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Broke, the new comedy, which debuted last night on CBS with record-breaking ratings (7.14 million viewers) boasts a title and themes concerning something we are all very familiar with right now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — financial struggle. But there’s a lot more to relate to here, especially for those with complicated family dynamics. The show will also appeal to rock & roll fans, dive bar lovers and Angelenos. Fans of NCIS, Jane The Virgin and Will & Grace should find something to enjoy here too, as players from all three hit shows are involved.

Broke‘s most notable win is its star. Pauley Perrette plays Jackie, a fun and feisty single mom to young son Sammy (Antonio Corbo). A bartender at a Reseda neighborhood watering hole, she lives in the house that she grew up in, now making ends meet for her and her son, but just barely. When her estranged sister Elizabeth (Natasha Leggero) returns to the family home with wealthy husband Javier (Jaime Camil) she soon finds out that the couple are in fact newly broke, and need to come and live with her because they have nowhere else to go. Family conflict and clever comic situations ensue as the characters adjust to their new living situation and hammer out old and new resentments.

Created by Alex Herschlag, producer and writer on Will & Grace and Jennie Snyder Urman (creator of Jane the Virgin) Broke is the kind of familiar, filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience network sitcom experience we all kinda need right now, the type of heartfelt and silly family TV most of us grew up with before cable and streaming gave us all A.D.D.  Last night’s premiere got a lot of attention as Perrette’s small-screen return, and she’s obviously having a blast in her new role. The actress played ponytailed and tattooed forensic scientist Abby Sciuto alongside an ensemble cast for 15 years and became one of television’s most beloved characters ever in the process. (Disclosure: She’s a longtime friend of this writer since before NCIS, when she worked in L.A. clubs and fronted one of our favorite Hollywood all-girl rock bands). Since she left that show back in 2018, fans have been wondering what Perrette’s next move might be. As she shares on a phone call before the premiere, returning to television was not at all the plan.

Perrette as Abby Sciuto in NCIS  (Courtesy CBS TV)

“I told everyone I was retired. I told my family and friends, everyone, no one believed me, but I was totally serious. I was like, I’m done. I’m super grateful for a lot of things, but I was done and I really meant it,” Perrette insists. “I just came to a point in my life where like I was like, you know what? There’s exactly one thing that I haven’t done. And the one thing that I had never done, is nothing.”

Though understandably wanting a break after her long TV run, those who know the actress doubted we’d seen the last of her in entertainment. Perrette is one of the most energetic people you’ll ever meet and her passion for living and sharing is infectious. “I’ve led a multi-faceted life. As a child I moved around all the time with my family — I have roots in Alabama. Then I went to school for sociology, psychology and criminal science. Then I wanted to be a cop…  I moved to New York and I was broke and became a bartender and a club kid, from that being hired to do music videos and commercials and short films… And then somebody called me out to LA. I came out here, I started doing television and then as you know, I ran away and joined a band.”

When we met Perrette in the late ’90s, she had just come off her popular stint as Drew Carey’s girlfriend in The Drew Carey Show. The then-blonde actress (who wore ponytails back then too) was still landing memorable roles in Almost Famous and The Ring. But rock & roll was calling and the band Lo-Ball — which she fronted — had the sound, presence and promise to become L.A.’s next great all-female rock group. We rarely missed a show. Alas, the challenges of the music industry were already proving to hold back acts with great potential such as hers, and her acting was taking off again anyway. The role of Abby on NCIS was a perfect fit. Pauley was always fascinated by science and true crime, after all.  The show became the highest rated drama on television for years, but no matter how well written it is/was, her character’s popularity was mostly due to Perrette, who brought her own personal style and quirky charisma to the role, balancing out the somber story-lines and seriousness of her co-stars. She also provided a stereotype-busting example for young women.

“One of the main things I’m grateful for about Abby is that she was such a good role model for young girls — internationally,” she reflects. “In that one fictional character, it gave young girls the idea that they could go into math and science and be, like a scientist. It made it cool and it made it attainable.”

Perrette as single mom Jackie in BROKE (Courtesy CBS TV)

Jackie is similarly strong-willed and interested in stuff women aren’t typically shown to be on TV. ” I’m a kind of a tool freak myself. I build stuff, I fix things. I really wanted to put that into a female character on primetime television,” Perrette says. “Jackie is a bartender but she’s also a mechanic. She can fix anything. She’s incredibly proficient at pretty much everything that a boy can do. But she can do it better. She’s better than them, and actually that comes up later. I feel like I’m portraying yet another really good role model for girls.”

Just as there was a lot of Pauley in Abby, Jackie seems to reflect the actress’ strength and heart as well. As a friend, it’s fun to see her play a mom, too. When she started taking meetings, she initially was resistant to playing a parent, but she has an undeniable way with kids, and it shows (this writer’s daughter gravitated toward her since toddler age). The cool mom chemistry on Broke feels very relaxed and real. So do the scenes with Jackie inside the Reseda dive where she works. The setting definitely leaves the door open for some great L.A. barfly Cheers-like characters. Fun fact: The bar is called Mitsi’s and Perrette says it’s named after Herschlag’s rescue dog. There’s even a photo of the pup behind the bar.

Jackie’s personal style is another aspect that feels authentic here. Don’t expect to see Sciuto’s studded dog collars anytime soon, though. While her outfits on NCIS did in fact, represent a lot of the punky looks we were all wearing in the clubs in ’90s and early 2000s, Perrette’s audience has grown up with her, and the demands of real life (and motherhood) call for more comfortable clothing. Still, us rock chicks show our sense of style even when we become mommies. In the pilot that aired last night Jackie dons jeans and a Guns n’ Roses tee for most of the episode, and she says we’ll be seeing plenty of similar looks throughout the season.

“We have a deal with this company that actually owns the rights so we can use them on TV — everything. I wear, like Guns n’ Roses, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin tees, all of it. That’s all my girl wears,” says Perrette. Part of the storyline is that Jackie’s ex is the lead singer of a Van Halen cover band and when we ask if we’ll get to meet the baby daddy in later episodes, she says “you’ll have to wait and see.”

Of course, wait and see is what we’re all doing right now due to shelter at home orders. It’s rough, especially for local businesses. Perrette has always been extremely giving when it comes to charity and giving back, and she’s a major advocate for organizations such as Project Angel Food and animal sheltering groups such as The Amanda Foundation. (She has several rescue dogs herself and encourages everyone to adopt a rescue pet if they can right now, as caring for and loving animals makes staying at home a bit easier to deal with). A recent L.A. news program shared her latest actions to help the community — ordering food for her entire Hollywood neighborhood from local restaurants — but it’s just one of countless ways the actress has paid her successes forward. She’s not one to publicize most of them either, though she has always been outspoken about causes she believes in including LGBTQ equality, the women’s movement, and civil rights in general.

Her return to TV might play in typical sitcom territory but Broke has a lot more going for it, including intriguing Mexican characters (co-star Camil is being touted as the first Latino to lead a comedy series on CBS since Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy) and of course, strong women-driven story-lines.

“We were blessed enough to finish the entire season before the world went crazy,” Perrette shares as we finish up our phone call. “We finished the whole season beginning of January. We were excited for everyone to see it before, but it feels really super important now. We’re going to give everybody  — in this crushing time of pain, confusion and sadness — a half hour where you can sit back and you can sit with your family, and you can smile and you can breathe and you can laugh.”

Broke airs Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. PST on CBS.