Abby’s is the type of sitcom that is destined to drive “comedy nerds” up the wall. Executive produced by Mike Schur (The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and created by Josh Malmuth (Superstore, New Girl), Abby’s stars Natalie Morales (The Grinder, Trophy Wife, The Middleman) as Abby, the proprietor of an illegal — yet still very popular — San Diego neighborhood bar that operates out of her backyard. In fact, the show even filmed outdoors, at Universal Studios, right off of Wisteria Lane, so there is a sense of authenticity from the jump. That’s all already a hook right there, from the creative pedigree to the lead to even the slightly off-kilter premise. Rounding out the supporting cast are proven sitcom commodities like Neil Flynn (Scrubs, The Middle), Nelson Franklin (Veep, New Girl), and Jessica Chaffin (Big Mouth, Man With a Plan), as well as stand-up comedian Leonard Ouzts and improviser Kimia Behpoornia.
If you love or even like comedy, Abby’s should be for you. After all, the show is about a group of disparate individuals who form a tight-knight community — a winning combination for any hangout sitcom.
But then there’s the reality that “Abby’s is filmed in front of a live outdoor audience” (which is also the quirky intro to the series, provided at the opening of every episode). Yes, despite having a mountain of things comedy nerds should be able to unite over, Abby’s is a multi-camera sitcom with a live non-“studio” audience. (Not a laugh track.) This tends to come with the argument that a show that essentially is telling you something is funny because someone is laughing — not necessarily because there’s an actual joke — is proof that this is an antiquated format. You’ve probably even seen a clip or two of The Big Bang Theory with the laughter taken out to prove this point.
However, that’s an argument that ignores series like The Carmichael Show — which also aired on NBC, for three seasons and regularly tackled “hot button issues” on a weekly basis — and One Day At A Time, which we are all currently mourning the loss of. Both shows managed to be funny while also saying something interesting and succeeding under the multi-cam banner. (For an example that’s still on the air, look to Mom, which tackles addiction, loss, and mental health.)
Admittedly, Abby’s is neither on the same quality nor seriousness level of either show — though it does bring in some early weight by making Abby a former Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan, while also handling the character’s status as an openly-bisexual Cuban-American woman — but its existence as a multi-cam sitcom is not to blame for any shortcomings. And even if never becomes a more serious show (assuming it will live long enough to see that choice be made), it being a multi-cam sitcom is, again, not to blame for that.
Then there’s, of course, the Cheers of it all, as Abby’s also seems to exist to be compared to one of the greatest sitcoms (multi-cam or otherwise) of all time. Cheers didn’t prevent any future show from primarily taking place at a bar, just like Friends didn’t prevent future shows from focusing on a group of, well, friends; but it did make clearing the bar (no pun intended) of quality and standing out as something original (even if it does pay homage) a much more difficult task. For every Mixology or Traffic Light (sorry, Nelson Franklin), TV audiences have at least been gifted with something special like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Happy Endings. Abby’s is immediately climbing an uphill battle to avoid being the former, but based on the first three episodes, it will also require a lot more to come anywhere close to the latter. And even the latter came out the gates with a more of a defined comedic identity than Abby’s.
Abby’s is shticky, but it really gets by on charm and vibe. Both in terms of the backyard set and especially in the case of the magnetic Natalie Morales — who especially sells why everyone is so drawn to Abby’s. If anything, it will probably be by sheer force of will on Morales’ part if Abby’s makes it past the first season and becomes more than unobtrusively pleasant. Again, comparing it to Cheers, the series really is about community and found family, the idea of going to “a place where everybody knows your name.” It’s also about making up dumb drinking traditions with your friends and sticking to them, which is the most relatable part of all. Abby’s could be much funnier, as the jokes early on certainly play it safe enough to make get a chuckle or an appreciative smile. It’s certainly a more pleasant experience than any promo for the series would have you believe, but network promotion only making shows look worse is another topic.
As for the rest of the cast, there’s a reason why Neil Flynn is now on a streak of 17 straight seasons and counting as a sitcom series regular, and after nine seasons on The Middle as the most curmudgeonly of Midwestern dads, it’s nice to see him loosen up a bit. As Fred, he’s still playing a “man’s man” who loves beer, but Abby’s allows him to play up a goofier side that’s as much appreciated as the character’s paternal relationship to Abby.