There's likely no middle ground here. The following words will either strike joy or dread in your heart: Fran Drescher is returning to television.
Count me in the joy camp. (I maintain that 'The Nanny' was a solidly funny sitcom that was not only underrated during its heyday, but one that still holds up nearly 20 years since its 1993 premiere.)
Drescher's new TV Land sitcom, 'Happily Divorced,' is about a couple happily married for 18 years until the husband suddenly comes out as gay. The two divorce but remain good friends -- roommates even -- and hilarity ensues. This is where we can link back to 'The Nanny,' which Drescher made with her then-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, to whom she was married for 21 years. After their amicable divorce in 1999, Jacobson told Drescher that he was gay, and the two have remained close friends.
'Happily Divorced' is based on their relationship (Jacobson is co-creator of the new show, along with Drescher).
As with TV Land's other comedy offerings, 'Hot in Cleveland' and 'Retired at 35,' Drescher's sitcom is admittedly old-fashioned. It's a zinger-a-minute, filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience throwback that will most likely not impress the 'Community' and 'Modern Family'-loving crowds. But not every sitcom has to be an avant garde, single camera, ironic mockumentary, now does it?
There can certainly be room in our big TV hearts for both a sardonic 'Parks & Recreation' and for Drescher's punchy one-liners.
I know there's more than enough room in my heart for John Michael Higgins, right, who plays Drescher's gay husband Peter, and Rita Morena, who plays her mother. You'll recognize Higgins from his hilarious roles in Christopher Guest mockumentaries like 'Best in Show,' and for his scene-stealing turn in the Jennifer Anniston-Vince Vaughn film, 'The Break-Up.' Higgins also appeared in a few episodes of 'Arrested Development' and had great success on stage with Paul Rudnick's 'Jeffrey.'
Higgins is very funny here, as usual, and Moreno has some chuckle-worthy lines herself. I loved the scene where Drescher's character (also named Fran) breaks the news of her husband's sexual orientation to her parents. "We thought you knew," they shrug.
In fact, one of the running gags throughout the pilot is the fact that Fran (and others) can't believe she never recognized that Peter was gay.
The weakest part of the pilot is the speed at which they take the characters from "Honey, I'm gay" to divorced roommates re-entering the dating world. It takes maybe five minutes for the show to get there. Halfway through the first episode, Fran already has a new boyfriend (D.W. Moffett), who is hanging out with her and the ex.
Tichina Arnold plays Fran's best friend. Arnold was brilliant in 'Everybody Hates Chris,' but didn't have much to do in the 'Happily Divorced' pilot. Hopefully, that will change. Robert Walden from 'Lou Grant' plays Fran's dad, and Valente Rodriguez plays an employee in Fran's florist business.
Again, this isn't for the "too cool for school" crowd, but if you liked 'The Nanny' even a little, give it a shot.
'Happily Divorced' premieres at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, right after the season premiere of 'Hot in Cleveland.'