The only thing harder than going to medical school is entering the workforce in one’s 50s. TV star Patricia Heaton manages to do both in “Carol’s Second Act,” a new CBS sitcom from Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins. Halpern and Haskins skillfully set up the premise and Heaton does her best to deliver the laughs. Both are marginally successful at creating a decidedly old-fashioned sitcom that doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel.
A very chipper 50-year-old Carol (Patricia Heaton) turns heads on her first day as an intern at Loyola Memorial Hospital. Her counterparts are much younger, looking to begin their careers as doctors while, Carol has already lived a full life. She’s raised two kids and spent most of her adulthood teaching science. Once her husband went searching for himself, Carol did the same and wound up in medical school. She befriends her fellow interns rather well, but struggles to earn the respect of the stern chief of interns, Dr. Maya Jacobs (Ito Aghayere).
Even the natural charisma of Patricia Heaton can’t save the groaner jokes that are thrown her way. Still, she more than gamely tries. From the first moment she struts through the doors of the hospital, Heaton commands an audience’s attention. In a flurry of a first scene, Heaton gives us her character’s full backstory and paints a portrait of Carol’s demeanor, mannerisms and outlook. Despite leading two long-running, critically acclaimed shows, this is the first Heaton has had to herself. On that front, she is more than up for the task. However, without an equally talented co-star, she never gets a worthy scene partner.
Most of the supporting cast struggles to share the spotlight. Aghayere plays the same taciturn notes as Dr. Jacobs and always feels overpowered by Carol’s unflappability. Among the other interns, Lucas Neff fares the best as Caleb, a nervous kid who keeps his wealth and connections hidden. Likewise, Sabrina Jalees makes her confident Lexi very appealing. The rest of the cast sticks to the stereotypes they’re handed. Jean-Luc Bilodeau doesn’t do much with the vain Daniel. As the only other older character in the cast, Kyle MacLachlan feels completely lost as senior attending physician, Dr. Stephen Frost. Rounding out the cast is Ashley Tisdale as Carol’s pharmaceutical rep daughter. There’s an opportunity to use her character to reveal more about Carol outside of the hospital. Instead, Tisdale fields jokes about trading sex for office space.
There’s an old school streak to this CBS sitcom that peeks through occasionally in unflattering jokes and subplots. In the pilot episode, Lexi confesses to Caleb that, as a minority and the first person in her family to attend college, she feels like she doesn’t belong in the program. She then feels betrayed when she realizes Caleb is actually wealthy and connected. The show resolves this conflict when Caleb confesses he was wait-listed for the program, which is why he feels just as out of place there as Lexi. This false equivalency doesn’t quite hold water. Likewise, Carol complains to Dr. Jacobs that “she doesn’t know what discrimination is like,” before quickly taking it back. For as cheery as the show seems, there’s something a touch off in the humor.
At its heart, “Carol’s Second Act” is another family comedy with a different location. Carol consistently asserts that her work as a mother has practical application in the workplace. The show underlines this by making everyone around her essentially glorified children or high school students. Compare this to TV Land’s “Younger,” which also sees an older woman entering the workforce. That show allows its lead to put herself in new challenges and let the workplace change her. The second episode shows that Carol isn’t always 100% right, but there’s very little change that goes on. Only time will tell if Carol and Heaton get more of an arc, or if it will be more of the same.