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Review: ‘Malibu Country’ with Reba McEntire is a gentle sitcom

Reba McEntire, who spent five seasons on the WB and one on the CW in a sitcom that bore her name, returns to television Friday in ABC’s “Malibu Country,” the fall season’s second country-music-related network series, after “Nashville.” (Also on ABC.) Slotted next to Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing,” with which it shares an executive producer, “Reba” vet Kevin Abbott (who also wrote the pilot), it suggests a slight return of TGIF, the family-friendly sitcom block that expressed the network’s theory of Friday-night programming all through the 1990s.

As in “Reba,” a philandering husband and a divorce are the gunpowder and match that launch the story. McEntire, here called Reba Gallagher, does not stand by her man, a fatuous singing star, but heads to Californy — not the place she ought to be, necessarily, but as far from Nashville as she can get by driving west — to set up housekeeping amid a welter of SoCal jokes and cliches. Some of which, all right, might be sort of, kind of, a little bit true.

With her dry, mouthy mama, Lillie Mae (Lily Tomlin), social-outcast daughter June (Juliette Angelo) and son Jethro — excuse me, Cash (Justin Prentice) — she takes possession of her ex-husband’s “Malibu love shack.” Cash is at first excited by living on the beach because a beach “is where bikinis gather, and you know what they put in bikini.”

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June perks up after she makes a new friend, the gay boy next door (Hudson Thames). And Lillie Mae gets to know the business end of a marijuana lollipop, which they just sort of hand out here, apparently.

Reba, meanwhile, has a notion to revive the “promising singing career” she put on hold to raise a family, which is not something that would have occurred to Reba McEntire. Dramatic convention and the fact that the actress is, in life, a country music superstar, allow us to reflexively regard her ambition as more than a pipe dream, even as McEntire’s common touch lets us believe her as a person mildly abused by her family and the world.

“Are you young and sexy?” asks the music-business assistant (Jai Rodriguez, from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”) whose boss Reba is endeavoring to see.

“Are there any other choices?”

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It would be easy to deride this series, with its hicks-in-Hollywood story line and granny-on-pot jokes. (“You’re just one Happy Lolly away from makin’ your clothes out of hemp and listenin’ to the Grateful Dead,” Reba cautions Lillie Mae.) The specs for bubbly, bosomy, trophy-wife next-door-neighbor Kim (Sara Rue) might have been copied straight from a manual on how to write bubbly, bosomy, trophy wives.

Yet, if Kim’s mock-scandalous confession that her husband likes to wear her underwear feels tiresome, Reba’s response — “That is so funny that I know that about you before I even know your name” — is genuine and funny enough. And Rue is too good an actress to let us look down on her character. Indeed, the series as a whole is good-hearted and open-minded.

One does feel a bit sad at times watching such a talented cast go, if not exactly to waste, then into an enterprise so obvious and ordinary. Yet what “Malibu Country” — created, oddly enough, by Dave Stewart, of the Eurythmics — has to offer is just what some people watch TV for, and what most people watch TV for at least some of the time.

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The deal you make with a series like this is, if it doesn’t ask too much of you, you won’t ask too much of it. For your half-hour, you get a few laughs, some pleasant company, and a reliably smooth ride with no unpleasant shocks. There are worse things.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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‘Malibu Country’

Where: ABC

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-PG-D (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for suggestive dialogue)

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