Among his co-stars on the sophomore ABC comedy “Bless This Mess” (7:30 p.m., Sept. 24), Tipton, Missouri, native David Koechner is the class clown.
The series — a modern “Green Acres” that follows New Yorkers Rio (Lake Bell) and Mike (Dax Shepard) as they settle into life on their Nebraska farm — features Koechner as Beau, a neighboring farmer with disdain for the newcomers.
Beau’s life is turned upside down in the show’s six-episode first season when his marriage to wife Kay (Lennon Parham) hits the rocks and he moves in with Rio and Mike, much to their chagrin.
At a July press conference for “Bless This Mess” at Sunset Ranch in Hollywood, Koechner teases what viewers can expect in season two.
“I’ll also weigh in, having no reason to do so,” he begins. “So there’s a pig, but there’s also a famine. And so then the town has to decide what to do. It’s kind of like ‘The Gift of the Magi.’”
Aside from the presence of a pig in season two — and possibly some piglets — it’s clear Koechner is goofing around. But he turns slightly more serious after the press conference when discussing the show and its setting.
“Oftentimes, I’m cast as a Southern character, oftentimes cast as a douchebag. And even in this one, he is not a kind man. Those are fun characters to play,” Koechner says. “But this one has so many more shades than a lot of characters I played before. So it’s a delight.”
As for the show’s setting, Koechner says his Tipton background prepared him well.
“I’m very much in tune with this type of life and these type of people,” he says, noting his Midwest bonafides, which includes his wife, Leigh, who grew up in Overland Park.
Koechner also returns to Kansas City every year for The Big Slick Celebrity Weekend benefiting Children’s Mercy Hospital.
As a setting, the Midwest often gets short shrift in prime time TV, which favors the coasts. There have been some rare exceptions, including ABC’s Indiana-set 2009-18 comedy “The Middle.”
Even when a show is set in the Midwest it’s often shot in a production center city due to state-sponsored tax incentives (see: “Kansas City,” Hulu’s 2018 dystopian political comedy that filmed its pilot in Atlanta before Hulu passed on the series).
Though “Bless This Mess” films in Santa Clarita, California, north of Los Angeles, producers are trying to do their homework. Executive producers Bell and Elizabeth Meriwether visited Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, before the show’s first-season premiere.
“It was so fun and great to show it to people. And we learned an incredible thing, which is that you have a cinnamon roll with a bowl of chili,” Meriwether says. “And we’ve incorporated that into the show this year.”
“What you do is make your cinnamon rolls, and then you concurrently start to nurture a chili,” Bell adds. “And you will be serving them together.”
Meriwether, who is from Michigan and previously created the 2011-18 Los Angeles-set comedy “New Girl,” says she finds the setting of “Bless This Mess” largely overlooked on TV.
“There just aren’t that many shows that deal with what it is to be in rural America,” Meriwether says. “These stories are just easy to come by, because it’s not about friends living in a city. I’ve written that.”
Though Meriwether grew up in Michigan, she says she’s spent most of her life on the West Coast.
“It was kind of an experience that I wanted to write about, of always having to explain where I’m from to people,” she says. “And it’s a time when we’ve been thinking a lot about the country as a whole and what does that mean? And I think wanting the kind of coming together and a little bit more of a community was something that I was thinking a lot about. But it was mostly Lake and I sitting down and wanting to write a show about marriage and wanting to tell a different story than what has been on television recently.”
Koechner says his favorite moment from the show’s first season came at the end of the first episode and set the stage for the show’s attitude toward its characters, both the fish-out-of-water newcomers and the local residents.
“These newcomers have come to town, and clearly the town’s people aren’t sure if they like them,” Koechner says. “But that last shot of no matter how rude the town has felt that these newcomers have been — they have not done their humble walk enough — you see that beautiful shot of the entire town coming together no matter what to help out, to pitch in, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. And I think that is such a beautiful moment, and I think it kind of says what the whole show is.”
The kindness of strangers is something Koechner has experienced, too, including as he, his wife and their five kids prepared to board a flight from Los Angeles to Kansas City during the run of NBC’s “The Office,” (2005-13) where he played boorish Dunder Mifflin sales rep Todd Packer.
“We’d gone to a fast food joint there in the airport, because nutrition is important to our family,” Koechner says, joking. “We found three seats together in the gate areas and I was getting all the kids’ stuff together, putting ketchup on their fries and all that stuff, and there was a couple observing us. And they said, ‘You know what, we’re going to give you our seats [for your two other kids] because you don’t seem like the guy you play on ‘The Office.’”
Freelance writer Rob Owen is at RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.