Still, when "M&M" resumes at 9 p.m. Monday, it will be in most respects the same show that viewers have watched for three seasons. But there has been one important tonal shift.
Up to now, the show has focused on the courtship and eventual marriage of Chicago police officer Mike Biggs (Gardell) and his teacher sweetheart Molly Flynn (McCarthy), while giving plenty of air time to the often hilarious supporting cast.
But even as McCarthy was gaining ever more notice for an outrageous comedic style in big-screen efforts like "Identity Thief" and "The Heat," the series seemed to keep her reined in much of the time, making her the more stable character amid the craziness caused by Mike, his police partner, Carl (Reno Wilson), Molly's sister Victoria (Katy Mixon) and other folks.
Oh, Molly had her moments and could toss a sharp-edged line at just about any other character. But she only occasionally cut loose.
Based on three new episodes made available for preview, the fourth season takes the reins off Molly in just about every way.
In the season premiere, she quits her teaching job and takes up writing. This not only frees her from the workplace but emboldens her; in the second episode, she decides to research her novel by riding along with Mike and Carl.
The third episode gives us a peek into her writing -- let's just say the word "turgid" is used more than once -- as well an extended, funny visit to the funeral home where Victoria works.
Molly unleashed not only recalls McCarthy's movie work, it has more than a little Lucille Ball in it. At times, it goes too far, making Molly not so much funny as incompetent. But at other points, it provides some very big laughs.
Of course, the "old" "Mike & Molly" wasn't bad; there was still plenty of humor to be found in the likes of Victoria and Mike's mother Peggy (Rondi Reed). And Mike and Molly were always a lovable pair. The newer show retains their lovability -- but has put it in a much livelier context.
The new season of "Mike & Molly" premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on CBS.
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