Review: Broke 1×1 (US: CBS)

More to it than meets the eye

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When it comes to sitcoms, it’s surprisingly easy and time-saving to judge a book by its cover – which is what I did with CBS’s new sitcom, Broke. Multi-camera show shot in front of an audience (or canned laughter)? Check. CBS? Check. Two disparate social groups set against one another? Check. Vehicle for a previous star of another show from the same network? Check.

Here, we have the 15-year veteran of CBS’s NCIS, Pauley Perrette, starring and producing in a show that sees her playing a single mum trying to raise her kid in her family home by working two jobs. The father, a member of a Van Halen cover band, is long gone and his child support cheques bounce.

Then, without warning, her sister (Another Period‘s Natasha Leggero) turns up on her doorstep with her über-rich Mexican-American husband (Jane the Virgin‘s Jaime Camil) and his personal assistant (Telenovela‘s Izzy Diaz), who want to stay with her for a while. While hating her sister, her fake accent and her newly acquired nouveau riche ways, Perrette is happy to see her – if only because of her money.

However, the title of the show gives the game away here – Camil’s broke.

The Good, the Broke and the Ugly

It’s certainly possible to read all of that, look at the publicity shots I’ve just used and come to the conclusion that you might prefer to blowtorch your own genitals than watch even one second of the sitcom you’ve already imagined in your mind.

Certainly, the first few minutes pre-title sequence are inauspicious. It doesn’t seem like either the cast or the director have read the script, judging by the way they deliver the lines, which often has no real relationship to how they’re written.

One moment we’re being told Leggero grew up in this family house and knows it intimately, the next she’s asking where the guest quarters are. Again, maybe if Leggero had delivered it differently, that might have worked as a putdown, but said deliberately, it just seems like the writers haven’t read their own scripts either.

Acres of mild class warfare later and you’d think that was all the show had to offer. But there are surprises to be had.

© Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS 2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc

If it ain’t Broke

For starters, the show isn’t quite as mean as you might think. This isn’t an American Schitt’s Creek. Rather, Camil may be a little unsure of how the real world works for us normal types, but his pennilessness is largely down to his extravagant generosity.

Wondering why he can still afford a personal assistant? Firstly, his father is paying the salary, but secondly, said assistant is also a friend and vice versa – when Diaz came out as gay, his family disowned him, whereas Camil put on one of the world’s most extravagant parties for him, complete with Gloria Gaynor. Similarly, he’s able to use his great charm to help his nephew deal with school.

Diaz and Camil’s repartee (frequently in Spanish) and characters are the show’s high-points; Leggero is more of an easy target, but her relationship with Perrette quickly develops and her efforts to shift class become more understandable, given the underclass conditions in which she grew up – she could either have been like Perrette or got out.

Oddly, it’s Perrette who comes out of this the worst. She may be playing the character the audience is supposed to identify with, but she comes across as mean, bitter and judgemental. She’s allowed to soften by the end of the episode, but it’s not what you’d expect of a vehicle for her – perhaps her own generosity as a producer, perhaps she can rely on a certain degree of goodwill from NCIS fans.

© Cliff Lipson/CBS 2019 CBS Broadcasting

Broke it off

I don’t necessarily expect the show to have much more by way of such curveballs to toss our way over the next season and not being the biggest fan of episodic sitcoms, I doubt I’ll be sticking with it. If I do, it’ll probably be because of Diaz and Camil, rather than Perrette and Leggero.

Nevertheless, Broke does prove that every new show deserves to be tried since it could still surprise and have more depths than you’d expect based on its trailer. And if you are a fan of sitcoms, there’s probably a lot here for you to enjoy. Worth a watch at least.

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