Sunday, October 2, 2016

There's No Sugarcoating It: American Housewife is Terrible

(Photo credit: ABC)

Back in May, ABC released a whole crop of initial screeners for many of its fall and midseason pilots. So before everyone saw Designated Survivor at Comic-Con, I had sen an initial cut of it. Most of the pilots were fairly solid, but two stood out as the least impressive of the crop: Downward Dog (which will debut midseason and was cringe-worthy in every sense of the word) and American Housewife. The latter premieres on October 11 and is — unfortunately — one of the worst pilots I've seen in a long time. I don't think I enjoyed anything about it, which is disappointing. Essentially the pilot is one fat joke after another, with a few stereotypes thrown in for good measure.

The plot of the show is really pretty simple: Katie and Greg live in a super rich, snooty town in Westport, Connecticut where they're renting a house because they can't afford to buy one there, and are raising three kids. The reason they live in Westport is for their youngest, Anna-Kat. One of my pet peeves in the pilot is that Katie says her daughter has "a touch of the anxieties," which actually means that she has OCD. We see her repeating actions multiple times throughout the episode, including washing her hands. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be played for laughs but Katie's ignorance (either unknowingly or willfully) just irritated me. It's sweet that Katie and Greg have uprooted their lives to help their child, but the way that the show presented her OCD just left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Speaking of kids, the one positive that I can say about Katie (oh, don't worry, we'll get to a LOT of the negatives later on) is that she wants her kids to be normal and not to be obsessive about money or status. She admonishes her son, Harrison, for refusing to participate in a canned food drive. And truly, Katie wants her children to not grow up to become as spoiled and materialistic as the other children in Westport. She tries to teach them the value of hard work. Meanwhile, Katie's oldest daughter, Taylor, has recently become well-endowed, which incites... jealousy from Katie?

Most of American Housewife is spent in internal monlogue within Katie's mind, and during the scene in which she explains that Taylor developed over the summer, she also seemingly criticizes the young woman's future saying — essentially — that Taylor won't look like that after SHE has three kids. It's really odd to be listened to in voiceover, and Katie only continues to be more unlikable after that.

Perhaps this pilot's biggest offense, and the show's premise, is in regards to Katie's weight. She bemoans the loss of her neighbor, "Fat Pam," who is moving. And the reason that she's sad to see her friend go? Because then Katie will be the second-fattest mom in Westport. As if that wasn't enough, Katie judges a slender mom who is looking to purchase the home and instead decides to try and convince a heavier woman to buy it.

But wait, kids, there's more!

Katie is elated once she realizes that she's managed to maintain her status, and delights in the fact that the woman who would have purchased the home (who wears not one, but TWO Fitbits) will not live in her neighborhood. But there's a twist: Katie's new neighbor is racist. And homophobic. And when Katie discovers this, it should mean the end of any potential relationship. It should mean that Katie spends all her energy trying to get the new woman to move.

And yet, that's not Katie's first reaction. Her first reaction is to think, selfishly, of the other woman's weight and how her presence will make her feel less self-conscious. I nearly stopped the pilot there, but unfortunately had to finish this trainwreck of a show. Eventually, Katie decides to do the right thing — it should be re-emphasized that it was not her initial thought — and scare away the new neighbor so Two Fitbit can move across the street and presumably, in Kate's mind, ruin her life.

I know that the show was trying to depict a family who doesn't really fit into their neighborhood as struggling to adjust to the culture and stay grounded, but American Housewife is riddled with issues. It's a show that focuses only on Katie's weight, her internal monologue, and presents pretty terrible characters with equally terrible motives. Nothing about the show is funny, and the only reason it's not getting an "F" is because of the fact that at least Katie and Greg seem to care about what happens to their youngest daughter.

If you're looking for a fun family comedy, this one is definitely a swing... and a miss.

Pilot Grade: D-


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