Linda Lavin says she began reading the script for a new show called “9JKL” and halfway through she knew she was going to have a good time.

At this stage of her career, the veteran entertainer says having fun is the big deciding factor. When she reads a script she loves, she has to say “yes.”

“That’s what I’m really all about now: Am I gonna have a good time? Otherwise, I ain’t doing it!,” Lavin said.

Lavin is betting viewers have a good time along with her when “9JKL” debuts Monday on CBS at 8:30 p.m. EDT.

In a recent interview, she can barely contain herself describing its premise: How a middle-aged man — an actor suddenly down on his luck and recently divorced — moves back to New York after years in Los Angeles and takes an apartment sandwiched between his loving, meddling parents on one side and his brother, sister-in-law and their new baby on the other.

Series star Mark Feuerstein plays the son.

“He’s a grown man and he has come home,” says Lavin, noting, “This is real life today! Just when you thought it was safe to turn the kids’ room into a guest room or a workshop, they can’t find a job or a partner or an apartment. They’re baaaack.”

The parents on “9JKL”: Elliott Gould and Lavin.

“I play his mother, who is absolutely besotted with him, so happy with him next door! And his father constantly wants to spend time with him. Therein lies the problem. I think it’s called ‘boundaries’ — nobody’s got any.

“Everybody’s offensive. Everyone says what they think — no filter. But it’s an identifiable family. These are characters who reach through the screen to the audience, which then says, ‘Oh, I know who THAT is! That’s ME, that’s MY family!’

“It’s not mean-spirited,” Lavin goes on, “and it’s not at the expense of one person or another. It’s not diminishing to women, as a lot of comedies can be, or to women of a certain age, which is something I just won’t participate in — as a woman of a certain age.”

Lavin’s certain age will be 80 in two weeks, though neither her looks nor her crackling energy would betray her as an octogenarian.

Only her resume gives her away. It reveals that she began her career in the late 1950s as a member of the Compass Players (a forerunner of the Second City improv company), and within a few years had already started gathering Broadway credits.

She’s also made movies and had many TV series, the most memorable being “Alice,” the sitcom that, airing from 1976 through 1985, starred Lavin as a waitress in a Phoenix diner struggling to make ends meet.

“I was very lucky during those years to have the opportunity to play a single mother and a working woman in the blue-and-pink-collar field,” she says.

Among real-life challenges the show addressed comedically was an episode on equal pay for women. Diner boss Mel interviewed a prospective waiter who Alice found out had been offered more than she and her fellow waitresses were paid. So Alice led a strike.

“Mel didn’t give us a raise, but he didn’t hire the man,” says Lavin, who adds with some regret, “now, here we are in 2017, and women have not come very far.”

Of course, there were rigid boundaries in those days: “We couldn’t talk about sex education, and Alice had a 7-year-old son! The powers-that-be at the network wouldn’t let you say the word ‘ovary’ more than once per episode.”

Among Lavin’s many TV projects after “Alice”: the sitcom “Conrad Bloom,” which aired for just a few weeks in the fall of 1998. But it starred Mark Feuerstein. Lavin played his mother.

She says she’s thrilled, nearly two decades later, to be working with him again.

“He’s in that scene with you, THERE with you,” Lavin says of this mother-and-child reunion. “He’s inventive and extremely generous.”

Thus does “9JKL” become the latest reason Lavin stays on the job.

“I have a wonderful life. I have a husband (Steve Bakunas, an actor/carpenter/director/musician/painter and thus her partner in many ways). A little dog. A great house. I have financial security. Friends. I love to cook. I love to travel. I love to sit.

“But I don’t sit too well,” she declares. “And when I read a script that I love, I have to be there. ‘Cause it’s what I do. It’s very much who I am. I want to be in the room where it happens.

“I want people to know I’m still alive and kicking!”


Online:

http://www.cbs.com/shows/9jkl

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org

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FRAZIER MOORE
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