In the US: Tuesdays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC
I don’t know if it’s something to do with Leslie Bibb or not, but ABC has a habit of taking promising sitcom titles and then squeezing all the fun out of them. Bibb, whom you may remember from Popular or Crossing Jordan or more likely as intrepid Brown-educated reporter Christine Everhart in the Iron Man movies, did of course star in ABC’s GCB. GCB was previously unhelpfully named Good Christian Belles, which in itself was a fudge since the show was originally based on a book called Good Christian Bitches. As you can tell, someone started to fret about the title and did some hasty renaming that never really went anywhere good.
Bibb doesn’t star in American Housewife but she does guest star in the first episode, bringing this cold-footed curse with her to the show, which originally bore the more intriguing and potentially more divisive title The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport. You can tell that’s what it had been called until the pilot had been filmed because that’s virtually every second line out of the mouth or voiceover of star Katy Mixon (Eastbound & Down but probably best known, thanks to TV’s inability to register the existence of fat women, for playing Melissa McCarthy’s sister on the fat-abusing haven for overweight actors and actresses, Mike and Molly). Now, with its title making a pointless and almost irrelevant claim to universality (cf This is Us), all those repeated references to not wanting to be “the second fattest housewife in Westport” are entirely stupid.
Continuing this season’s theme of “there are fat women, TV, get over it – but they’re not happy about being fat, oh no!” (cf This Is Us again), the show sees Mixon renting a house with her family in the otherwise rich and exclusive neighbourhood of Westport. All the other women are so rich that all they have to do all day is eat healthily and work out, resulting in Mixon being perpetually looked down upon for being ‘so real’ (ie fat). And most of the first episode is about Mixon’s worries that opposite neighbour ‘fat Pam’ is moving away, which will result in her becoming the second… you can work out the rest.
American Housewife is extremely short on laughs and extremely long on stereotypes. Despite ostensibly being pro “the 50% of American women who are a size 14 or over”, pretty much everything is about how miserable Mixon is, despite not being that overweight. Well, maybe not miserable. Irritated and angry, and not in a virtuous way – she really hates those ‘skinnies’ and most of the time, you’re not routing for her as a result, since she’s always being pre-emptively snide to a group of people who are at most oblivious, it would seem, rather than actively nasty.
What humour there is stems from ABC’s more traditional reservoir of family laughs. In contrast with Speechless, here it’s hubby Diedrich Bader (Office Space, Veep, Outsourced) who actually raises some chuckles, helped by the younger kids in the family – the son being the new, younger, Rand-reading Alex from Family Ties, the youngest daughter being an OCD nightmare. There’s also a black lesbian divorcee (Carly Hughes), who adds a bit more fun to the proceedings, if only through contrast.
There’s some insight, to be sure, and there’s probably a group of women who can empathise with Mixon’s anti-heroine, but this isn’t black-ish for the plus-sized by any stretch of the imagination. One not to add to your regular TV diet.