In ABC’s quirky comedy Bless This Mess, millennials Mike (Dax Shepard) and Rio (Lake Bell) flee the stress of New York City for life in rural Nebraska, lured by their pioneer spirit and a farmhouse left to Mike by his great-aunt Maggie. They are fueled by the daydream of an uncomplicated life growing alfalfa and head to the heartland armed with big-eyed ambitions, YouTube tutorials and the most useful of Midwestern farming implements: a surfboard.
Bell, who co-created the series and directs its pilot, admits that the siren song of a simple life is appealing. “I’m from New York City, born and bred,” she says. “It does feel incredibly freeing to think about just driving and ‘don’t look back.’”
Upon arrival at their homestead, Rio and Mike discover that the simple life won’t be as easy as they’d imagined: The ground is barren, and the Pinterest-worthy farmhouse they’d envisioned is actually a dilapidated shack — complete with squatters of both the four-legged and humankind. But the newlyweds won’t be deterred. “I don’t want you to underestimate the power of some sandpaper and some elbow grease,” Mike assures Rio.
What Mike and Rio lack in farming know-how, they make up for with pluck and a blithe underestimation of the hard work ahead. And while Shepard and Bell share charm and chemistry that are undeniable, the supporting cast of colorful characters who inhabit the small town is where the series has the potential to really shine.
Pam Grier costars as Constance Terry, the town’s sheriff and the proprietor of the local feed store. “I got cast because I smelled the part,” Grier laughs, explaining that farming and ranching are much closer to her heart than life as an actor. “That morning I came in to meet everyone, I had been on the tractor. I was raking the pastures and mucking, and I just came in to meet everyone with what I worked in.” Her family owns a beet farm in Cheyenne, Wyo., and when she’s not working, she’s at her ranch. “People don’t know that because they always see me dressed up and cleaned up for roles,” she shares. “But that’s the best part — I get to show the real people, the heartland people. And I know them very, very well and what they believe in.”
Ed Begley Jr. is also perfect as Rudy, Great-Aunt Maggie’s former neighbor who has lived in her barn for the last few years and who ambles up to the farmhouse on occasion to use the facilities and wax vaguely prophetically. “Both Ed and Pam are a dream to work with and couldn’t be more perfect for the role,” says Bell. “They both represent these people so authentically and passionately, frankly. I mean, Pam will straight up stay in character for the majority of shooting.”
Bless This Mess is co-created by Elizabeth Meriwether (New Girl, Single Parents) and also features slapstick-filled performances from David Koechner (Superior Donuts, The Office) and Lennon Parham (Playing House). Despite Mike and Rio beginning as a couple of fish out of water, they may eventually learn that they’re swimming in the right direction.
Bless This Mess > ABC > Tuesdays beginning April 16 at 9:30/8:30c