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Bernie Kopell on why we should be watching ‘B Positive’

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Laughs imitate life on the new CBS sitcom “B Positive,” airing Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. The show is the latest hit from executive producer Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mom”) and series creator Marco Penette (“Caroline in the City”), whose real life need for a kidney transplant inspired its premise.

Veteran character actor Bernie Kopell, who plays a recurring character on the show, recalls his first table read for “B Positive,” when Penette introduced himself and shared his story.

“He told me that a few years back, he went to see the doctor because he hadn’t been feeling well,” Kopell recalled during an interview with The Maine Edge that aired last weekend on BIG 104 FM.

“The doctor told him he needed a kidney, so he went through a lot of adventures, and imagined some that he might have gone through, and the result was this script.”

On “B Positive,” Drew, played by Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”), is a therapist and a father going through a divorce when his doctor informs him that he’s in renal failure and won’t survive unless he finds a donor with the same rare B positive blood.

Unable to find a donor within his family, Drew then runs into Gina, a woman he knew in high school as a wild party girl (played by Annaleigh Ashford) who drunkenly offers him one of her kidneys. It turns out that Gina has the same rare blood type, but doctors won’t consider her as a donor unless she drops the drugs and booze for 90 days.

Few sitcoms feature characters confronting their own mortality, but we meet a number of them on “B Positive.” Drew begins kidney dialysis with a squad of darkly funny patients while he waits to see if Gina can keep herself together long enough for both to make it to the operating room. To keep tabs on Gina, Drew convinces her to move into his home in the Connecticut suburbs, which also keeps her tucked away from loan sharks seeking retribution for non-payment.

Gina’s job at a local senior center involves driving a number of the residents to various appointments. Among them is Mr. Knudsen, portrayed by Bernie Kopell, best known for playing Doc on “The Love Boat” (1977-1986), Siegfried on “Get Smart (1966-1969) and guest roles in more than 100 other series.

Kopell’s role as the sexually-minded Mr. Knudsen was singled out last month by Entertainment Weekly as a “must see performance,” an honor that Kopell says makes him feel great.

“When I heard about it, I thought it was such a nice thing for them to say,” Kopell said. “Maybe they’re just deferring to me because I’m still alive at the age of 87,” he laughed.

The first episode for “B Positive” was the only pilot from last year’s season to complete filming before the pandemic shut down production across the board. CBS picked up the series in May and announced a full season order in December after the first few episodes proved it could retain an audience.

Linda Lavin (“Alice”) plays Norma, another senior at Gina’s workplace, who is sometimes on the receiving end of Mr. Knudsen’s verbal advances. Kopell had worked with Lavin on an episode of “Alice” in 1977 shortly before he joined the cast of “The Love Boat.” Norma is a motherly, nurturing character to the flighty and unpredictable Gina.

“My character may not be demented but he has this fixation that he’s a very sexy guy,” Kopell said of Mr. Knudsen. “When Linda Lavin’s character talks about her lack of a love life, I come on and say ‘I’ll have sex with ya,’ just out of the blue. ‘We don’t even have to kiss,’ I say. How lucky am I that I get to play with Linda again?”

Kopell says he carefully watches the two leads on “B Positive” during rehearsals and marvels at their talent and chemistry.

“Chuck Lorre is so lucky to have these two leads in the show,” Kopell said. “As Gina, Annaleigh Ashford is a brilliant actress, and she’s also a Broadway singer and dancer. Thomas Middleditch is very funny and authentic in the role of Drew.”

Viewers of “B Positive” may wonder how long the kidney transplant story arc will hold out, or how long before the modern-day odd couple Drew and Gina will begin a romantic relationship, but Kopell says he’s confident the show will have a long life.

“With people like Chuck Lorre and Marco Penette behind this show, I think you’ll be watching it for quite a while,” Kopell said. “Chuck is the Aaron Spelling of today. Spelling had that golden touch for television and Chuck Lorre has that. It makes me feel great to be part of it.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 08:22

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