Melissa Peterman stars as a– pun intended– Working Class single mom in CMT’s plucky original sitcom of the same name. Struggling financially in a down economy, she wants to do anything she can to give her three kids and one slacker brother (adorable newcomer Steve Kazee) the good life, so she moves them to an upscale neighborhood– one that might be slightly out of her price range. That, in a nutshell, says it all about the series: it’s not the smartest move, but the intentions are good.
Even just in the pilot episode, LA TV Insider Examiner can’t help but see ample sprinkles of Peterman’s long-running previous sitcom, Reba, influenced heavily throughout. She is the same spunky wild card character, saying what’s on her mind and peppering her interactions with phrases like “even a stripper offers a freebie every now and then, you know what I mean?” That specific gem comes from her first meeting her new boss, played by the always charming Patrick Fabian and is meant to set up her common, quirky “foot in mouth” moments that so many shows try to impart on pretty women to make them seem more relatable. Courtney Merritt, as daughter Pam, even greatly physically resembles Scarlett Pomers, Reba’s own sitcom daughter.
But that is really neither here nor there. Why Working Class is relevant above and beyond any similarities in humor, style, and substance to shows of the past is for its premise. Showrunner Jill Cargerman drew from her own childhood upbringing, growing up in a hardworking middle class family, and that atmosphere of doing everything you can and it still not quite being enough is extremely common today not just for CMT’s usual demographic but for audiences all across the nation. We can relate to the struggles seen within and we can feel better about the situation based on the characters’ own peppy, “it will all work out” positive outlooks.
Even the one curmudgeonly character Hank (played by the incomparable Ed Asner) secretly enjoys his time spent with the family. And ample time it is, as he is not only their next-door neighbor, but he also works with Peterman’s character Carli. His level of snark and surliness cuts Carli’s saccharine sweetness with a little wink and a nod to the fact that he is probably their biggest supporter. He knows they will be there for him if he needs assistance and vice versa. And in tough times, isn’t that all you really need??
Working Class is a bit tongue in cheek at times, especially when former cast members reunite. Reba McEntire herself will guest star in an early episode as the girlfriend of Carli’s ex and the father of her children. It is a quite literal role reversal and a lot of fun to watch play out. It is the star power of McEntire (and other CMT favorites like John Schneider) that really offer support to Peterman and make the series pop. The way Peterman usually has to cary the series all on her (very capable) shoulders can be compared to how Carli has to carry her family all by herself. But while single moms are celebrated for their courage, the sitcom needs an ensemble to properly exhibit its sense of humor. Without someone to consistently bounce off of, Peterman’s usually perky antics sometimes come off as desperate and over the top.
Thus far, Fabian is unfortunately underused, and Kazee is still filling the somewhat dopey leech type stereotype, so the fix here appears easy: give them more to do in general but more interaction with Peterman especially, and the series will round itself out.
Working Class premieres on CMT on January 28th at 8pm and for those like LA TV Insider Examiner who are still on the fence after the pilot, preview clips do suggest some of our suggestions will be gradually incorporated and fleshed out so it is definitely one of those shows you shouldn’t fully judge until you’ve seen at least the first three episodes.