Fran Drescher and John Michael Higgins star in "Happily Divorced." (TV Land )
TV Land, where all time is eternally present, increases its roster of original sitcoms by 50% Wednesday with the addition of "Happily Divorced." Fran Drescher, who was "The Nanny," stars as a Los Angeles florist whose real estate agent husband (John Michael Higgins, from Christopher Guest films and a million other things) tells her after 18 years of marriage that he thinks he might be gay.
"We just had sex during 'Leno,'" she protests. "How gay can you be?"
It is good to live in an age when this may be seen as the stuff of affectionate comedy rather than of painful tragedy, and in fact the series is based on the lives of its creators, Drescher and her gay ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson; they also co-created "The Nanny." Once known, this fact lends to the project an authenticity that might not otherwise be apparent, so steeped is it in the rhythms and conventions of the 20th century sitcom.
That is in part the point, of course: These TV Land comedies, pioneered by the Bertinelli-Malick-Leeves-White "Hot in Cleveland," are meant to resemble the sort of shows their stars used to play in, though they are, in the modern mode, more tightly packed with sex (and, especially, no-sex) jokes, and everyone is older. Still, even within what one might expect to be the safe haven of TV Land, age remains an issue. When guest-star date D.W. Moffett says, "Can I ask you something?," Fran answers quickly, "30 to 40." Drescher is 53.
To ensure maximum farcical interplay, it has been deemed convenient to keep Higgins, who is called Peter, living with Drescher, who is again called Fran, as she was in "The Nanny" and the 2005 series "Living With Fran." She asks him to move out: "You're gay," she says, "go to the YMCA," making the letter shapes as did the Village People back around the time Drescher danced with John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever." But he gets no farther than the den.
Peter's gayness is, in the pilot at least, entirely composed of gags about shaving chest hair, wanting to move to West Hollywood, "The Sound of Music" sing-along, and how Fran and he both like men. Her parents — who are played by Rita Moreno, 79, but ageless, and Robert Walden 67, whom I did not at first recognize as the man who was Joe Rossi on "Lou Grant" — always thought Peter was gay: "He had beautiful cuticles," Moreno says. It will be interesting to see whether he is allowed an actual romantic life.
I find it easy to root for Drescher, whose sweetness seems genuine. She was Bobbi Flekman in "Spinal Tap," after all, and I certainly got some pleasure out of "The Nanny" way back when, before I forgot to watch it anymore. I would like to see her stretch farther than this; she can seem too defined by her body and her voice, the raspy Flushing, Queens, accent that by design or incapability she has never lost ("Whatsa matta, Peetah?" are the first words spoken here, as if to tell us where we are). But that failing has also been her fortune.