Tuned In: The return of 'Mike & Molly'

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That didn't take long: Earlier this month, after just two episodes, CBS canceled the terrible comedy "We Are Men," and this week "Mike & Molly" (9 p.m. Monday, KDKA-TV) returns to the air starring Swissvale native Billy Gardell as Mike and comic actress Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") as Molly.

In an interview this summer, executive producer Chuck Lorre said he and his colleagues are "rebirthing" the series for the new season. This explains promos that have been airing that refer to the show as "the new 'Mike & Molly.'"

"It's just changing the tone of the show," Mr. Lorre said. "There's a tonal quality of the show we want to address, and clearly I think the show needs to take more advantage of the enormous talent of Melissa McCarthy. That's an obvious thing that has to be addressed going forward. She's the biggest comedy star in the world right now and the series has to reflect that."

That's evident in the title of Monday's season premiere, "Molly Unleashed."

The episode begins with Molly in her classroom handing out a test that she says will determine her students' futures while ruminating on her own lot in life -- living in her mom's basement "suffocating under a mountain of debt" -- despite scoring well on such a test when she was a child.

"Some mornings I wake up and think, why are you even getting out of bed?" Molly says. "A bed I'm still making payments on, by the way."

Then, after telling her students to "follow their dreams," she falls out the classroom window. The reset begins with a more active Molly who more closely resembles the characters Ms. McCarthy has played in her hit movies "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat."

Before the end of the episode, Molly gets referred to as having "lost her marbles," "loony" and "the Nutty Professor." Mike's mom, Peggy (Rondi Reed), even weighs in on Molly's issues and how they might impact her marriage to Mike.

"Marriage is not for the faint of heart," she says. "I never understood why the gays want it so bad. But who knows, maybe they'll fix it up like they do a sketchy neighborhood."

After getting herself pulled together, Molly meets with a union rep (Brian Baumgartner, "The Office") who represents her in front of her employer.

"You don't need a good excuse," he advises Molly for her crackup. "You're in a union."

And later he tells her all she needs to do when she returns to the classroom: "Just show up, play 'em a movie and cash a check. You're in a union."

Molly goes out drinking with her mom (Swoosie Kurtz) and sister (2003 Carnegie Mellon University grad Katy Mixon) and says she became a teacher because it was not her passion; it was the easy path.

At the end of the half-hour, Molly is still in search of herself and what she wants to do with her life vocationally. This will be a theme for the season: Molly trying to find herself and make a go of it in the new profession she chooses.

In next week's episode she goes on a ride-along with Mike in his police car to do research for the book she decides to write.

Putting the show's focus squarely on Molly and her career aspirations -- episode three follows Molly to the funeral home where her sister works for more book research -- gives "Mike & Molly" a story engine beyond the relationship between the two title characters. Whether this is a path viewers will want to journey along with Mike and Molly remains to be seen.


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