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‘Cheers’ to ‘Abby’s,’ the newest bar show

By Kate Feldman • Mar 21, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Welcome to Abby’s, where … everybody knows your name?

No, wait, that can’t be right.

The newest show from executive producer Michael Schur (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Good Place), about an illegal backyard bar in San Diego, looks a lot like “Cheers” — a group of friends, brought together by cheap drinks and mediocre company.

But the comparison, while easy, isn’t particularly fair to “Abby’s.” Shows have done bar settings before, to varying degrees of success. “Cheers” doesn’t hold the monopoly, even if it does hold the standard.

“(The comparison is) hard to avoid, and in a nice way, it’s so hard to avoid that you don’t have to do anything,” showrunner Josh Malmuth told the Daily News.

“The way I’ve thought about it is that I’m just going to make this show irrespective of what ‘Cheers’ has done or did.”

Where the multicam sitcom stands out most, though, is in its production: The series is shot outdoors in Los Angeles, in the backyard of one of the “Desperate Housewives” houses, in front of a live audience. The cast and crew work around their environment, around airplane noises and natural light and once, a skunk.

The audience, too, can work with or against them.

“It changes the energy,” Natalie Morales, who stars as the titular Abby, a no-nonsense ex-Marine who lives and dies by her bar, told The News. “It’s instant feedback, but it’s also something we’re all doing together.”

Morales, who has made a name for herself on shows like “Trophy Wife,” “The Newsroom” and “Parks and Recreation,” finally gets a well-deserved starring role (her second, officially, after the barely watched 2008 “The Middleman”), not just because of her comedic talent, but because the South Florida native will be the first Cuban lead in a comedy since Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy,” which premiered almost 70 years ago.

In a TV landscape where network heads talk about showing diversity and drawing new audiences, it rarely translates onto the camera.

“It’s nice to feel like you’re enough,” Morales said of her role.

Alongside bar owner Abby are a misfit cast of characters, including Fred (Neil Flynn), a regular who hates change; Beth (Jessica Chaffin), the next-door neighbor who needs a break from her family; Rosie (Kimia Behpoornia), the bar manager; James (Leonard Ouzts), the cowardly bouncer; and Bill (Nelson Franklin), the new landlord first looking to fix, then to fit in.

“There’s a part in one of the episodes where Neil Flynn gives this speech about how we’re pretty deeply divided as a country and the only thing we can agree on is drinking alcohol,” Malmuth told The News.

“That’s a joke, of course, but it feels like we’re in a very fractious, sometimes brutally divided time. We want the show to be about a place where people can go and spend time and enjoy each other’s company, a shared understanding. Abby’s is this place where everybody wants to go to where you feel like you’re with your friends, with your family, and you can block out everything happening in the outside world.”

“Abby’s” isn’t as deep as that, at least not through the three episodes provided to critics. And that’s a welcome relief; not everything has to take on the world around us, nor should it. This show, in particular, just wants to be a old-fashioned hangout comedy.

“I remember that Chandler Bing gets his TV Guides as “Chanandler Bong” and Ben from ‘Parks and Rec’ loves calzones,” Morales told The News. “I want this to be like hanging out with your friends for half an hour.”

“Abby’s” isn’t as funny as it thinks it is — or as it should be — and it’ll almost certainly never compete with “Friends,” but it’s ambitious, and I’ll drink to that.

“Abby’s” premieres at 9:30 p.m. on NBC on March 28.

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