'Mike & Molly' Season 4 premiere: Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell return well before Midseason

melissa-mccarthy-mike-and-molly-cbs-325.jpgMelissa McCarthy fans, your wait is over.

Followers of "Mike & Molly" were surprised -- as were more than a few television insiders -- when CBS decided to delay the start of the sitcom's fourth season, especially with the added popularity McCarthy is enjoying from her movie work. "Midseason" was the term being used for the show's expected return, but circumstances have ended up making it sooner than that.

CBS needed a fast fix to its Monday lineup when "We Are Men" didn't live up to ratings hopes. And just the way it was planned, "Mike & Molly" was ready to go when needed ... so the series rejoins the CBS schedule with fresh episodes Monday, Nov. 4.

It's no surprise that ads for the return have been playing up Emmy winner McCarthy's zaniness, particularly given the big-screen success she's cemented in "Bridesmaids," "Identity Thief" and the recent "The Heat." The new tales start with Molly making a very emotional decision, though, as she weighs whether to change careers.

Still, "Mike & Molly" remains the saga of two people ... a teacher, at least when the new season begins, and the policeman she married ( Billy Gardell, a stand-up comic as McCarthy was).

"Mike & Molly" will get added star power this season from a guest appearance by Oscar winner Susan Sarandon, as a novelist whom Molly admires greatly -- and who has a way of going about her writing that proves a real eye-opener for her fan. (The tale also is a likely warm-up for Sarandon's own entry into the sitcom world: she and daughter Eva Amurri Martino have placed a project with NBC.)

When Groundlings comedy troupe alum McCarthy landed "Mike & Molly," her identity was that of a supporting player, from her work as Sookie on "Gilmore Girls" and then on "Samantha Who?" She started her current show in 2010, and the following year was a watershed for her: She became the breakout star of the movie smash "Bridesmaids," earning Oscar and Screen Actors Guild nominations and an MTV Movie Award for her riotously earthy performance, and she also won her "Mike & Molly" Emmy.

Since then, the sky seemingly has been the limit for McCarthy. She's hosted NBC's "Saturday Night Live" twice, she has adorned magazine covers, and, of course, there has been her nonstop parade of film work.

Critic Rex Reed's unkind-at-best comments about her physique in "Identity Thief" had countless fans rallying to her defense, and 20th Century Fox foresaw her teaming with Sandra Bullock in "The Heat" as such a certain success that the studio ordered a sequel even before the first movie had opened.

McCarthy also works with the aforementioned Sarandon in "Tammy," next summer's comedy about a woman facing personal and professional upheaval, prompting a road trip with her grandmother ... who has some problems of her own. The movie is a family affair for McCarthy in another way: Her husband, Ben Falcone, is the director and (with her) the co-writer.

Lest anyone think McCarthy has designs on leaving television behind, she has a deal with CBS to write and produce the pilot for another series. That, plus the return of "Mike & Molly," stands as proof that she intends to remain loyal to those who helped her attain her present stardom by staying loyal to her.
Photo/Video credit: Warner Bros. Television