Happy Friday, I hope you made it through Vertically Sliced BagelGate in one piece. I’ve got some recommendations for what to watch this weekend, plus a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news. Up first: some thoughts on a new sitcom.
The bar is open at ‘Abby’s’
Twenty-six years after the finale of Cheers, NBC has a new Thursday night comedy about a tavern run by a wily, but charming bartender — only this time, it’s an illegal backyard watering hole in San Diego, and a woman is calling all the shots. In an unusual twist, this new comedy, Abby’s, is also filmed before a live studio audience outside at night. While the first episode, which aired last night and is now streaming on Hulu, does not deserve a place in the TV pilot hall of fame, it’s definitely entertaining and certainly hints at some interesting possibilities.
The most important part of any show about a bar is that you actually like the people hanging out there, and in that regard, Abby’s totally works. Abby, played with apolmb by Parks & Rec veteran Natalie Morales, is brusk, quick-witted, a little rude at times, and yet somehow endearing because she’s always trying to make everyone else at the bar happy. “I need the people at this bar, and they need the bar the way it is,” she tells her nosy landlord (played by Nelson Franklin) at the end of the pilot. “If they go away, I lose them.” The main regulars are also extremely affable, particularly retiree Fred (Neil Flynn) and maxed-out mom Beth (Jessica Chaffin). Some of the funniest jokes in the pilot are about Abby’s weird rules, like how every patron only gets one random glass to use for the rest of their lives, and how “all tacos are group tacos.” Abby’s barback Rosie (Kimia Behpoornia) and pseudo-bouncer James (Leonard Ouzts) help fill the newcomers in on all the bar’s rules.
While I like the repartee between all the main characters, as well as the unusual nighttime hangout vibe, the live audience reactions suck some of the life out of the show. Watching the pilot of Abby’s, I couldn’t help but wonder if the dialogue would’ve felt more fluid if all the actors didn’t have to wait for the laugh after every beat. The bursts of laughter also seem particularly forced since there aren’t that many grade-A zingers in the pilot, mostly just mildly amusing reactions. That’s not a fatal flaw in my book — not every show needs to hit you over the head with punchlines right from the get-go. But you do want to feel like you can relax and enjoy the characters bouncing off each other, and this old-school sitcom device makes the whole endeavor feel a bit rigid.
Producer Mike Schur has launched a number of quirky hit comedies that don’t have reactions from a live studio audience, including The Good Place, Parks & Rec, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. If Abby’s stumbles out of the gate, perhaps the producers will try a version without the studio audience. No matter what happens, I hope the show gets some time to keep growing, because I’d love to see how these characters develop if given a little breathing room.
New episodes of Abby’s air on Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
Streaming recommendations du jour
At Home With Amy Sedaris, “Anniversary”
The gist: To celebrate hitting the 15-episode mark of her TruTV series, Amy Sedaris hosts a clip show featuring… scenes that actually were not in the previous episodes at all. We see Sedaris in a black-and-white film teaching some puppets how to make a birthday cake, and a reel of all the terrible things that happened to her cheese balls over the years. Susan Sarandon pays a visit to Sedaris’s house to talk about cupcakes, and the host does crafting segments with Michael Stipe, Gillian Jacobs, and Greta Lee (of “sweet birthday baby” fame). The extravaganza ends with a spandex-wearing ’70s-style magician playing three-card monte with roasted and live game birds.
Quirkiness is this show’s guiding principle. It’s not for everyone, but I find At Home With Amy Sedaris to be a refreshing break from all the think-y TV that’s out there these days.
Girl Meets Farm, “Pantry Faves”
The gist: One of the big, pleasant surprises of this week’s James Beard Foundation Award announcement was Molly Yeh’s nomination in the category of Outstanding Personality, right alongside Samin Nosrat and Marcus Samuelsson. While Yeh’s show Girl Meets Farm is not as lauded as Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat or No Passport Required (which Eater co-produced, by the way), the cooking program is one of the sunnier spots on the Food Network lineup these days. In this episode from Season 2, which just wrapped up, Yeh makes four dishes using leftover pantry ingredients: yogurt-marinated chicken skewers, braised chickpeas, peanut butter crispy rice squares, and tahini milkshakes. None of these are hard to make, and they’re all just a bit more interesting than what you find on most Food Network shows.
In other entertainment news…
- In a new essay, Eater Portland’s Brooke Jackson-Glidden looks at how Hulu’s show Shrill “reinforces the idea that people, regardless of size, have the right to enjoy food in its entirety.”
- Jimmy Fallon took a tour of legendary East Harlem Italian restaurant Rao’s on the Tonight Show this week.
- On the last episode of Top Chef Kentucky, Eric Adjeopong never got to serve his entire menu inspired by the transatlantic slave trade, but now he’s going to prepare a version of his finale meal at a series of pop-ups in D.C. and NYC this summer.
- Nigella Lawson’s cherry tomato hack blows my mind.
- Turns out Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, the subject of HBO’s documentary The Inventor, is the great-great-great-grandaughter of the guy who founded Fleishmann’s Yeast.
- A promo for this weekend’s SNL features host Sandra Oh cramming a bunch of marshmallows in her mouth.
- Netflix’s forthcoming comedy Wine Country was inspired by Amy Poehler’s real-life vacations with her SNL cast member friends.
- And finally, here’s a New Yorker cartoon depicting Antoni from Queer Eye eating microwaveable poutine over the sink.
I hope you have a great weekend, and if you’re looking for a guaranteed crowd-pleaser to cook, consider making Jonathan Waxman’s roasted chicken from his soon-to-close NYC restaurant Barbuto using this recipe.