ABC’s new sitcom starring Dax Shepard and Lake Bell, Bless This Mess, has a very simple premise: Big city people with no real understanding of rural life decide to move to a farm in Nebraska and live off the land. It’s a pretty typical fish-out-of-water premise, although it’s not that unusual. In fact, I have a couple of extraordinary friends — one of whom was a Time photographer and the other a manager at Magnolia Bakery in NYC — who decided many years ago to quit their jobs and spend a year traveling with goats (they wrote a book about it; it’s very good, and you should read it). After they spent a year with goats, they bought a farmhouse in Maine, where they now raise their kids, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits. In fact, they taught me how to “process” chickens, and if you’re ever in the Maine area, I highly recommend going on a goat hike at their farm (book in advance; spots fill up quickly).
They learned much of what they do at the farm on the job, so to speak, and now they wake up early every morning to feed the animals, milk the goats, make breakfast for the kids, and then drive them to school before tending to their own jobs. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it and whenever I think about it I get very, very tired.
They’re fantastic, and while I suspect there were a lot of obstacles on their way to a blissful farmhouse life, somehow I doubt they spent their first night on their farm stuck on the roof during a rainstorm, where they peed their pants. But that’s what you get from Bless This Mess, the pilot of which aired last night. If you missed it, there’s not much need to catch up. The entire pilot is in the 3-minute trailer for the episode:
It’s all right there, and in the execution of the full episode, it is both exactly what you might think, and also slightly better than that. The trailer doesn’t really capture how spectacular Ed Begley is in this, nor does it adequately highlight Lennon Parham and David Koechner’s roles in the series.
It’s a pilot, though, and pilots tend not to be particularly good indicators of how good a series might be (see The Office, Parks and Rec and 30 Rock, among many, many others). I prefer instead to believe that the talent involved is a better indicator, and did I mention that Lennon Parham and David Koechner have supporting roles? Or that Pam Grier is in this, as the country store-owner and also the sheriff? More to the point, it was co-written by Lake Bell (… In a World) and Liz Meriwether (New Girl, Single Parents) and I trust both to elevate Bless This Mess above its shlocky premise, in large part through strong character work (Lennon Parham and David Koechner are in this, in case I didn’t mention it). Bell and Dax Shepard already have decent chemistry, and Dax has always perfectly straddled that line between very likable and kind of obnoxious, and I suspect Bless This Mess won’t be any different.
What I’m saying is, it’s a thoroughly mediocre pilot, but it’s too early to say if Bless This Mess is going to be a worthwhile endeavor, although the ratings for last night’s premiere suggests that audiences are at least going to give it a shot. As predictable and trope-y as the pilot is, I have a sneaking suspicion that as an ensemble, it could work, particularly if it plays up its strengths (Lennon Parham and David Koechner, Ed Begley, Pam Grier), but if it ignores its supporting cast too much in favor of Bell and Shepard, it might get very old, very quick, although, there is some very promising Money Pit scenarios built into the premise. I’m a sucker for farmhouse makeovers.
Verdict: The premise is very easy to dismiss, but I’d still recommend sticking with it. Give it a few episodes to find itself. The idea of a show centered around a Parks Department or a paper company doesn’t sound particularly intriguing, either, but with the right cast and good writing, you can turn any premise into comedy gold.