TV Review: ‘Bless the Harts’ Delivers Laughs, Despite Unoriginality

FOX can never have enough dysfunctional animated families. Their newest animated sitcom, “Bless the Harts,” fits in perfectly with their Animation Domination Sunday lineup. That’s mainly because there’s very little that differentiates it. In fact, the show bears closest resemblance to the long-running “King of the Hill,” which used to be part of this lineup. The all-star cast delivers the one-liners with expert precision. Yet, “Bless the Harts” still hasn’t found its unique voice that will differentiate it from its lead ins.

The Hart family lives in North Carolina on a razor thin budget. Jenny (Kristen Wiig) works at a seafood buffet called the “Last Supper” and spends most of her time worrying about the increasingly threatening bills that arrive. Inside her house, she crams her eccentric mother, Betty (Maya Rudolph), good-natured lummox of a boyfriend, Wayne (Ike Barinholtz), and sullen teenage daughter, Violet (Jillian Bell). In moments of crisis, Jenny turns to the one person at work who will listen to her, Jesus (Kumail Nanjiani).

The pilot episode centers around Betty’s obsession with collecting “Hug N’ Bugs” toys. These collectibles from the 90s have hilariously dated names like “Tamagotchi O.J. Trial” and “Bagel Bites Clinton Impeachment.” Betty hopes they will appreciate in value over time and she will be able to get rich. Jenny discovers this and decides to cash in immediately to pay the bills. As she sells the toys online, the only buyer she encounters is Betty, continuing to build her empire.

The first episode does a good job of peppering in pop culture moments and defining the oddities of this small North Carolina town. The voice actors also do some heavy lifting in making each of the moments pop. As fans of “Big Mouth” can surely attest, Maya Rudolph knows how to sell a line reading. She makes Betty come alive as she enunciates certain syllables in words one didn’t know existed. Wiig also grounds the show well as she plays the also off-kilter straight woman to Betty’s mad-woman. Though their interplay is fun, the characters are both eccentric enough that they don’t feel completely differentiated. While that might be the point, their arguments feel as cyclical as their “Hug N’ Bugs” trading. Nevertheless, these two all-stars make one want to return to “Bless the Harts” for future episodes.

Creator Emily Spivey makes the great decision to focus the narrative around three generations of women. Yet, the pilot devotes so much screen-time to Jenny and Betty’s cyclical mother-daughter conflict that we don’t get much of Violet. As a fantasy artist with grand ambitions, Violet presents lots of room to explore the differences between her and her family. In an attempt to win her over, Wayne goes out of his way to build Violet the dream room she’s always wanted. It’s a sweet story, but it gives Violet little to do to drive the story further.

The nature of animation provides lots of runway for innovation. “Bless the Harts” already features Jesus coming to life to give Jenny a pep talk. As the show progresses, hopefully Spivey and her animation team will take the visual humor to a new level. Being a female-focused version of “King of the Hill” sounds fine as a logline. Yet, the show needs to make its humor more specific, more original and overall funnier if it wants to stand up to the rest of the FOX comedies on the same night.

“Bless the Harts” premieres on Fox on Sunday, September 29th. One episode was screened for review.

GRADE: (★★½)

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