2020 has given us some quality television like the “Jeopardy!” tournament that pitted its top three players against each other.
Need a break from the coronavirus and accompanying 2020 woes?
Mega-producer Chuck Lorre is offering a temporary remedy with his four sitcoms (and a fifth on the way), including three that air back-to-back-to-back during CBS’ Thursday prime-time lineup (starting at 8 EST/PST): Season 4 of “Young Sheldon”; new series “B Positive”; and Season 8 of “Mom,” minus co-star Anna Faris.
Lorre’s fourth CBS sitcom, “Bob (Hearts) Abishola,” begins its second season Monday (8:30 EST/PST). And coming later this season: “United States of Al,” which follows the friendship of a Marine combat veteran (Parker Young) and the interpreter (Adhir Kalyan) who served with his unit in Afghanistan as both settle into civilian life in Ohio.
Comedy is needed, even in deadly serious times, says Lorre, who’s also working on the final season of Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method.”
“Laughter is a shared human experience,” he says. “Laughter is a genuinely wonderful thing to have as part of our lives, especially when the world is upside down. It’s a gift.”
Bonnie (Allison Janney) will have to hold up the fort at ‘Mom’ without daughter Christy after Anna Faris left the CBS sitcom in advance of pandemic-delayed Season 8. (Photo: CBS)
However, getting the returning shows rolling again with extensive health and safety protocols after Hollywood’s March production shutdown is no laughing matter.
The challenge is even greater launching the new series, “B Positive,” which centers on the strange bedfellows pairing of a buttoned-down therapist who needs a kidney transplant (Thomas Middleditch, “Silicon Valley”) and his rough-edged donor (Annaleigh Ashford, “Masters of Sex”).
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“A new show is in a constant state of invention and discovery – and also failure. You’re trying to find the characters, relationships, tone and pacing. Doing that on your laptop from home is very difficult,” the executive producer says of the series, based on the transplant experience of creator and longtime Lorre collaborator Marco Pennette.
Adhir Kalyan, left, plays Al and Parker Young plays Riley in ‘United States of Al,’ a new Chuck Lorre comedy that CBS is adding to its primetime lineup this TV season. (Photo: Robert Voets, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
Lorre, 68, whose previous hits include “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” spoke to USA TODAY about working through the pandemic and teased some storylines for the coming season:
Question: Besides frequent coronavirus testing, how has the pandemic changed production for your comedies?
Chuck Lorre: The writers room is on Zoom. You can’t put eight, 10 people in a room together anymore for extended periods of time. One or two of us are on the stage to supervise the production, but the writing and support staff is not on the lot. … When we’re shooting, we’re showing all four camera (shots) to everyone by remote and you can comment and try to make changes as you go. It’s very clumsy compared to just being there and saying, ‘Hey, what if we move this word over here or cut this line?’ But the alternative is not doing anything, so we have to count ourselves lucky that we’re in production.”
Q: How has the lack of a studio audience affected your shows?
Lorre: The few people on the stage while we’re shooting laugh, hopefully, because the material earns laughter. And the sound of that laughter is augmented later. We have no choice but to do the unthinkable: Sweeten the (laughter) in post-production. We can’t put 250 people on the stage. It’s not safe. … We are making shows using our best judgment as to what’s working and what’s not, (which is) not an ideal situation by any means but it’s the only way we were going to go back into production. There was never any chance that we were going to bring in an audience.
Q: How significant is the departure of Anna Faris from “Mom,” where her character, law student Christy, formed half of the show’s central relationship with her mother, Bonnie (Allison Janney)?
Lorre: It’s an enormous loss. The show was very much built around her and Allison. For her to step out was a big move to cope with. but we have an extraordinary ensemble led by Allison in a show about women in recovery. Let’s continue to tell the stories of a wonderful group of people we’d come to know and care about. When the (season) debuts, Christy has gone on to greater things. Her career and path through life is going great. Recovery from addiction – not always but very often – brings with it an extraordinary life. And that’s the story we’re telling with Anna’s character, that her life has leapt up to another level, which has her leaving Napa Valley to go to Washington and finish her (law school education at Georgetown).
Minus one mom: Anna Faris is exiting CBS comedy ‘Mom’ after seven seasons
Q: Could Christy return to visit?
Lorre: It’s a possibility. Absolutely.
Eleven-year-old Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage) graduates from high school in the Season 8 premiere of CBS’ ‘Young Sheldon.’ Sheldon was supposed to graduate as part of the Season 3 finale, but that was derailed after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Hollywood production. (Photo: CBS)
Q: How is last season’s premature ending affecting your shows now?
Lorre: We left a couple of episodes on the table when things shut down. We’ve been able to finish those episodes now. (The new season (of “Young Sheldon” started) with Sheldon’s graduation from high school. Sheldon (Iain Armitage) will be going to college (at East Texas Tech) at 11 years old. He’ll be going home at night. He’s not moving into a dorm room at 11 years old.
Q: Any developments in the relationship between sock company owner Bob (Billy Gardell) and Nigerian-born nurse Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku) in “Bob (Hearts) Abishola”?
Lorre: Getting engaged is very much a storyline in this season. (However), she is married to a man in Lagos, and that is a complication they will have to deal with.
Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku), left, and Bob (Billy Gardell) contemplate engagement in Season 2 of the CBS comedy “Bob Hearts Abishola.” (Photo: CBS)
What happens at the family-owned sock company?
Lorre: Bob’s slacker brother, Douglas, is sent to work on the factory floor doing manual labor, which he has been protected from his whole life, in order to earn his place in the company and the family. He’s sent down to to learn how this business works and get his hands dirty. And that does not go very well.
Q: Will any of the shows refer to the pandemic (apart from “Sheldon,” which is set in the past)?
Lorre: No. That was a choice that we made early on, that the shows will reflect life as we knew it, as we’ve known it, and hopefully as we’ll know it again. If we do shows that are reflective of what’s happening right now, it’s unlikely that they’ll have any value down the road. I’ve always been a big fan of shows that have shelf life, that have the ability to entertain the audience now, next year, or, God willing, years from now. I don’t know if it’s the right call, but it’s the call we made because I didn’t want to do episodes that a year from now no one wants to watch and may not want to watch now. Maybe you want to go home and watch a television show and have a little relief from social distancing and masks and the inability to hug your friends and loved ones. Maybe we can offer a respite from that.
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