When you’ve got a sit-com that lays itself out as straightforwardly as Bob Hearts Abishola, it’s refreshing to find yourself invested in the layers of the conversation, and this is one that is actually most about what it’s about least. In this case, that’s points for effort, and something worth watching on its own.
Bob (Billy Gardell) owns a sock company, and we enter the story as he enters the cardiac ward. He meets a nurse, Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku), a Nigerian immigrant, and finds himself smitten with her. There’s no real reason for it exactly, other than a chance encounter that leads to a man finding himself thinking about a woman. Only, the middle-aged version. Despite Abishola’s initial disinterest, it’s easy to see that something about his charm, or socks, is getting to her as well… a little.
We’re working from a playbook that isn’t hard to guess, and wholesome teeters on the edge of syrupy as the show lays the groundwork for culture-clash hijinx. Abishola’s family and friends are going to wonder what’s going on as the white guy injects himself into their world, and Bob’s dysfunctional family is unlikely to accept his very sudden love interest without incident. Bob keeps popping up and throwing socks at Abishola. Abishola rolls her eyes. Hilarity ensues.
That’s what it says on the tin. A throwback to the ’80s and beyond, that takes advantage of a simplistic, sit-com perspective in order to “whimsically” have a stalker show up in a neighborhood where he… stands out, in much the way George Jefferson could scream at everyone he meets and make it home every day.
But, what we seem to really be after here is Bob and Abishola, and while the “Heart” offers up a focal and turning point in their lives, it’s just our excuse to look at them. The show may give you a series of gags surrounding Abishola’s family’s uncertainty when presented with a white man at the door, because that gives you some laughs, but it’s also setting the groundwork for figuring this guy out? Who does this? It’s hard to be precise, but he might have known her for an hour. Meanwhile, Abishola doesn’t need this new headache. She has a tween she has to turn into a doctor and twelve-hour shifts at a hospital.
Having some actual examination is a great turn and Gardell is the perfect choice to infuse energy and charm into a vehicle that could become lost in its own effort to smooth away the edges of interracial dating. “Mostly harmless” becomes milquetoast if you don’t do things right and Gardell knows how to balance comedic sensibilities.
There’s a point towards the end of the pilot when Bob quips that he’s getting on a bus without knowing where it’s going, and the easily overlooked line is a serious reveal. Sure, it’s a decent laugh, if you’re into that sort of thing, but it also lets us know that we aren’t supposed to be letting Bob off the hook. It isn’t long before Abishola lets us know that she isn’t either, as she tells Bob that he’s the weirdo on the bus. That we’re getting that sort of character penetration mixed in with the laughs means that this one is worth your time. Of course, Abishola laying down the law with a parent at her son’s school is a similar clue, but it isn’t after the same depth. Bob simply recognizing that he doesn’t know what he’s doing turns this into a different show, and a far better one, and opens the door for getting to some real heart down the line.
If CBS were a director, Bob Hearts Abishola would be a movie you recognize as theirs, but it’s from their ‘safe’ years, and things were pretty hit-or-miss then. Worse, we’re in a category of show devoid of flash and hot-ticket selling points. It is funny. But, it’s hard to imagine it as requiring an exclamation point. The leads are great. In fact, they play well with industry icon Vernee Watson, whose inclusion somehow manages to belabor nostalgia. But, you aren’t exactly in love with them yet.
No, you can’t really dress up humorous, comfortable charm, or you wouldn’t have it anymore. But, you’d binge it if you could.