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ABC might have found its next big family comedy—and its secret weapon is a guy best known for a show about dick graffiti.
Home Economics, premiering Wednesday, starts from a simple premise: Three siblings, each in a very different income bracket, navigate their complicated financial relationship to stay bonded as a family. Topher Grace, echoing his run as endearing dweeb Eric Forman on That ’70s Show, anchors this new series as wet blanket older brother Tom Hayworth. The impossibly likable Jimmy Tatro, best known for his side-splitting turn as Dylan Maxwell in American Vandal, plays Tom’s insanely rich kid brother Connor, while Caitlin McGee plays their oldest sister, Sarah—who, recently jobless, is struggling the most financially. (You can tell because the apartment she shares with her wife, Denise, is cramped and painted dark green for ultimate dinginess; also, their car has roll-up windows.)
It’s fascinating to see this series premiering on ABC roughly one decade after the network unveiled its Emmys juggernaut Modern Family. Although it debuted at the height of a global financial downturn in 2009, the mockumentary-style sitcom (which was extraordinarily popular among wealthy audiences) zeroed in on the recession-proof Pritchett family, and became a reliable hit with critics and audiences alike for years. During the Mod Fam’s reign, the sitcom genre appeared to follow suit, at least on broadcast, until Donald Trump’s election in 2016 sparked renewed interest in the working class.
Unlike the Pritchetts, Home Economics’ Hayworths have to think about money. As Tom, a struggling novelist, psyches himself up to ask his absurdly wealthy baby brother for a loan, Sarah scoffs at the idea of their ultra-rich brother quarantining at his old mansion in Seattle—where his pool boy became a TikTok influencer. The show handles its class tensions with a light touch, and wisely deploys its genre identity to steep these awkward conversations with humor and humanity. Its early episodes spark with promise, largely thanks to the easy chemistry of the cast—all of whom seem to understand their assignments perfectly.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Grace—who is executive producing as well as starring—playing Tom with such lovable yet obnoxious ease. (“I won most promising debut novel at the 2009 Nantucket Book Festival, non-fantasy or science fiction,” Tom boasts at one point. “I think I can handle a wedding toast.”) Like Eric Forman, Tom is good-hearted, a bit finicky, and deeply insecure. His wife, Marina, played by a delightfully sardonic Karla Souza, is a retired lawyer who, despite the family’s financial woes, mostly spends her time listening to murder podcasts and wondering aloud if she should go back to work. (I mean... probably?!) The two share a daughter, Camila, and a pair of infant twins.
McGee, meanwhile, hits all the right comedic notes as the out-of-work older sibling who just wants to prove she still knows best (even when she doesn’t). Writers Michael Colton and John Aboud also clearly know what they have in supporting player Sasheer Zamata, who plays Sarah’s wife, Denise—a level-headed, astrology-obsessed earth sign who just wants her in-laws to chill the hell out. Their children, Kelvin and Shamiah, mostly spend their time roasting Sarah when her antics get out of hand.
But it’s Tatro who, in each of the three episodes made available for review, reliably runs away with the show. The actor’s charisma ensures that his one-percenter character, who loves nothing more than reminding people that he bought his palatial home from Matt Damon, is simply too oafish to hate.
It doesn’t hurt that Connor is also, as we learn early on, getting a divorce—forcing him to re-evaluate his life and figure out such tedious things as what he calls “the custody sitch” with his daughter Gretchen. Tatro never loses sight of his clueless character’s heart, which makes scenes like one of his character desperately singing his sadness away to the tune of Flo-Rida’s “Low” as oddly charming as they are cringe-inducing.
The series unfolds in chapters as Tom clandestinely turns his family’s story into a book. Tom’s narration is thankfully sparse, preventing the familiar gimmick from overtaking the series. It’s unclear how long we’ll have to wait before Tom reveals his plans to the family—but given how invested he seems to be in keeping it a secret, it seems inevitable that a reckoning is on its way. Hopefully, whenever the larger clan finds out, Connor isn’t too angry; he did, after all, just loan Tom a substantial amount of money to keep his family afloat.
Which brings us to perhaps the one weak link of this series: Although Souza makes the most of her role, Marina feels under-developed. It’s unclear why, given the family’s apparent money problems, the retired lawyer has not seriously considered returning to her practice. The series nods to Souza’s Mexican roots by allowing her to roast her TV husband in both English and Spanish with their bilingual daughter—and by showing her in-laws greeting her in broken Spanish—but we know little about Marina beyond her heritage and her apparent drinking problem. (As episodes wear on, Marina’s one calling card becomes the never-ending parade of wine glasses in her hand—a tired trope that quickly wears thin.) Hopefully in future episodes, Souza will have more interesting work to do.
Sarah and Denise’s brood can likewise fall under a complicated light. Although many of the jokes at their expense feel organic—like Sarah insisting she’s not into astrology while Denise counters, “That’s a very ‘Capricorn’ thing to say”—other jabs, like when their children ask a cousin what pronouns her dolls use, feel a bit more pointed. Overall, however, the two make the most compelling couple in the series, and McGee and Zamata bounce off one another with wonderful ease—especially as their characters spar over the cultural value of Say Yes to the Dress.
It’s impossible to tell, for now, whether this charming sitcom will rise to the notoriety of predecessors like Modern Family. But its soft-focus exploration of class feels like fertile ground for a broadcast sitcom in 2021—and the canny casting, specific but flexible premise, and focus on heart all feel right on the money.