Judge Brett Cullum is happy—he no longer has to tune in to his local radio stations for more Reba.
(to her youngest daughter)
I really like Reba McEntire (country diva, Tremors, The Little Rascals, Buffalo Girls). A long time ago (somewhere in the mid '90s) I was a country music deejay for Froggy 94 "Today's Country 12 in a Row!" in Memphis, TN. (I went by "Tad Pole" and was a nighttime deejay if anyone wants to blackmail me later.) I got to meet Ms. McEntire several times, and always enjoyed her live shows, which were more impressive than any rock act could ever hope to be. (Trust me, I saw many a rock show, too, and even U2's Popmart tour couldn't come close.) You couldn't hope to meet a nicer woman, and you never saw a concert until you saw her blow the roof off a stadium with her cover of the old classic "Fancy." Reba is good people; the kind of star who pumps her own gas and helps anyone she can in any way she knows how. I could tell you all sorts of crazy stories I either witnessed or heard about, but we're here to talk about her latest—the DVD release of her sitcom's first season, Reba—The Complete First Season.
Reba plays Reba Hart, a soccer mom with three kids in Houston who is going through a divorce from her philandering dentist husband (Christopher Rich, Murphy Brown). The pilot sets up the season rather nicely, with the surprises that not only is Reba's husband's mistress pregnant (Melissa Peterman, Fargo as "Hooker #2"), but so is her seventeen year old daughter (Joanna Garcia, American Pie 2). So the hubby leaves as her daughter's football star boyfriend arrives (Steve Howey, Class). Reba has to deal with the only constant in life—change. How can she hold her family together in the face of scandal and upheaval? Much of the first season deals with the Harts redefining who they are and what their relationships mean now. Life has become messy, and it's time for Reba to prove that "she's a survivor."
It's a strange set-up, given Reba's wholesome country image. Many of her hardcore "Middle America" fans think the show is loose morally, since Reba gets divorced and lets her pregnant teenage daughter live with her. 'Course those same people probably also think SpongeBob Squarepants is gay, and Disney is out to corrupt the universe, too. Reba's career has been built on taking chances (her biggest hits include one about a triumphant prostitute, and she was the first country singer to address AIDS openly in a song for the radio). And this whole sitcom idea is risky at best, considering Reba hasn't always put acting at the top of her resume, even though she has flirted with it for many years. What the series does get right is her personality. Reba Hart is pretty close to Reba McEntire, and they never stretch their star too far out of her comfort zone. Although at times the physical comedy seems daunting, she does handle the quick dialogue and heartwarming moments with all the panache of a pro. I still don't know why she almost never gets to do in the show what she does best—sing. I mean, isn't that why I am watching this? Apparently not. Instead, I have to settle for watching likable Reba do okay sitcom routines. To me, the best show was the pilot, because it moved well and was smartly written. The rest of the series struggles to reach the premiere's giddy sense of crackerjack timing. Occasionally it does get there, but not often enough.
Reba—The Complete First Season shows you all the struggles of a sitcom in its freshman year. The pilot is well constructed, but then you see the retooling begin. Though it's nothing as alarming as what happened to The Jeff Foxworthy Show, where an entire cast was jettisoned midseason, there does seem to be some shifts in focus and how things look as the season progresses. In the end, it is fluffy family fun from start to finish. The problem is, there's nothing outstanding about the series, except for (maybe) the likeability of the lead. We've seen most of these situations before, and the comedy is not terribly funny or memorable. If you're a fan of Reba the set makes sense, but for the non-fan? There ain't much here.
One major gripe I have is the constant stereotyping of Texans. Hey, I live in Houston and I don't talk like any of these people. We've had a rough run as a state ever since Dallas, Urban Cowboy, that last Super Bowl, and George W or "Dub-ya" hit the political scene. (He is really from Connecticut—sorry.) Now, here comes Reba to make more people think we all wear Western clothes and talk like hicks. Thanks, I needed that image perpetuated. Houston is a racially diverse port city that ranks right behind New York and Los Angeles in size and population—we're usually neck and neck with Chicago. We produced NASA, ZZ Top, Janis Joplin, Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, several rap groups, and Beyonce, in addition to any rodeo or country dance craze. Reba is about as real as Mama's Family with the stereotypes.
Fans of the show should be delighted with the package Fox put together. There are three cast commentaries where everyone gets a turn to talk, including the actors who play Reba's youngest kids, Scarlett Pomers (Erin Brockovich) and Mitch Hollerman (The Animal). You can tell the cast loves doing the show, and think their jobs are a whole lot of fun. Reba takes no credit, and true to humble form says "it's an ensemble show, and most of them taught me how to act." There is also a pretty good blooper reel, and a nice look at making the show. You also get to see a conversation with Reba and Melissa Peterman that is pretty nice too. Fox seems to always do right with its television properties, and offers a lot of extras in the way of commentaries and deleted scenes. About the only slightly negative things I can come up with are the rather okay transfer and surround mix, and the appearance of the dreaded "flipper" discs.
Basically it all boils down to this: a country singer in an okay sitcom with a pretty good release on DVD. Fans of both Reba the singer and Reba the show will eat it up, and others will stay away with a vengeance. Some people have proclaimed that this is "the worst show ever on television," and they seem to be overly critical. You will be entertained, even if its not dazzling. It's not going to change the world, and it will never be up there with Seinfeld or even Friends. But it is pleasant and goes down easy. And that's just fine for when you need a half-hour escape now and then. The biggest crime is that Reba is just okay, while Reba McEntire is pretty fabulous. I hope this doesn't derail any plans for a big tour someday. U2 still needs someone to kick their butts with an impressive rendition of "Fancy."
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on "The Pilot" with Cast Members Reba McEntire, Melissa Peterman, Steve Howey, Scarlett Pomers, Mitch Hollerman and Executive Producers Michael Hanel and Mindy Schultheis
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