“Abby’s” is a bar show for a gentler, queerer world

“It’s a tradition as old as time. Customers drink and talk and bartenders pour and listen,” Abby says to the regulars at her bar.

Aghast, Beth replies, “Customers? We’re just customers? Do customers have their bartenders over for Thanksgiving every year and don’t even get mad when all they bring is pie from a gas station?”

There is probably no better summary of NBC’s new series Abby’s than the above exchange between the eponymous Abby and Beth, one of the regulars at her backyard bar. The series centers on Army veteran Abby, her regulars, and Abby’s new landlord, Bill.

As a fish out of water, Bill serves as viewers’ entrée point into the highly structured world of Abby’s outdoor, illegal, unpermitted bar. As he navigates who is allowed to sit where, what beverages are served, and the 160 other rules in the Rule Book (162 in total), viewers become more familiar with the bar and the vibrant folks who frequent it.

Natalie Morales plays Abby, the center of the bar and the series, and is surrounded by a great supporting cast including Kimia Behpoornia as sarcastic barback Rosie, Leonard Ouzts as conflict-averse bouncer James, Jessica Chaffin as wine-enthusiast and reticent mother Beth, Neil Flynn as the old-school Fred, and Nelson Franklin as privileged divorcee Bill.

Abby’s is slow-paced and quick-witted, particularly when it comes to Morales. Her one-liners are funny, directed, wholly without malice, and delivered impeccably by the seasoned actor. The characters all razz one another and their good-natured, jocular outlook is one of the reasons the series is so delightful. The chemistry between the characters is crackling and the series proves the adage that acting is reacting. Seriously, any time a line is delivered, you can look at anyone around the speaker, from the foreground to the background and see their reactions, which speak volumes, particularly those of Behpoornia and Ouzts.

The series is groundbreaking for several reasons. Abby’s is the first multi-cam sitcom to be filmed outside and utilizes Los Angeles’ typically stable weather to help create the casual and welcoming atmosphere of the series and the bar itself. Additionally, Morales is the first Cuban-American actor to star in a network comedy since Desi Arnaz played Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, which ended in 1957. She’s also the first openly bisexual+ lead of a network comedy perhaps ever. (Morales identifies as queer and dates folks of multiple genders.)

By and large, critics tend to think the series has promise, but that it needs time to get its story right. Some have expressed concern that there isn’t enough tension or enough going on with the characters to keep viewers watching. Allow me to disagree emphatically.

Source: NBC

What these reviewers seem to be missing is what Morales herself described to Pink News: “For so many people, and I think this is especially true in the LGBTQ+ community, where many of us didn’t have support from our families, and we had to go out and find our own families—and even for people who did have that support, our close friends, the people we choose to be around every day, they do become our family.” She continued, “It’s just really relatable to see that on-screen.”

In the third episode of the first season “Free Alcohol Day,” Abby tells Bill that she’s bisexual and he says, “Congratulations.” Abby responds, laughing, “Congratulations? I didn’t win a raffle.” Bill feels ridiculous and spends the rest of the episode obsessing over how awkward and weird he just was, while the other regulars try to pry more information about Abby’s love life from her. Bill tries to absolve his conscience, but just makes things weirder with other people.

Just before the episode ends, Bill approaches Abby and apologizes for saying congratulations, clarifying that he doesn’t feel awkward about Abby’s bisexuality. Abby ends up telling him, “Saying congratulations was weird, but at least your gut reaction was something nice, weird, but nice and that says a lot.”

So, when seen through a queer lens, Abby’s shifts from being about some random drunk people trying to forget their cares to being about a chosen family, supporting and loving one another. The fifth episode “Mail Bin” also demonstrates this reality perfectly.

Bill shows up asking for a certain tax document that should have come in Abby’s mail. Abby keeps her mail all in the same place: a laundry basket she never goes through. As the regulars help Abby sort her mail, they make fun of her for one reason or another until Bill finds a letter addressed to Abelarda. He immediately begins teasing her for her full name, only to have it revealed that only Abby’s father, who we know is an alcoholic and a jackass, sent the letter.

Abby opens the letter at Bill’s behest and in it is a check for $287.50. There is no note and Abby can’t figure out exactly what it’s supposed to mean. Bill tries to convince her to forgive her father and grow emotionally, but he’s clearly new here. That’s not how Abby rolls.

Source: NBC

She considers not depositing the check, but instead decides to do something really stupid with it. The group works together to brainstorm the stupidest possible thing they could do, which ends up being buying a combination popcorn maker and hot dog machine. They call it a Pop-Dog.

When Abby goes to cash the check, it bounces. Her voice quavers and tears well in her eyes as she describes that “everything he does is a check that bounces and [she needs] to stop cashing them.” It’s a surprisingly tender moment where Abby is vulnerable with her friends.

Abby confronts the reality of her father’s absence from her life and his subsequent inability to act like a parent the best way she knows how: by sharing how she feels with those around her, even when she’s reticent to do so. And, responding in kind, her friends rally to buy the Pop-Dog for the bar.

Both episodes show not a group of people at a bar, but a chosen family gathered around Abby, showing her love and support, even when others fail her. The people of Abby’s bar are just like so many of us today. They’re lost, they’re lonely, and they’ve found a family that supports them come hell or high water. And, what is truly, truly wonderful about their family is that at its center is a bisexual, Cuban-American veteran who suffers zero fools.

If I haven’t convinced you to give Abby’s a try yet, consider how rare it is to see a queer actor portray a queer character on TV or how rare it is for a series with six main cast members to feature Cuban-American, Iranian-American, and Black American actors. Or, consider the fact that the series grapples with real issues like having a terrible parent, with an incredible amount of humor, grief, and realism.

Abby’sdoesn’t seek to make our world more livable, in fact it aims to ignore our world’s issues and instead portrays a community—a family—that is already queer-affirming, fat-positive, racially inclusive, and gentler than the real world by far.

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