We watch... so you don't have to.

Fall '01: "Reba"

Somehow, it just doesn't seem right saying unkind things about Reba McEntire. Yeah, she performs in a musical genre that's not my bag, and if she held a concert in my kitchen I probably couldn't be bothered to turn my head -- but she seems like good people. I can't recall any instances of her going Sean Penn on some hapless paparazzo, she doesn't appear to surround herself with a legion of yes-men and sycophants, and if there are reports of her trying to do a creepy celebrity thing like buy the Elephant Man's bones or paint her mansion hot pink, I'm blissfully unaware of them. In other words, Reba McEntire comes across like a nice person who hasn't let the twin narcotics of fame and fortune mess with her head. She's like that nice friend of your mom's who doesn't point out that you've gained weight the last time she saw you or strong-arm you into buying Tupperware. One might even posit that she's somewhat attractive in that "I think you're trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson" sense, if one did not fear vicious catcalls from one's colleagues or the big skunk-eye from The Wife.

The point is, I bear no particular ill-will toward Reba McEntire. I gain no pleasure from saying cruel things about Reba McEntire. And so long as her interests and mine do not collide, I wish her nothing but success in all her future endeavors.

Which is part of the problem with Reba, the new Friday night sitcom on the WB that, coincidentally enough, stars Reba McEntire. Reba is one of those shows that mistakes "loud" for "funny," that thinks having snot-nosed kids firing off one liners is the height of wit and sophistication. It's an ugly, awful series that asks us to spend a half-hour each week with a family so reprehensible that if they lived next door to us in real life, you and I would be pricing moving services. Reba may well be the worst new show of the fall, and this is coming from a man who has seen Bob Patterson.

And the other problem with Reba? Reba McEntire is the worst thing about it.

McEntire's performance is stilted and painful to watch. She delivers her leaden lines with no nod to timing, no understanding of inflection. You get the sense that she thumbed through a copy of Sitcom Acting for Dummies and paid particular attention to the "Facial Expressions: Funny and Fun to Do" chapter. One of her snot-nosed kids fires off a bon mot, Reba makes a face. Some sort of wackiness ensues, Reba's there bugging out her eyes. No line is so insignificant, no joke so slight that Reba can't stand there, open-mouthed, mugging for the camera. Watch an episode of Reba on mute, and you might get the impression that McEntire is in the throes of a stroke.

You get the sense, watching Reba McEntire contort her face in a vain effort to underscore the supposed hilarity taking place on screen, that her role would be recast if her name weren't attached to the show. It wouldn't do, after all, to tune into a show called Reba, expecting to find a red-head country-western chanteuse and find Suzanne Sommers yukking it up.

Not that anyone could do much with the material that passes for comedic inspiration on Reba. The show fancies itself a shout-out to Middle America, an alternative to those ubiquitous sitcoms about gorgeous urbanities and their fabulous Manhattan apartments or L.A. beach houses. In truth, Reba couldn't be more contemptuous of its target audience if it clad them all in bib overalls and had them periodically rail against the evils of "fancy book-learnin'."

Instead, Reba's producers crib the show's premise from a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. Reba's husband, a dentist, is divorcing our heroine because he's having an affair with his dental hygienist, a simpering idiot. Hubby has also knocked up the aforementioned simpering idiot. Reba's daughter has been knocked up as well -- by the high school football hero, in this case, and thankfully, not dear old Dad. We learn all this in the opening scene of Reba in which the entire family -- Reba, her cheating husband, her slattern daughter and her two other awful children -- are, understandably in therapy. The therapy session ends with them physically attacking one another -- again, quite understandably.

So to sum up, Reba's husband is a cad, his paramour is a ninny, and their daughter is too dim to grasp even the rudiments of birth control. Reba hates her husband, really hates his idiot hygienist-lover, and doesn't appear all that fond of her kids. Everyone hurls insults at one another and shouts a lot and generally gives off the vide that they'd rather be anywhere but around these other, horrible people.

And despite all this, Reba's producers reckon, we're going to clutch these yokels to our bosom.

"They're ruined!" McEntire exclaims at one point during the pilot. She's talking about the hors d'oeuvres she's making for her oldest daughter's shotgun wedding and not, as you might imagine, her prospects for sitcom success.

"Much like our lives," says one of McEntire's mouthy offspring in what might have passed for Reba's funniest joke if not for two reasons: 1)it was spat out hatefully by an 11-year-old and 2) Reba reacted a face straight out of the Don Knotts Incredulity Collection.

Of course, spend a lot of time watching Reba and you'll find yourself having to feign amusement as well.


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *