The suburbs can be formulaic, boring, and isolating. They can be comfortable, familiar, and welcoming. They can be little more than a convenient, affordable, or decent place to live.
Television has parodied and lamented these characteristics for years. From the picture-perfect world of The Waltons to the bleak misery of Mad Men to the sharp satire of Suburgatory, the suburbs have no shortage of representation on the small screen.
At this point, if you’re going to frame an entire show within the confines of a white picket fence, you’d better have something more interesting to say than, “The suburbs, amirite?”
Unfortunately, American Housewife really and truly doesn’t.
ABC’s new sitcom tries to dig into the hypocrisies of wealthy suburbs through the eyes of a woman named Katie, who — as played with relish by Katy Mixon — doesn’t fit in with the yoga moms in the neighborhood, due to the size of her hips, her middle-class financial status, and her snarly attitude.
While the other Westport residents have “big houses and tiny butts,” Katie, her husband, and her three kids are renters who moved to the area to take advantage of the great public school system — it has a better capacity for helping Katie’s youngest daughter, Anna-Kat (Julia Butters), who has a socially crippling anxiety disorder. (The exact disorder is never specified; Katie calls it “a touch of the anxieties.”)
We’re clearly supposed to root for Katie to take down all the so-called skinny bitches she encounters in the process, but in her constant fury, Katie ends up being kind of a jerk. Thanks to a persistent voiceover explaining her every thought, we get to know Katie really, really well — and being stuck inside her head is far more unpleasant than funny.
American Housewife hammers its viewers with Katie’s deeply rooted resentment, which often takes the form of insulting other people without ever delivering much of a punchline. It’s mostly just, “They’re skinny, I’m fat, but not as fat as Evelyn, thank God.” Watching the show feels like catching up with a friend who’s forgotten how to talk about anything she doesn’t hate. Katie’s anger is understandable, but when it’s all we get from her, it’s also exhausting.
There’s a version of American Housewife that could have embraced this caustic truth about its main character. In fact, it might have actually existed at one point, as the show’s working title was The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport, a far more pointed version of the dry Saltine of a name it ended up with.
And that’s a shame, because the very sharp Mixon attacks the material she’s given with admirable enthusiasm, and she has a solid scene partner in Diedrich Bader (Veep, The Drew Carey Show) as her patient husband. Even the kids’ storylines contain glimmers of something interesting, though it’s easy to see why Katie tells us in her narration that Anna-Kat is her favorite, since her other daughter and son don’t have much in the way of personality beyond “developed early” and “wants to get rich quick,” respectively.
Still, the show may not be a total loss. If Leslie Bibb gets to expand her nightmare neighbor character, or if Carly Hughes and Ali Wong get more to do as Katie’s token nonwhite, Greek chorus friends, American Housewife’s ensemble could be worth watching.
For now, the series is a half-baked misfire that tries to dress up its vague jokes about insufferable rich people in even vaguer “Can you believe this shit?” moral outrage. It could be fun once it figures out where and how to direct its snark, but at the start, it’s too haphazard to make much of an impression.
American Housewife premieres Tuesday, October 11, at 8:30 pm on ABC.