When NBC announced that Natalie Morales would be headlining her own comedy this spring, the internet’s general reaction was, “Finally!” Morales has been delighting audiences for a decade, stealing scenes on ensemble shows and becoming a fan favorite even as a guest star. She elevated The Middleman and Grinder, charmed on Trophy Wife, enchanted on Parks and Recreation, and most recently stole our hearts on Santa Clara Diet. Her new sitcom, Abby’s, which is helmed by New Girl alum Josh Malmuth and produced by Parks and Rec and The Good Place creator Michael Schur, gives her a chance to play the title character at last.
Abby is a retired Marine who sets up an unauthorized, uninsured bar in the backyard of her rented house in San Diego. She’s also bisexual. (Morales herself came out as queer on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls blog in 2017.) Abby is, in fact, the first bisexual main character on a network sitcom ever. On the eve of the show’s debut, I chatted with Morales about her revolutionary role, her real life work as a bartender, and the challenges of filming outside with crickets and squirrels.
Congratulations on Abby’s! I watched the three episodes NBC sent out and it made me laugh a lot! Should we start off with the Cheers comparisons everyone keeps making?
Thank you. I’m so excited about the series. We’ll obviously take any comparisons to Cheers, of course. It’s one of the greatest comedies of all time. And yes, Abby’s it is set in a bar — but it’s a bar outdoors in San Diego, not underground Boston. And it’s 35 years later. Also, is a confident, secure bisexual woman of color the modern day Sam Malone?
[Laughs] No, thank goodness. Speaking of Abby’s bisexuality, one of the screeners NBC sent out is for an episode called “Alcohol Free Day” and one of the storylines is about Abby’s bisexuality. What I particularly loved is it’s an important part of her character and a complete non-issue at the same time.
Right! I always say this but it’s because it’s true: It’s so important to tell stories about marginalized people, but if we tell stories that reduce them always and only to the ways they’re marginalized, it just perpetuates the problem. Abby is a bisexual woman whose friends love her, whose life is pretty normal. She dates women and men because that’s who she is, and doing so doesn’t cause her any shame or put her in any peril. She’s not going to, you know, get killed off her own show any time soon.
You’re already ahead of most TV shows with queer characters, then! Abby is a fully realized character.
She is. Sometimes a person’s sexuality is at the forefront of their life. Sometimes it’s just one of the many, many things about them — and those can be different things at different times. Abby is Cuban; she’s a veteran; she’s a good friend. I’m glad she’s bisexual and I’m glad she’s also well-rounded.
Let’s talk about filming outside. I read in the New York Times that you had to deal with something most shows don’t: wildlife.
Now listen, we weren’t infested! But we were filming on the side of a mountain. So there were little critters around who would steal our bar Chex Mix — but we were in their territory and we were fine with that. Filming outside was great. It was a literal breath of fresh air and also this sense that you didn’t know what was going to happen next. And the audience felt that too.
What was it like for you to work in front of a live audience?
Oh, it’s so fun. I started out doing theatre and sketch comedy and this was a little bit of a return to that. The rest of our cast is also used to being in front of an audience, whether they do stand-up or improv. It’s fun to change up a line between takes and get immediate feedback on what works better. It’s fun to feel the energy of people who are excited to be there watching our show.
One of my favorite running jokes on the show — because I feel it so deeply — is how Abby and her friends hate, like, lime beer, Mai Tais, or the “all-spice alcohol” her ex-girlfriend brings to the bar on Alcohol Free Day. Is it true you were a bartender in a former life?
Did you bring that experience to the show?
Absolutely. I did not make a drink on the show in a way that a bartender wouldn’t really make it, even if it was just me doing busy work in the background. I went real method on that. I was like, “I can’t live with myself if I’m not making this right!”
So many of the best comedies on TV, now and always, are about friends coming together to create their own sort of found family. Can you talk a little about how Abby’s takes up that mantle?
Absolutely. For so many people, and I think this is especially true in the LGBTQ+ community, where many of us didn’t have support from our families, and we had to go out and find our own families — and even for people who did have that support, our close friends, the people we choose to be around every day, they do become our family. It’s just really relatable to see that on-screen. I live far away from my family, who I love very much, and my friends have become my chosen family and I love them just as much.
You’re the first Cuban to headline a network sitcom since Desi Arnaz.
Which makes me the first woman ever.
Do you feel any pressure around that?
I’m really thrilled about it, and also surprised. Cubans are natural born entertainers. We are very funny people. Even the most boring Cuban will tell you the story in the best way. So, it’s frankly surprising that the last time a Cuban headlined a network comedy, it was in black and white.
I have one more question, and it’s about the most unrealistic thing on your show, which is the price of alcohol. Where in the world can you buy a beer that only costs three dollars?
Impossible. When is the last time you paid less than seven dollars for beer?
In Montana, you can get beer for two bucks!
Living in New York has fundamentally changed my understanding of how much anything costs.
Oh yeah, I just got an iced tea in New York that cost fifteen dollars and I wanted to throw it out the window.
I guess I need an Abby’s in my life.
I think we all do.
Abby’s premieres on NBC this Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. You can read my review right here.