Do you remember the Friends episode where Chandler, Monica and Ross want to see Hootie and the Blowfish but Rachel, Phoebe and Joey can’t afford it? It’s remarkable, not only because Monica ends up fiddling with a blowfish, but because it directly addresses a taboo subject on TV: money.
Most sitcoms act like young artists in trouble can afford huge Manhattan apartments and fail to explain how; With a few exceptions like Roseanne, financial troubles are the pristine third track in television comedy. ABC’s Housekeeping Debut This Wednesday at 8:30 am/7:30pm; I’ve seen the first three – grab that third rail with both hands, tackle money matters head on, and this refreshing honesty, along with a very solid trio of stars, makes her a newcomer with real promise.
The story revolves around three adult siblings who cover the full spectrum of financial security. At the bottom, Sarah (Caitlin McGee) is a therapist for children at risk who are struggling to make ends meet in a tiny, cramped apartment with their wife and two children. (Your car still has manual roll-up windows!) Tom (Topher Grace) is a mediocre writer looking for his next book idea, so financially somewhere in the middle. And Connor (Jimmy Tatro) is a disgustingly wealthy investor who lives big in Matt Damon’s old house … a fact he proudly shares with everyone within earshot. This gaping economic inequality between them, which is usually not mentioned, is in the foreground here: In the pilot, Tom has to ask his little brother Connor for a loan, and that leads to awkward conversations that we don’t often hear on TV.
It also helps that the three stars fit into a natural sibling chemistry immediately. Topher Grace hasn’t had a regular sitcom role since That ’70s Show and as Tom he can perform that flawless deadpan delivery that we’ve missed since then. McGee has shown real potential for “You’re the Worst” and she bestows a bold justice on Sarah. The real highlight, however, is Tatro. As good as a stupid teenager on American Vandal, he’s weird here like Connor flaunting his fortune like a brother who won the lottery. Karla Souza (How to Get Away With Murder) and Sasheer Zamata (SNL) also get off as Tom’s wife Marina and Sarah’s wife Denise. (In three episodes, the kids play a surprisingly small role for an ABC sitcom … but personally, I count that as a plus.)
I should note that Home Economics’ financial perspective is not entirely realistic. After all, they all live in the extremely expensive Bay Area, and Tom and Marina still manage to live in one of those beautiful suburban television houses despite their financial troubles. (She offers to “go back to work” at one point … what, yeah, do that! You’re broke!) It’s also a big hassle of mine when a TV character puts the show’s story in a book and yes, Tom decides to do his next book on the story of himself and his siblings – but that at least leads to future complications if his family finds out they are being used for literary fodder.
All in all, though, it’s an airy watch with a casually insane hangout energy that hits some sensitive subjects without getting too deep with them. (This is a comedy, after all.) Money is difficult to talk about sometimes, but the Home Economics crew finds a way to make it almost funny.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: ABC’s promising sitcom Home Economics approaches financial troubles with refreshing honesty and features a strong trio of TV siblings.