It’s no “Cheers,” but “Abby’s,” NBC’s new bar comedy starring Natalie Morales, is not the worst place to spend a Thursday night.
Like the Ted Danson comedy, various aimless denizens of a San Diego neighborhood call Abby’s home. Beth (Jessica Chaffin) is a frazzled mom who treats the bar as a confessional booth for her home life. Fred (Neil Flynn) is a lifer who stops by so often you get the impression he has no place else to go. Abby seems to recognize the neediness of her patrons without holding it against them. Without betraying much of her inner life, she provides a refuge for these misfits from an often ridiculous world.
Enter Bill (Nelson Franklin), her new landlord. The thing about Abby’s is that it’s not a real bar; it’s a makeshift enterprise set up in the backyard in the house where Abby lives — the show is largely filmed outdoors on the Universal Studios lot, behind the permanent set of Edie Britt’s (Nicollette Sheridan) Wisteria Lane house from ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”
When Bill inherits the house, he wanders into the yard and has a lot of obvious questions — and makes some demands to allow the good times continue to roll, such as Abby’s need to get insurance for the place. He radiates a kind of stodgy disapproval but Abby senses he’s a keeper when he finds a place to hang the bar dartboard.As the first three episodes make clear, “Abby’s” is about how Bill finds a place in this made-up world. While the actors, some of whom trained in the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch comedy group, seem to finding their way in the first two episodes, the cast pulls it all together by the third. Here, Bill has to work up the courage to ask his ex-wife for the season tickets to the Padres games that he gave up in their divorce (they have been languishing, unused, in the glove compartment of her car).
Sensing his lack of resolve, the barflies cheer him on, fully acknowledging that they’d love to a go to a game or 12. Like Hickey’s bar in “The Iceman Cometh,” the regulars at Abby’s feel a lot more confident when they’ve knocked back a few than they do outside in the “real” world and the episode yields surprising results.
Morales is the perfect choice to play Abby. A real bartender herself in her early showbiz days, she’s a natural listener whose broad grin would put the most uncomfortable person at ease. The script makes rather too much out of her bisexuality so the character’s sense of discretion only adds to her allure. Franklin is the real breakout as the awkward Bill, still smarting from his divorce with a Netflix profile that amusingly reveals an affinity for brokenhearted teenage girl films. Here is a guy aching to belong to the kind of membership Abby’s has to offer. As someone at the bar says early on, “Once you’re family, you never drink alone again.”