‘Bless This Mess’ Presents a Promising, If Slightly Formulaic, Pilot

ABC’s new comedy, “Bless This Mess,” follows newlyweds Mike and Rio as they forgo the hustle and bustle of their New York City lives in favor of greener pastures. Their hasty move to Nebraska provides some good comedic fodder, playing on the trope of the “country bumpkin” and poking fun at city-slicker stereotypes. It is too early to tell whether these structures will hold the show up to snuff or not, but one thing is certain: the strong ensemble has the potential for comedic gold –– or, at least silver.

Co-creator Lake Bell stars as Rio, an enthusiastic, Type-A therapist with an overbearing mother. Dax Shepard brings his signature lovable obnoxiousness to the role of Mike, a music journalist who has inherited his great aunt’s Nebraska farm and thinks himself a country boy at heart. The couple quit their jobs and make the cross-country journey to become small-time alfalfa farmers, only to realize that the picturesque farmhouse is in shambles and the soil is dead.

With 20-odd minutes to establish the conflict and incorporate some basic character development, the pilot episode of a network sitcom can only cover so much ground. “Bless This Mess” delivers admirably, devoting time to fleshing out seriously funny supporting characters. Pam Grier is wonderful as Constance, the owner of the local hardware store who doubles as sheriff and runs the town theatre. She shares a mildly hilarious moment of sexual tension with Ed Begley Jr.’s Rudy, an eccentric old friend of Mike’s family who shacks up in the barn and makes the occasional trip to the toilet inside the house.

Then, there is the neighbor couple, the Bowmans. Successful farmers themselves, they offer to buy the farmhouse off of Mike and Rio in order to convert it into a meat locker. David Koechner is quite funny as the brazen man’s man, Beau Bowman. He cuts a swaggering, cowboy-hatted figure reminiscent of his role as Champ Kind in the “Anchorman” series. The Bowmans’ offer presents a tantalizing way out for Mike and Rio, who decide, after their first disastrous day on the farm, to stick it out together. Their half-hipster, half-yuppie naivete is teased ruthlessly. Some fun is had on behalf of the rustic characters’ strange folk wisdom, however, like their preternatural knowledge that “a storm is a-comin’.”

The pilot traffics heavily in comedic tropes: Mike and Rio enter the farmhouse jubilantly and the floorboards go out beneath their feet, Rio goes head-to-head with a harmless cow to confront a childhood trauma involving a petting zoo, and Rudy walks in on the couple while they are in the shower together –– Mike, of course, wields a bar of soap as his weapon against the intruder. These riffs on existing comedic devices might be forgiven, however, because the show does not claim to be especially clever. To be fair, there are a few strong one-liners delivered with great timing, like Rio’s declaration that she will indeed not be letting go of her precious screen time: “I’m not unplugged and I have no intention of unplugging!” All things considered, “Bless This Mess” is genre-conscious in the extreme, which could very well lead to some fantastic dry humour.