Chuck Lorre has two shows on CBS: The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. Chuck Lorre has the two highest-rated sitcoms on the air: Big Bang and Men. It follows that, if Lorre wants to put his name on another show, CBS wants to make that show.
Thus we have Mike & Molly, which Lorre executive produces with Mark Roberts, slotted after Men on Monday nights. The series promises to track the budding romance of the notably overweight Mike (Billy Gardell) and Molly (Melissa McCarthy) — a “nom nom nom” rom-com, if you will. My review after the jump.
The premise is simple: Mike Biggs, a good-hearted cop, meets Molly Flynn, a fourth grade teacher, at Overeaters Anonymous, where the pair strike up a romance. Mike’s loquacious partner Carl (Reno Wilson) provides a steady stream of mostly unsolicited advice in the ways of romance and dieting; Molly lives with sister Victoria (Katy Mixon) and mother Joyce (Swoosie Kurtz), who fail to empathize with her weight struggles due to their simultaneous enjoyment of thin figures and chocolate cake.
Two and a Half Men has become a critical whipping boy, but I suspect the principle is more crucial than actual merit. Measured against, say, Parks & Recreation, the former feels infinitely broad. But if measured in belly laughs, there is a strong case to be made that Men is distinctly “funnier” than a vast array of sitcoms. The Big Bang Theory finds itself in greater favor with the tastemakers, but some undefinably large amount is contributed by co-creator Bill Prady. All this to say, Lorre has earned our respect and admiration as a modern-day Norman Lear, but our trust is left up to individual preferences.
The conceit of Mike & Molly raises an obvious issue: just how many fat jokes are there? A show about fat people who happen to fancy each other sounds terrible. A show about a romance that has a bit more flesh than we’re used to? Could be something there. M&M has “The Fat Show” encoded into its DNA, but Lorre and Roberts need not adhere to it. For instance, Mike’s last name is “Biggs,” which elicited a huge groan from me upon first reveal. But when a scene calls on the surname for wordplay, the result is not a fat joke. As Mike explains why he became a police officer, he recalls when his dad, a beat cop, announced each morning that he was off to “Biggs’ Mile” — young Mike, misunderstanding, always responded with a big smile. It’s a charming scene.
As he proves in this monolgue, Gardell (Yes, Dear) is an amiable lead, and a great asset to the show. Likewise, he has solid chemistry with McCarthy (Gilmore Girls), which ought to provide a stable anchor to the series if handled with care. Wilson (the voice of Mudflap in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) isn’t playing a particularly nuanced character, but I suspect he’ll be a hit with a segment of the audience to which I do not belong. Things are more promising in the Flynn household: Kurtz (Pushing Daisies) was born for the one-liner, and I dig Mixon’s (Eastbound & Down) bizarre, stilted line readings.
The pilot didn’t hit it out of the park, but few do (see: The Big Bang Theory). Yet I’m interested to see where Mike & Molly settles in, what kind of series it becomes. That seems as promising a reaction Lorre, Roberts, and CBS could hope for.
Mike & Molly premieres Monday, September 20th at 9:30/8:30c on CBS.