July 31, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Mayim Bialik makes ‘Call Me Kat’ a warm, comforting sitcom

So it’s a new year, America, and the emaciated husk of what we used to call a television “midseason” is gently rapping on our chamber door. And as if to remind us of the way things used to be, as surge surges upon surge and democracy wobbles on a knife edge, here comes “Call Me Kat,” a very traditional, quite appealing multicamera situation comedy starring the woman you met as “Blossom” and knew again in “The Big Bang Theory” as Amy Farrah Fowler, Mayim Bialik. Or Dr. Mayim Bialik if we want to acknowledge a 2007 PhD in neuroscience for her dissertation “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome,” and why wouldn’t we?

The series, which takes up its regular time slot Thursday on Fox (in a meat-and-potatoes CBS mood), is modeled on the British comedy “Miranda,” and like it follows an unconventional woman (Bialik, as Kat), single in what we can safely call middle age, living above a business she owns, with an interfering posh mother (Swoozie Kurtz) who wants to see her married and a college friend (Cheyenne Jackson), newly back in town, stirring the embers of an old crush. The action has been moved to Louisville, Ky., near where Darlene Hunt, who developed “Kat,” grew up — though place is beside the point, apart from some passing business about horse racing and small-batch bourbon and providing regional context for the accent of series regular, Tennessee native and elfin Twitter/Instagram quarantine idol Leslie Jordan, as a befuddled master baker. Which is not to say a touch of local color isn’t appreciated.

The new show is a little less spiky, a little more cuddly than the BBC original, created and written by its 6-foot-1 star, comedian Miranda Hart — you may know her as Melissa McCarthy’s sidekick in “Spy” — and itself regarded as old-fashioned when it premiered in 2009. As in “Miranda,” Kat will turn from a scene to address the audience directly, and each episode ends with a curtain call that includes and identifies every actor with a speaking part, a genuinely endearing device. (Things being how they are — the show was produced during the pandemic, but takes no note of it — I assume the audience reactions are canned.)

Kyla Pratt and Leslie Jordan are workers in a “cat cafe” in the Fox sitcom “Call Me Kat.”

(Lisa Rose/Fox)

Where Miranda owned a joke shop, Kat runs a “cat cafe,” where Jordan bakes and Kyla Pratt works the counter, and on whose set loll actual cats, amazingly unperturbed. (In one scene they loll atop Jordan.) She is socially awkward (“A guy got into my car yesterday thinking it was an Uber — I didn’t want to make him feel bad so I just drove him all the way to the airport”), makes jokes no one gets and has a name for her mouth guard (it’s Monty). Called upon to spiff up a little, she resorts to a green pantsuit no one likes. But she is also ebullient and outgoing; occasion is found for her to dance the Electric Slide with Jordan and duet with Jackson on “Reunited (And It Feels So Good).” The fun they’re having feels authentic.

Just to make crystal clear the field on which this comedy is to be played, “Kat” offers two spit takes within its first 35 seconds. (There is a fair amount of physical comedy; Bialik affects clumsiness nimbly.) The pilot tries too hard, and doesn’t land many of its punchlines, but it’s worth sticking around for later episodes; as is often the case with this sort of live-on-soundstage ensemble piece, relationships are cemented and rhythms found over time. “Call Me Kat” breaks no new ground, but it gets good results from the old ground, ground even older than “Miranda,” that it farms. There is a Two Dates the Same Night episode, and in another, scared by her mother out of taking a Puerto Rican vacation, Kat holes up in a local hotel, pretending to be gone, where she winds up passing herself off as a whiskey expert in a sequence that recalls Lucille Ball getting looped on Vitameatavegamin. Badly formed lies, a staple of the sitcom toolkit, get a lot of play here.

The cast is highly likable and universally on-point, including Julian Gant as a neighboring bar owner, Vanessa Lachey as an upper crust old friend, Schuyler Helford as an apparition of Jackson’s character’s French ex-girlfriend and, bringing the star power, Lamorne Morris as a customer anti-flirtatiously flirting with Pratt. The approach is positive with just enough friction and frustration to make the positivity pop, and Bialik is as game as the woman she plays: “There is no road map as to how I should live my life as a 39-year-old single woman,” says Kat at the pilot’s end, essentially drawing you a map, “so I’m just going to have to make it up as I go along. And as you have witnessed it’s going to be kind of messy but also kind of awesome.” Kind of messy, kind of awesome — kind of kind of awesome, anyway — is not a bad description of this companionable, comforting series.