Remember that Friends episode where Chandler, Monica and Ross want to go see Hootie and the Blowfish, but Rachel, Phoebe and Joey can’t afford to? It’s notable, not only because Monica ends up making out with a Blowfish, but because it directly addresses a taboo subject on TV: money.
Most sitcoms act like struggling young artists can afford giant apartments in Manhattan and don’t bother to explain how; aside from a few exceptions like Roseanne, financial issues are the untouched third rail of TV comedy. ABC’s Home Economics, though — debuting this Wednesday at 8:30/7:30c; I’ve seen the first three — grabs that third rail with both hands, tackling money matters head-on, and that refreshing honesty, along with a very solid trio of stars, make it a newcomer with real promise.
The story centers on three adult siblings who span the full spectrum of financial security. At the low end, Sarah (Caitlin McGee) is a therapist for at-risk kids struggling to make ends meet in a tiny cramped apartment with her wife and two kids. (Her car still has manual roll-up windows!) Tom (Topher Grace) is a middling novelist searching for his next book idea, so he’s somewhere in the middle, financially speaking. And Connor (Jimmy Tatro) is an obnoxiously rich investor who’s living large in Matt Damon’s old house… a fact he proudly announces to anyone within earshot. This gaping economic disparity between them, which would normally go unmentioned, is front and center here: In the pilot, Tom has to ask his little brother Connor for a loan, and that leads to the kinds of uncomfortable conversations that we don’t often hear on TV.
Plus, it helps that the three stars lock in a natural sibling chemistry right away. Topher Grace hasn’t had a regular sitcom role since That ’70s Show, and as Tom, he gets to show off that flawless deadpan delivery we’ve missed since then. McGee flashed real potential on You’re the Worst, and she lends Sarah a plucky righteousness. The true highlight, though, is Tatro. So good as a dopey teen on American Vandal, he’s hilarious here as Connor, who flaunts his wealth like a frat boy who won the lottery. Karla Souza (How to Get Away With Murder) and Sasheer Zamata (SNL) get off some nice zingers, too, as Tom’s wife Marina and Sarah’s wife Denise, respectively. (Through three episodes, the kids play a surprisingly small role for an ABC sitcom… but I personally count that as a plus.)
I should note that Home Economics‘ financial perspective isn’t completely realistic. They all live in the ultra-expensive Bay Area, after all, and Tom and Marina still manage to live in one of those beautiful suburban TV homes, despite their money woes. (She offers at one point to “go back to work at the firm”… which, yeah, go do that! You’re broke!) It’s also a major pet peeve of mine when a TV character turns the show’s story into a book, and yes, Tom decides to make his next book the story of him and his siblings — but at least that does set up future complications when his family finds out they’re being used for literary fodder.
All in all, though, it’s a breezy watch with a casually zany hangout energy, and it hits on some touchy subjects without getting too deep with them. (This is a comedy, after all.) It’s tough to talk about money sometimes, but the Home Economics crew finds a way to make it almost fun.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: ABC’s promising sitcom Home Economics tackles financial issues with refreshing honesty and boasts a strong trio of TV siblings.