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TV Series Review

Country music megastar Reba McEntire has hitched her wagon to the WB. She’s got her very own family sitcom, aptly titled Reba, which has become a bona fide hit. Not bad for her first series.

The lead character, Reba Hart, is described in McEntire’s "I’m a Survivor," which serves as the show’s theme song: "A single mom who works too hard/Who loves her kids and never stops/With gentle hands and the heart of a fighter/I’m a survivor." Reba’s "comfortably" dysfunctional family consists of a cheating ex-husband named Brock and his new beau, Barbara Jean; 17-year-old daughter Cheyenne and sweetheart-turned-lover-turned-father-turned-husband Van (the young couple live with Reba so they can finish high school); two younger children and a set of caricatured grandparents who visit from time to time bearing gifts of brutally bad advice.

Reba may be a bit too blasé about the finalization of her divorce ("This little paper allows me to get on with my life"), but she’s always the peacemaker, even when she has to suppress her own hurt feelings to do it. In a strange twist for TV, it’s the high schoolers who are clueless and the mother who’s at the top of her game. Reba doles out generally intelligent instruction and nuggets of wisdom while Cheyenne and Van gush age-appropriate silliness.

Not that all of the adults make for a pretty picture. The religious Barbara Jean comes across like a cardboard character from a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, shouting insincere "praise be’s" while blithely wrecking Reba’s home. Reba’s father credits the silent treatment for his marriage’s longevity, and tells Cheyenne and Van to stop trying so hard. "Look," he says, "the thing that makes marriage last is silence. We drove nine hours from Muleshoe to Houston and six of ’em were completely silent."

Thankfully, the young couple’s early sexual activity and shotgun marriage isn’t celebrated. It’s played for laughs at times, but the seriousness of those choices and their repercussions are clear.

Endearing, educational moments abound. So do inappropriate conversations (Reba brags that she’s a member of the "mile-high club" in front of her kids) and inane banter, some at Jesus’ expense. But after 20 years of morally mixed musical messages, it’s not surprising that McEntire’s sitcom also combines wheat and chaff.

Episodes Reviewed: Jan. 11, 18, 25, Feb. 15, 22, March 15, 2002

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Steven Isaac

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