SERIES "Carol's Second Act"
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS/2
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Carol Kenney (Patricia Heaton) is a 50-year-old former teacher and divorced mom, embarking on a new career as a doctor. The job begins at a hospital with the other interns, each about half her age: smarty-pants Daniel (Jean-Lou Bilodeau), insecure Caleb (Lucas Neff), cocky Lexie (Sabrina Jalees), and the disciplinarian chief of interns, Dr. Maya Jacobs (Ito Aghayere). Then, there's the absent-minded senior attending physician, Dr. Stephen Frost (Kyle MacLachlan).
MY SAY Not counting her funky 2011 web sketch comedy, "Versailles" — certainly you remember "Versailles," yes? — Patricia Heaton has never played the solo lead in her own series. "Everybody Loves Raymond" would seem to have generously set the stage for a solo act, but instead, that was followed by the forgotten two-hander sitcom with Kelsey Grammer, "Back to You," and that in turn by "The Middle."
So in one obvious sense, "Carol's Second Act" is also Heaton's second act, too. But not content to leave the past entirely behind, this is what might also be called a magpie series. As the ornithologists among you know, the magpie is a type of crow that collects things for its nest. In "Carol's Second Act," Heaton has collected some her most reliable bits — the funny mom, the wise mom, the wisecracking mom — and put the "Dr." in front of them. (As real Heaton fans know, she also once played a doctor, on "thirtysomething.")
Magpies can't help themselves and Heaton can't either. She is so gloriously mom-ish, after all. In "Carol's Second Act," it takes her all of 21 minutes to gather the other interns around her like baby chicks in her nest. She lovingly pecks at them, dispenses wisdom like food morsels, and teaches them that the art of doctoring is really not so far removed from the art of mothering. It's all about empathy and kindness.
Heaton nails the role because she's had so much practice at this, but "Carol's Second Act" does her — and the trope — one better, by ever-so-slightly inverting our Heaton expectations. Sure, she's a mom, and longtime schoolteacher — "teacher of the year eight times, but who's counting," says she — but Carol is also a bit of a busybody. She's a walking, talking Swiss Army knife, who has a little something for everyone in the many pockets of her lab coat.
When Carol hands the wife of a patient a hair clip, the woman marvels: "What are you? Doctor Mary Poppins?"
Funny line and, even better, the series' set-up line.
"Carol's Second Act" comes from a pair of seasoned TV writers, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, who have clearly mastered the economy of sitcom setup in other ways too. Each member of the supporting cast comes fully formed because we know their family sitcom counterpart already, like the "bossy older daughter" (Maya), the "bickering middle children" (Caleb and Lexi) "the insecure second son" (Daniel), the "doofus dad" (Dr. Frost").
Then, the hug-it-out moment in the pilot tells us what this is really all about — life experience, and how age confers wisdom.
Nice going, mom, and so is "Carol's Second Act."
BOTTOM LINE Heaton is back in another "family" sitcom. As expected, a good one.