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'Call Me Kat' review: Mayim Bialik's new sitcom has heart, but few laughs

Mayim Bialik and Leslie Jordan on Fox's

 Mayim Bialik and Leslie Jordan on Fox's new "Call Me Kat." Credit: FOX/Lisa Rose

SITCOM "Call Me Kat"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kat (Mayim Bialik) has decided to ditch her dull career as a math professor and embark on the job of her dreams, as proprietor of a cat-themed cafe in Louisville, KY. Her mother, Sheila (Swoosie Kurtz) is disappointed. (Can't she just find a nice guy and settle down? Kat is 39, after all …) But Kat's cat establishment is a success, thanks to her cat-loving co-workers Randi (Kyla Pratt, "One on One," "The Proud Family"), Carter (Julian Grant) and Phil (Leslie Jordan, "Will & Grace"). Then, that nice guy comes back into her life — old high school friend Max (Cheyenne Jackson, most recently "Saved by the Bell'' reboot.)

"Kat" is adapted from the Britcom hit, "Miranda" (2009-13), which starred Miranda Hart — also about a woman with social anxiety who is restarting her life and frequently addresses the camera to explain why.

MY SAY For actors, just like for regular people, second acts can be tough. Who really knows what to do next unless you have an agent or manager telling you what to do? Choose wisely but do choose, or risk becoming roadkill in the revolution (that'd be the "streaming" revolution, by the way).

Bialik has always been the gaudy exception to this. She eats second, third and even fourth acts for breakfast. There was childhood stardom ("Blossom"), then a Ph.D. in neuroscience, followed by more stardom ("The Big Bang Theory.") In between, she wrote books, launched blogs/podcasts/whatever, started her own production company, appeared in dozens of other shows and did what all actors do with time to kill: Lots of voice work, including for video games. She also became a mother of two boys, born just before and during the "Big Bang'' run.

That's quite a drumroll, without actually mentioning her new show — too long, you've correctly deduced, and "Kat" is, in fact, a clunker. Not a terrible clunker or the sort that makes admirers wonder why they admired someone in the first place. But it does tend to force them to question certain assumptions. Here's one: Who would have guessed Kaley Cuoco would be the "Big Bang" cast member to really nail her second act? But she has (HBO Max's "The Flight Attendant") and how.

Besides Jim Parsons — now mostly a producer, including of "Kat" — the easier guess at post-"Big Bang" glory would've been Bialik. She's the intellectual with the comic chops, the Jedi master of the Second Act … Instead, she took the safe route here, the dull and already trod one.

In "Kat's" favor," there's not a mean bone in its laugh-track-wracked body. Bialik and her writing partner on this, Darlene Hunt ("The Big C"), must have sensed that with the Year from Hell behind us, and probably part of a Year from Hell in front of us, people needed a nice diversion — not a sharp-edged, brittle, cynical one.

They may be reading the room correctly, but if so, overthinking it too. A cat lady who hardly ever seems to have a cat — COVID-19 production mandates largely prohibiting animals on set — and who is trying to restart her life at 39 by opening a cat cafe? Maybe there's a funny idea here, but without edge, bite or (yup) claws, we'll never know.

BOTTOM LINE Good heart, no claws (or laughs).

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