Chuck Lorre—a.k.a. CBS's sitcom machine—is at it again. His latest creation is Mike & Molly, which premieres Monday, September 20 at 9:30 p.m. on CBS. The boy-meets-girl story stars Billy Gardell, formerly of My Name is Earl, Yes, Dear, and those Round Table Pizza commercials; and Melissa McCarthy, who played chef Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls. I spoke to this hilarious duo about their new show—and tried to keep from laughing too hard.
TV.com: Tell me about your characters!
Melissa McCarthy: I play Molly and she’s just a mid-30's girl working as a teacher in Chicago. She's kind of the caretaker of her family. And for the first time in her life, I think, she’s going to take a little bit of time and put some of that attention on herself. She meets this guy Mike and is smitten right from the beginning. So a delightful little love story.
Billy Gardell: Mike is a fun guy to play because he’s really good at his job. He’s also got his struggles. But when he’s around Molly—like she was saying, they really are in love and he can’t seem to get it together when he’s around her. He bumbles in that wonderful way that you do when you meet a girl you like.
How did you two develop on-screen chemistry?
Billy: You know what? I think it was there from day one. I got along with Melissa right away. Now she’s probably going to say she hates me, but that's okay if she does.
Melissa: Can we go to a single phone line? [laughs]
Billy: No, it was right away, right?
Melissa: It really was and I think we both knew it. The first time we read together, we went, "Okay, that seems right." It was just a blast, right from the beginning.
How does Mike & Molly portray TV couples differently?
Melissa: The thing I love about it is that it’s not TV timing to me. It’s not, "They met, they moved in the next day, now they’re married and by show five, they have three kids." It’s just not like that. I love that they’re going to take all of the time on the big ramp up to the new relationship and all of that awkwardness and even when it starts to go good, then you’re like, "Oh, am I over thinking? Maybe it’s not this good, maybe it’s—oh, no, maybe I’m thinking it’s great and he doesn’t think it’s so great." I love that they’re showing all of that good stuff in the beginning that, for whatever reason, I think they skip a lot on TV. It's not three and a half minutes in and we’re living together. You get to see the process.
Billy: I like the fact that you can look at them and go, "I know those people." Melissa: Everything’s not shiny perfect. He’s just a cop, a good cop, but not, you know, a detective solving high-stakes crime. Every episode’s not an episode of Lean on Me. They’re everyday, average people. It's charming.
Will this season just focus on their budding relationship?
Billy: Yeah, I think that the journey right now is they’re just getting to know each other. They know they like each other, and like any other relationship, you have to say, "All right, we like each other, can we tolerate each other?" And then you find out the things you like and you don’t like and you find out that if stakes are worth staying around or not staying around. But I think Mike and Molly are on the right track.
Melissa: Yeah, and also that fun stuff—you know, you hit it off and at a certain point, he’s got to meet the family. Everybody comes with their own baggage, and I think that’s fun to see. Because even if you’re crazy about your family, you always have that feeling of, "Yeah, I hope the picture from fourth grade doesn’t come out... not okay!” Especially with Swoozie [Kurtz] and Katy [Mixon] as my mom and sister, God knows what they’re going to bring out. I’m sure there’s horrifying, embarrassing moments to follow.
Those particular characters look like they could really do some damage!
Melissa: They’re going to horrify me at some point. Lovingly, which is something I love. They’re so well intentioned, and there’s not a snarky feel to the show. They love me to death, but it doesn’t mean they’re not going to say something wildly embarrassing. [laughs]
What’s it like to be a part of the Chuck Lorre machine?
Billy: It’s like playing for the Yankees, man! Everyone does their job really, really well. I always tell the rest of the cast [and crew that] they’re not going anywhere. It’s up to us to do a good job here, because those guys aren’t leaving. [laughs] We just happen to have the right thing at the right time with the right people, it’s pretty amazing.
Why are shows like yours and ABC Family's Huge becoming so popular right now?
Billy: I don’t think this is just about a couple of overweight people. I think this is about people wanting to identify with someone on television. I mean, there’s certainly a market for all the eye candy you can get, but at the same time, there’s a market where people are like, "I would really like to see someone I know or someone like myself on television." And I think our entire cast is identifiable. Everybody likes each other and everybody has a friend like our entire cast.
Melissa: I think so too. I think it’s a nod to some of the sitcoms I grew up with—and watch to this day—like All in the Family and Cheers. There was a tone to those shows where it just felt real and to me it made it funnier. If someone did something embarrassing, it was so real that it was like, "Oh God, please don’t—take it back!" I think when I watch something that’s playing in this altered state of TV land and they embarrass themselves, I’m not so invested; if they fall on their face, I’m not so invested. But when I really feel the characters are real, then it breaks your heart or it makes you just belly-laugh. Everything’s just a little better when you actually suspend disbelief and, for a minute, you believe that world exists. Roseanne had it. I love that feeling when you get caught up in it.
Melissa, what’s it like to go from a sidekick character, like Sookie St. James, to the lead character, like Molly?
Melissa: One, it’s fantastic and I'm delighted to have the opportunity. But it’s a shift in energy. As an actor, it’s interesting to do because I'm not popping in with one crazy line and then high-tailing it out of there. It’s been really fun to do. I get to think about where this character’s going a little more and make sure that I’m always staying true to her.
You did a lot of physical gags on Gilmore Girls, but Mike & Molly's humor is more verbal. Is it interesting to transition to a different type of comedy?
Melissa: It is. I’m pretty spazzy. In the second episode [of Mike & Molly], I think some of my own natural spastic abilities or hindrances come out, because it’s a pretty wild ride. But I think that’ll creep in. It’s kind of my personality. I’m going to certainly try to keep it grounded, but I’m Irish. I talk with my hands. I know it should be Italian, but I don’t have it all!
How do you feel about the fact that there is another Sookie on TV right now, and she’s pronouncing her name wrong?
Melissa: [Laughs] I just love that you think she’s pronouncing it wrong! I’ve seen [True Blood], but I don’t watch it regularly. When I saw it, I was like, "Oh my God, there’s another Sookie?" I always wondered where Amy [Sherman-Palladino, the executive producer of Gilmore Girls] got it from. So I would be curious to know like, is it from Gilmore Girls or was there another reference? You have to find out.
That’s true, that is my job! Billy, you’ve been on a couple of other sitcoms—
Billy: I’ve been on everything that’s ever been cancelled.
Well, why do you love sitcoms? Why do you keep returning to them?
Billy: I've been a stand-up since I was 19, and that was always my dream, to do stand-up good enough to get noticed and get put on a sitcom. It’s just my favorite form, I love it. I always loved The Honeymooners when I was growing up and the sitcoms that Melissa mentioned, those were the ones I watched, Cheers, Taxi. To be actually working with the guy that directed those [James Burrows], is pretty surreal.
Mike isn't the first cop you've played—you were Officer Hoyne on My Name is Earl, too. What is it about the police uniform?
Billy: In Hollywood, they love a big guy and a badge. It works well. I finally get to be the lead cop, that’s pretty exciting! Usually I’m the cop underneath the lead cop going, “Okay, I’ll go check the basement.” That’s what I do. It was, like, my specialty before this show.
Why is the show set in Chicago?
Billy: I don’t know, to tell you the truth. The show definitely takes place in the Midwest, which I love and Chicago is an awesome city. It’s kind of like if you dipped New York in Lysol. [laughs]
Melissa: That’s probably more a question for Mark [Roberts] and Chuck [Lorre], but I guess for me... I’m from Illinois, right outside Chicago. My dad grew up in Chicago and there’s just a warmth to it that I think kind of feels like the show.
Billy: That's a better answer. Write that one down.
That’ll be the headline, right there! What are your favorite TV shows?
Billy: Here’s my top three: anything to do with the NFL, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. But the thing I watch the most is going to be my show. [laughs]
Right, that’s a given.
Melissa: Mike & Molly?
Billy, in a robot voice: Mike & Molly, Mike & Molly, Mike & Molly, Mike & Molly.
And what about you, Melissa?
Melissa: I would like to say something more interesting, but I’m a HGTV—I’ve got a lot of issues with it. I can’t stop watching it! I love me some Paula Deen. I would move out of my home, not permanently, but for a good long weekend, to just hang out with Ina Garten from the Food Network. I love that woman. And I still watch Cheers, I still watch Seinfeld.
Oh, Seinfeld. It makes me laugh every time.
Melissa: I mean, come on. It’s just good. And I think Tina Fey is killing it on 30 Rock, I think she’s just awesome. Unless she’s against us, and then not so much. I need to look at what time slot she is. She’s over-rated! [laughs]
With Mike and Molly joining the ranks of TV couples this fall, we want to know: Who is your favorite TV couple of all time? Take our poll!