ABC has developed so many similarly toned single-camera family sitcoms since “Modern Family” became a massive hit, it’s tempting to identify them by their big twists. There’s the Asian one (“Fresh Off the Boat”), the gay one (“The Real O’Neals”), the black one (“Black-ish”), the 1980s one (“The Goldbergs”), and the special-needs one (“Speechless”). And now, beginning Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., there’s the weight one: “American Housewife.”
I’m not trying to dismiss or diminish these comedies; many of them are richer than their concepts, with sweetly human characters and performers — particularly the child actors — who know how to bring on the lovable snark. The network has found an appealing way to join the domestic sitcom formula to groups that are traditionally marginalized on TV. These series, at their best, show how cultural, social, racial, and economic issues play out in our daily lives — particularly “Black-ish” — without forgetting to make you laugh.
“American Housewife” revolves around Katy Mixon’s Katie Otto, a wisecracking mother of three who considers herself “fat.” She’s not especially overweight, I think, but she lives in Westport, Conn., where she is surrounded by bone-thin wealthy women who wear yoga pants and who are forever sipping on what Katie calls in her voice-over “those stupid green drinks.” She feels like a pariah in the town, where she and her husband, Jeff (Diedrich Bader), are renters. In Westport, apparently, renting makes you a fourth-class citizen.
At times, the show is a little shaky in its point of view. In the premiere Katie finds out that her status as “third-fattest housewife in Westport” is about to change because her neighbor, “Fat Pam,” is moving away. Instead of blowing it all off as a joke, Katie becomes desperate not to become the “second-fattest” and embarks on a somewhat crazy effort to make sure an overweight woman purchases Pam’s house. So we get the sense that Katie is buying into the fat-shaming around her.
At the same time, Katie is more often a fierce naysayer who, with her two best friends (an Asian woman and a lesbian) actively fights against the so-called perfection all around her and the Fitbit-wearing blondes who judge her. She wears her pizza-stained shirt with pride. This Katie is in a war against the kind of cultural norms that breed self-loathing in women — the norms that undermine another overweight character on network TV, Chrissy Metz’s Kate on “This Is Us.”
I’m hoping the writers will find a more consistent perspective as “American Housewife” develops in the coming weeks. It’s a good moment for a show like this, in the midst of the latest news about Donald Trump’s attitude toward women. The cold objectification we heard in the presidential candidate’s Billy Bush outtakes, the sense that women are to be measured solely by the shapes of their bodies and deemed “Miss Piggy” if they gain a few pounds, is exactly what this comedy, at its best and most engaging, is trying to upend.
Mixon is entertaining in the role, particularly when she deploys her sarcastic wit against both her tormentors and her children. And she’s surrounded by a solid, if not dazzling, supporting cast. Youngest daughter Anna-Kat (Julia Butters) has serious anxiety and OCD issues, older daughter Taylor (Med Donnelly) is buying into Westport superficiality, and son Oliver (Daniel DiMaggio) is a “Family Ties”-like young capitalist. All together, they form another happyish ABC family, at least until Katie gets wise and decides to move to a more hospitable town.
Starring: Katy Mixon, Diedrich Bader, Ali Wong, Carly Hughes, Daniel DiMaggio, Julia Butters, Meg Donnelly
Tuesday night, 8:30-9Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.