Jonathan Storm: Art imitates life in a new Drescher show

John Michael Higgins and Fran Drescher in TV Land's "Happily Divorced."
John Michael Higgins and Fran Drescher in TV Land's "Happily Divorced." (TV Land)
Posted: June 14, 2011

'I love her voice," says Fran's date, in TV Land's new sitcom, Happily Divorced, which premieres Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.

"Give it time," says her ex-husband.

It has been a while since we've had Fran Drescher and her lovable honk in a sitcom. The Nanny closed down in 1999. Living With Fran had a little run six years later on The WB, but hardly anybody saw it.

It's like a long-lost lullaby when Fran rolls over in bed at the top of the show and asks her anxious husband, "Whatsa mattah, Peetah?"

What's the matter is not that he has some new psychosomatic ailment after watching Grey's Anatomy again right before bed. What's the matter is that he has finally concluded he is gay.

Happily Divorced will chronicle the lives of Fran and Peter, too broke to move out of their house, after this moment. There are many possible pitfalls, not the least of which is that the show could just be one agonizing gay joke.

But since Drescher and her real ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, who did get divorced after he realized he was gay, are the executive producers, that doesn't happen.

Drescher looks great, and she's basically her old Fran Fine Nanny self. Nobody would accuse her of being an accomplished actress. Every character she's played on TV series in the last 18 years, in fact, has been named Fran. But she delivers a joke just fine. Maybe that's where she got her Nanny name.

It was surprising that a talk show she was developing about this time last year didn't get the green light. But the happy consequence is that we have her, and not some cheap imitation, starring in this sitcom.

John Michael Higgins (Best in Show) is Peter. Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris) is Fran's best friend.

The show signals that there's a little more going on than the usual frantic search for jokes when D.W. Moffett shows up as Fran's first post-divorce date. Moffett, a straight actor, broke ground in the '80s playing compelling gay characters in the original production of The Normal Heart Off-Broadway and Early Frost on TV.

Rita Moreno and Robert Walden (yep, the reporter from Lou Grant) play Fran's parents. They figured she knew Peter was gay and didn't say anything because they didn't want to interfere, but mama does offer some advice when he comes out of the closet:

"You go to a lingerie store. You buy something very sexy that will turn him on."

"Like what," asks Fran, "a jock strap?"

The show has some hilarious moments and perks along between them as you might expect a Drescher show to. It's a fine and frothy companion to the big show on TV Land (is that an oxymoron?) at 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Betty White-starrer Hot in Cleveland.

Cleveland returns Wednesday, for the second half of its second season, with White's character on the lam after being found guilty of having all that Mafia loot. The gals, three old friends from earlier comedies, Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick, are sure to find their beloved landlady so that more laughs will ensue.

Happily Divorced, similarly full of old-fashioned laughs and cast members, completes a comedy marriage made by clever programmers that shows signs of lasting past the honeymoon.


Jonathan Storm:

Television

Happily Divorced

Premieres at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on TV Land.


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ jonathanstorm.

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