EmptyLifetime's "Rita Rocks" is more than a family sitcom. It's a recapitulation of the most common complaints on the lips of working wives and mothers: My needs come last. I make time for everyone else but not for myself. My body is changing and I don't know who I am. My kids don't listen to anything I say. My husband is off in his own world.
You name the midlife malady and Rita has it. She doesn't always dwell on these midlife maladies but, as played by Nicole Sullivan, there's a hint of desperation over what her life is now and what it might have been like.
On some other network, Rita might try couples counseling or family therapy. Or she might convince her mildly obtuse husband, Jim (Richard Ruccolo), that they need more "us" time. This being Lifetime, however, Rita lifts her spirits by bonding with a new woman friend, Patty (Tisha Campbell-Martin), the mail carrier and a single mother. A subsequent episode made available for review suggests stories will center on this new friendship at least as much as they do about Rita's family.
It turns out these women don't need Dr. Phil; they need Professor Harold Hill. Rita gets out the guitar she played two decades earlier and Patty joins in on keyboard. Their unemployed neighbor, Owen (a much underutilized Ian Gomez), breaks out his bass.
The premiere, penned by James Berg and Stan Zimmerman and assisted by no less than a half-dozen consulting producers, feels TV-trite and overly familiar. And it doesn't help that Rita's two daughters are, predictably, a precocious youngster (Kelly Gould) and a faux rebellious teen (Natalie Dreyfuss).
What does help, though, are the considerable comedic talents of Sullivan and Campbell-Martin, particularly after the latter gets past the brassy, know-it-all dialogue that quickly stereotypes nearly every black woman in a sitcom. After that point, it is mostly their good chemistry that keeps the show afloat.
Lifetime will offer new episodes of "Rita Rocks" every weekday at 8:30 p.m. for a full week before the show settles into its regular period at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays.