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'Broke' review: Pauley Perrette's lamentable second act

Pauley Perrette as Jackie, Jaime Camil as Javier,

Pauley Perrette as Jackie, Jaime Camil as Javier, Natasha Leggero as Elizabeth in CBS' "Broke." Credit: CBS/Sonja Flemming

SERIES "Broke"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Jackie (Pauley Perrette) is a single mom who tends bar, struggling to make ends meet, when one day comes the knock on her door: Her estranged sister Elizabeth (Natasha Leggero) and her wealthy husband, Javier (Jaime Camil, "Jane the Virgin") have arrived unannounced, with Javer's loyal assistant/driver, Luis (Izzy Diaz) in tow. They need a place to crash because good-hearted Javier has squandered the family fortune. Suddenly the tables have turned, and the members of the rich-and-pampered class will have to learn how the rest of the world gets by. 

Perrette is best known for playing Goth forensic scientist Abby Sciuto on "NCIS"; she abruptly left TV's No. 1 drama in 2018. after 354 episodes. 

MY SAY Why, why, why? I get asked this quite often by concerned viewers, as in: Why do big stars leave big shows? There are usually easy answers (money) but the "why" in Perrette's case has always confounded. Something about Mark Harmon's dog biting somebody, and on-set assaults, and either a push or shove or bodycheck (unclear) by the show's boss (that'd be Harmon again). In Instagram posts and the followup People magazine expose, she assailed Harmon and CBS. They mostly ducked under the cone of silence.   

But goodbye to all that. We've moved on, she's moved on, CBS has moved on, and the dog's moved on. The world is wracked by a pandemic. Those "why's" are now irrelevant and frivolous, because we've all got bigger problems to worry about, bigger whys in search of answers. 

 Nevertheless you do have to wonder: Could poor "Broke's" timing be any worse? Almost all Hollywood production has shut down, while the networks have delayed premieres or cut seasons short. Yet "Broke" proceeds — either a brave outlier or a tone-deaf one. You'll learn soon enough which. 

 In fact, under normal circumstances, "Broke" would be just another sausage off that factory line, easily reduced to a series of dots: Single mom … phony, affected sister … fun-loving Latino husband (who is probably gay) … and his valet (who is gay). Cue to studio audience members who, judging from the muted laughter, must keep glancing at the clock to see when their penance is up.

But under these circumstances, this launch seems almost devious, to wit the ice-cold revenge of a once-spurned network and its most powerful producer. After all, CBS could have held this for a more propitious moment, when half the country isn't under lockdown and millions aren't out of work while a terrible disease ravages the land. We are a TV nation of worried, anxious, grouchy shut-ins. Sausage factoryline network sitcoms like this one — most of them, really — are weirdly out of step with the moment, like the obnoxious guest at some party who drinks too much and tells bad jokes before learning that he's not at a "party" but at a wake. 

So sorry, Pauley. By all accounts, you are a kind, well-meaning person and we all know you can act. Abby was great, an inspiration to young girls who wanted careers in science, while your latest character — I've already forgotten her name — so much less so. Therefore, some well-intentioned advice from just another grouchy shut-in: Next time call the animal control officer or hire a good lawyer. Hollywood has lots of those. But please, anything but "Broke." Abby … us … especially you all deserve better. 

BOTTOM LINE Lamentable second act. 

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