In her new ABC series “Malibu Country,” Reba McEntire is once again playing a single mother named Reba whose life is up-ended after her husband cheats on her. And like the country superstar’s eponymous 2001-2007 sitcom, “Malibu” is a multicamera sitcom executive produced by Kevin Abbott. But that’s where the similarities end. Pinky swear.
For starters, “Malibu Country” costars the legendary Lily Tomlin as Reba’s wisecracking mother, who joins her fish-out-of-country-water Tennessee family trying to adapt to the laidback, liberal Southern California lifestyle.
Turns out playing a Southern matriarch isn’t much of a stretch for Tomlin. Her character, Lillie Mae, is named after the actress’s Southern mother. “I knew that culture very well,” said Tomlin, who drew on family’s roots for her first film, Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” in 1975.
“I was very taken with her for a long time,” Tomlin enthused about her costar during the TCA press tour, admitting she saw Reba backstage after a performance “and slobbered all over her,” noting, “I got this part, so I’m sure that slobbering and gushing didn’t go to waste.”
As for that other “Nashville” show, the country soap also premiering this fall on ABC, Reba said she bonded with star Connie Britton during the network’s upfront presentations. “I’m a huge fan of hers from ‘Friday Night Lights,’” she said, but has no interest herself in playing a similar role. “I’m in that business for true life. I want to play an imaginary character in Malibu.”
When Sara Rue, who plays Reba’s ditzy, oversharing Malibu Barbie neighbor, was asked about the similarities between her character and Melissa Peterman‘s Barbra Jean on “Reba,” Rue insists she had an entirely different inspiration. “For this character I watched countless hours of ‘Real Housewives of Orange County,’ and that’s what I based my character on. Other than being outlandish and blond, I don’t see similarity to Barbra Jean.”
“Malibu Country” shares more similarities with McEntire’s own life than it does the fictional plot of “Reba,” said the actress, who uprooted her family for “Reba.” In fact, she said her son Shelby, who was 11 when they moved to L.A., “didn’t want the show to be a success at all” and “was devastated” when it got a full season order.
It’s these “emotional tie-ins,” said showrunner Abbott, “both funny and absurd, that keep a series real and down to earth.”
“Malibu Country” debuts Friday, Nov. 2, at 8:30 p.m., following “Last Man Standing,” on ABC.