot to be desired: imagine if Cheers had decided to seat Norm and Cliff on opposite sides of the bar and have Sam just sort of directly face the audience while speaking to both of them, despite that being the direction of neither person he's supposedly talking to, and all this being painfully obvious because nobody seems to be certain what they should be looking at.

One to skip.

By Ken Levine said...

Jee Jay,

I think GOOD PLACE is a show about redemption. I could be wrong but I don't think ABBY'S was intended to be about redemption.

Pat Reeder said...

Ken, I vaguely recall when I was a kid (the curse of a photographic memory) watching a show on ABC called "The Corner Bar" that was on for two seasons (guess my parents didn't mind me watching a show about lushes, God bless 'em.) The first season it starred Gabriel Dell as the bar owner interacting with a cast of regular customers. In season two, Dell was replaced by Anne Meara, and while I like her, I remember not liking the series as much after that. It seems to have fallen into the black hole of TV history, except that according to IMDB, one of the bar patrons was the first gay recurring character on a sitcom. Just wondered if you were familiar with it and if it had any influence on "Cheers."

cadavra said...

I dunno. I thought the "segregation" and list of rules were funny. They go back to Abby's prickly character. It's almost as if they're telling us this AIN'T "Cheers," much as "Married...With Children" wasn't "Cosby" and "Family Guy" isn't "The Simpsons."

I agree it could have been funnier--remember this is being done by people who've mostly done single-cams to this point--but I found it promising enough to stick with, at least for now. Plus I've been a big fan of Morales since "The Grinder."

thirteen said...

I remember The Corner Bar. Up to then, it was accepted in TV that there had never been a successful comedy about a bar. There were also all sorts of reasons why one would never be successful, too. (The bottom line: Some people didn't approve of alcohol.)

Anne Meara's character was a widow. They wanted to put a small pic of Jerry Stiller up on one of the shelves, but Anne said no. She was superstitious about it.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Another Neil Flynn fan here. If I were also a Padres fan I might give this another chance but I'm not. I simply don't get the premise. Why would these people mill around in a woman's back yard and put up with her crap rules? Is there no other bar within fifty miles (with decent lighting and air conditioning)? Does she barbecue? Must every joke revolve around the (real) grievances of women and black people? ABBY'S isn't abysmal, it's just typical of network fare these days.

Shea said...

I came here tonight to ask if you've seen "Abby's," Ken! I already had my comment ready to go. Reading your take (haven't read the comments here as yet), I see that you are far more gracious than me. I saw the first episode and was less than impressed with the writing and the casting of the series. I skipped the second show tonight. These days, a series has to hit early or it's gone, sorry to say.

My comment: Abby's is "Cheers" except it's outdoors, the characters are dull, and it's not funny. Other than that...

Rob Greenberg said...

Saw the second episode last night. Same unfunny writing and bland characters. Turned it off half-way through. And who thought showing the audience was a good idea? Takes you right out of the 'reality' in ways that even the 'Married with Children' hoots couldn't do.

Bottom line: This show is 'Cheers,' without the humor and characterizations, but with an onscreen DP sitting at the bar with Norm and Cliff.

Anonymous said...

Showing the audience during the show just seemed weird. Neil Flynn looked like he walked right off the set of "The Middle" to "Abby's", right down to the plaid shirt.

Carson Clark said...

I finally got a chance to watch this over the weekend: Yikes. It was painful. I didn't even finish the second episode. The worst episode of Cheers, (I'm not even sure what that would be) would top anything with this so far.

PolyWogg said...

Finally got around to giving this a go. And a pass.

The new landlord was okay, had some comic timing, and the bouncer was awesome if it wasn't for the "I'm fat so I must be funny" vibe.

But there is zero likability to Abby...if Sam Malone did equally stupid things reacting to Rebecca wanting to change things in the bar, it was fine, because Sam wasn't the brightest guy but he wasn't mean. The "rules" didn't bother me (NCIS has rules that work) so much as the way they were applied, i.e. she's a little dictator and everyone will obey.

I don't care her backstory, I don't care about her father or time in Afghanistan or basic training as a Marine. While I hate to rely on the classic SAVE THE CAT type argument, there was no save the cat moment for me. She is just forced to capitulate with no growth in the character.

Meh.

And I didn't laugh once, although I smiled at the punishment cooler being having to drink a lime flavoured non-beer. Kind of whimsical, not mean.

But I rarely laugh at any of the sitcoms I try, not really my thing I guess. Yet I love Big Bang THeory, mostly because I was a math and science geek and I like the Leonard character. So much for taste.

P.