I was as prepared as I could be going into the series premiere of Chuck Lorre’s new series “Bob Hearts Abishola” to cringe as much as humanly possible. After all, the premise begs it. Middle-aged white man courts Nigerian immigrant nurse? Nope, nothing good can come of this. Yet I was pleasantly surprised at the end to discover that while the show isn’t particularly funny, it handles its subjects with a surprising amount of grace and nuance.
Bob (Billy Gardell, “Mike and Molly”) is a successful Detroit-based workaholic sock salesman who is introduced in the midst of having a heart attack. In his overnight stay at the hospital, he is taken care of a Nigerian nurse named Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku, “Transparent”) who he takes an immediate liking to. When she sings him a Yoruba lullaby while he tries to relieve himself, he’s a goner.
There was a lot of potential here to make the fact that Abishola is Nigerian the butt of the joke. Likely due to the influence of one of the show’s creators, British-Nigerian comedian Gina Yashere, the day-to-day aspects of the Nigerian immigrant experience are at the forefront and are the most interesting parts of the show. Abishola lives with her young son and relatives Olu (Shola Adewusi, “Family Affairs”) and Tunde (Barry Shabaka Henley, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) in a cramped apartment and lives a life worlds away from Bob. Yashere herself shows up as Kemi, another Nigerian woman who is good friends with Abishola, and notably, their conversations are entirely in subtitled Yoruba.
The conversations between the various Nigerian characters are also illuminating about the West African and also broader immigrant experience. Examples include a contentious conversation between Abishola and her son in which she discourages him from joining the track team in order to further encourage him to study to become a doctor. While cliché to an extent, these sentiments are familiar to many other immigrant children. In addition to these more substantive discussions, the small discussions about food and other cultural tidbits are equally important and informative.
Even more thankfully, Bob’s interest in Abishola is sweet (if a bit sad) and respectful and doesn’t ever veer into creepy, fetishizing stalker territory. While Abishola isn’t quite as interested (and much more focused on establishing herself in the country), she is certainly slightly charmed by the incredibly Midwestern Bob.
All things being said, the unfortunate part of the show is that it’s just not particularly funny. The first five minutes themselves include some yawn-inducing fat and fart jokes, and it doesn’t get much better at all. The few bright spots are the interactions between Abishola and her relatives, with the latter’s melodrama contrasting with the steelier pragmatism of the former.
“Bob Hearts Abishola” is ultimately a mildly funny yet quite sweet story of a courtship between two different, equally lonely people. It treats its immigrant subjects with much more nuance than I imagined, and that in and of itself might make it worth a watch.