What in the world is Lily Tomlin doing playing Reba McEntire’s mother in the shockingly mediocre sitcom “Malibu Country”?
She’s one of the great talents of the past half-century. Tomlin received the Mark Twain Prize, the nation’s top comedy honor, to go with her Golden Globe, Grammy, two Tonys, a Daytime Emmy, four Primetime Emmys and two Peabodys.
This is a woman whose television career includes regular roles on “The Gary Moore Show,” “Laugh-In,” “The Magic Schoolbus,” “Murphy Brown” and “The West Wing.”
And she’s playing McEntire’s country-bumpkin mama in a ham-fisted sitcom?
“I thought this character would be an opportunity,” Tomlin said. “I was very taken with Reba for a long time.”
No one’s arguing that McEntire isn’t hugely talented as a singer and a comedian. But “Malibu Country” is a broad comedy that’s an awful lot like the 2001-07 sitcom “Reba,” and McEntire is playing pretty much the same role. Once again, she’s a woman wronged by her husband and trying to build a new life.
This time around, she’s Reba Gallagher, who discovers that her country-music-star husband is a philanderer and decides she will not stand by her man. “He’s a moron,” Reba says. “And I’m leaving his lying, cheating butt.”
She moves from Nashville to a Malibu beach house with her two teenagers and her mother, Lillie Mae, in tow.
In Friday’s premiere (7:30 p.m., ABC/Channel 4), Tomlin has lines like “You’re not so grown that I can’t whup your behind” and “You jarred loose my bunion pad.”
“Lillie Mae’s part offered the opportunity to be audacious, outrageous,” Tomlin said. “An older woman who just had a lot of spirit.”
Well, she definitely does make the most of this role. It’s difficult to envision much of anybody else getting laughs as Lillie Mae, but Tomlin actually does.
Even in the scene in which, under the influence of medicinal marijuana, Lillie Mae says, “I just saw a pelican poop. I’m sorry, but that is funny.”
Well, not really. But her delivery is great.
Tomlin even thinks she’s coming full circle. After all, her first movie was “Nashville,” way back in 1975. She was, you may recall, nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, and 37 years later she’s playing a character who moves from Nashville to Malibu. “I love that this connection is here,” said the 73-year-old. “And this probably will be my last project before I go to the motion-picture home. And I think it’s appropriate. Don’t you?”
No, Lily, no! Say it ain’t so!
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.