ABC’s promising new comedy Domestical economy wants to be a timely show about the importance of family in a precarious post-quarantine world, when it’s actually a comedy that’s slightly out of step with its time.
Domestical economy is launching at least a year late, as it could have been hailed as the best comedy in a 2020 mid-season pack full of shows about how family is the best cure for economic insecurity. Across three episodes sent to critics, it’s leaps and bounds better than Outmoded, Indebted, Broke and united we fall, a quartet of mid-season series that even TV critics may not remember. All four indicated that Hollywood is aware that class is something that should be discussed more, without understanding exactly how to do it. Domestical economy has the same problem.
Nail the “house”, but not the “economy”.
And maybe Home Economyits two or three years late. In a perfect world, a series like this should at least have the opportunity to grow up surrounded by compatible series; Domestical economy would make a great match with Single parents and could be part of ABC programming with Fresh off the boat and modern family and Mute. Never mind.
Created by Michael Colton and John Aboud, Domestical economy focuses on the Hayworth family, with three adult siblings, “one in the 1%, one middle class and one barely holding on.” Middle class Hayworth is Tom (Topher Grace), married to Marina (Karla Souza) and living in acceptable chaos with their three children. Tom is a novelist whose last book did not sell. Marina is a former lawyer. You know things are bad because Tom complains that he is “almost 40 and cutting supermarket coupons”. Honestly, I don’t know if the show is aware of how unsympathetic this complaint makes the character. Coupon rule.
The barely restrained Hayworth is Sarah (Caitlin McGee). She’s an out-of-work children’s therapist, his wife Denise (Sasheer Zamata) is a teacher, and though they live in a cramped Bay Area loft with several children, they do live in a Bay Area loft, where they alternately speak in New Age and stereotypical “woke” talking points. The show can be aware of how often this makes characters unsympathetic.
Finally, there is the youngest Hayworth, Connor (Jimmy Tatro). His marriage is falling apart, but he’s wealthy and as soon as the quarantine year ends (a fact acknowledged in the pilot and never mentioned again), he moves in with his daughter Gretchen (Shiloh Bearman) – the only juvenile character in the series has made an individual impression so far – in Matt Damon’s former home with a magnificent view of a matte painting of the Golden Gate Bridge. He makes his money in finance, but the writers prefer to treat him as a dim light bulb who’s been lucky in wealth – yet another odd choice when it comes to winning public sympathy, although Tatro does play well.
The Hayworths have regular brunches, occasional sleepovers and attend weddings together, fights and then hugs inevitably ensue.
The early episodes are positively littered with odd choices, misrepresentations of economic status, and questionable markers of family relationships. I guarantee viewers will be annoyed in a way they weren’t meant to be by things like clipping coupons as an indicator to borrow a sibling, or the way almost every word of the Sarah’s or Denise’s mouth makes them sound like character types rather than people. Other things just trigger my OCD tendencies, like how the show claims Topher Grace and Jimmy Tatro are believable not just as siblings (no issues there), but as siblings and sisters only a few years apart (the actors look 13 years apart because they are). People are pointing modern family pilot as an exemplary model as 250 episodes of character dynamics between at least 10 characters were perfectly laid out in 22 minutes. No one will point to Domestical economy in the same way.
Yet disorder is far more the rule than the exception in comedy pilots, and all three episodes of Domestical economy I saw giving the show a lot of things to work with. The characterizations are spotty, especially as the writers try to figure out what’s funny about the role of Grace – a process that includes a broad, unsuccessful physical comedy in the pilot that gives way to a much more endearing awkwardness and a really funny bad karaoke on the third. But the balance of brotherly nastiness and brotherly love is well-handled, and the dialogue leans towards Grace’s gift with needy, wry sarcasm and Tatro’s knack for making a kind of lunkhead lovable (even if he It’s not always clear how this type of lunkhead is earning $5 million a year). Zamata, trained to take advantage of limited hardware during her time on SNL, keeps Denise from just being a crazy cliche and Souza, with a glass of wine as her constant prop, earns the highest laugh-to-line ratio of the extended family. The children appear to be solidly cast, one of the hallmarks of the ABC family comedy brand.
There’s not a lot of episodic engine for Domestical economy. The money stuff in the first episode culminates with a deconstruction of Monopoly which is Connor’s only moment of real native intelligence, but it’s not like the show wants there to be any stakes as to whether Sarah gets a job or if Marina should be a lawyer again, let alone how they’re going to make the rent. Tom tries to write a book about his family, and it’s hinted the siblings won’t like it, but not why they’d really care.
It’s not like a network sitcom needs propelling momentum anyway. Domestical economy works best when it’s just the family together at a brunch or party; in these scenes you can see enough appeal for this show to grow the same way Single parents did, from an uneven start to being one of my favorite broadcast comedies by the time ABC canceled it.
Starring: Topher Grace, Caitlin McGee, Jimmy Tatro, Karla Souza, Sasheer Zamata, Shiloh Bearman, Jordyn Curet, Chloe Jo Rountree and JeCobi Swain
Creators: Michael Colton and John Aboud
Airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC starting April 7.