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Friday, October 28, 2016

This Is What Represents American Women? Hmm? #AmericanHousewife #ABC #3weekroundup

This Is What Represents American Women? Hmm? #AmericanHousewife #ABC #3weekroundup

All pictures courtesy of ABC

Oh. My. God! I cannot begin to even... I mean, it’s just so... gahhh! I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before we dive into this review/recap of the first three episodes of American Housewife in another three-week roundup review, let me just send a big shout-out to the Cleveland Cavaliers who raised their 2016 championship banner tonight—first championship for Cleveland in 52 years. Let me also congratulate the Cleveland Indians for reaching the 2016 World Series once again, their first World Series appearance in nearly 20 years. This day, October 25, 2016, will forever go down as Cleveland’s Day, regardless of whether the Indians (who are currently up by 3 as I write this) win the first game, or the World Series, or not. Suffice it to say, as someone who is an Ohio native and grew up partially in Cleveland, I am ecstatic tonight (though, you’ll probably be reading this on Wednesday, if at all). This should be noted because my mood should’ve rose tinted literally everything that came at me for a full 24-hr period. And then this show came along. So, without further ado, let’s get to the review/recap and figure out if America should be enchanted with American Housewife or if we’re all going to wish we had not one but two things better to watch (at least as sports fans) every single time this airs.

American Housewife stars Katy Mixon in the title role as Katie Otto, an under-appreciated, overweight housewife living in the high-priced suburbia of Westport, Connecticut. Frankly, she hates the town but lives there because they have a really good school system, especially for her youngest child—think ABC’s other new show Speechless where the family moves to be in a better school district for their disabled son. In a neighborhood gluttonous with new, 21st century McMansions, Katie and her family live in a modest two-story that is able to comfortably fit five children in, what I have to assume, is each child’s own room. A family of five (because what family isn’t, right?) she and her husband have three children: one boy, two girls. Like all sitcoms, the show revolves heavily around the family and how they interact with each other and get on each other’s nerves, mainly on Katie’s. Let’s go through the family characters first and then we’ll start on the plot of the first episode.

We are first greeted by their youngest, their daughter Anna-Kat. Somewhere between seven and ten (I think), she is first seen peeing in the front yard. She is said to have something wrong with her and OCD is briefly mentioned but not cemented as her ailment, so we don’t really know why she does the things she does; they also say anxiety, but this seems more like a disorder of some kind. She’s more so dismissed as simply being weird, similar to Brick on ABC’s The Middle. But she does have a thing for germs and dislikes holding her classmates' hands, so that is another check in the OCD box. Oh, and she’s Katie’s favorite.

Next, we have Oliver, the middle child, who totally looks like he just walked off stage from playing the role of Oliver Twist in an off-off-Broadway production. Similar to Mike Seaver from Growing Pains or Alex Keaton from Family Ties, he is a conservative, miniature, future-businessman who values hard work, dressing well and money. His main goal, as told to us by Katie, is to be filthy rich when he gets older, and he’s well on his way judging by the school clubs he’s in and the way he lives his life.

Rounding out the kids is Taylor, the eldest daughter. Similar to Speechless’ youngest daughter in Dylan, not only does she have a very unisex name but she’s into sports and not that much into education like her brother. Supposedly 14, she also was just recently visited by the puberty fairy who blessed her with a womanly body (paraphrased from Katie). Though they haven’t "went there" yet, it’s clear where this is going: all the boys will want her and blah, blah, blah. Goodness gracious, is this the earliest I’ve ever “blah, blah, blahed” through a three-week roundup? Oh, this is not gonna be good.

Finally, though he is not a child, he is a huge enabler by which Katie must live or else she’d realize just how ridiculous she is, her husband Greg rounds out the Otto clan. Played by veteran comedy actor Diedrich Bader (someone who will always be partially loved in Cleveland after making us laugh for years on The Drew Carey Show), Greg is just there to actually be deadpan funny and not really carve out a character identity of his own, but play it straight or not straight to whatever Katie throws at him. Got it? The biggest character-defining moment I can think of concerning him is that in one scene he wears a “my wife is married to a feminist” t-shirt. Whereas Katie is a character, Greg is a reaction to her character. Unlike his wife, he works as a professor at a local college and can Skype into work when he absolutely can’t be there.

OK, now to get into the plot of the show. Our introduction to this show lets us know just what kind of character Katie is, what kind of person created the show, and where this could go very fast. At the outset, we find our titular character glowering out her front window at the house across the street that just recently put up a “For Sale” sign. She laments this tragic turn of events because her neighbor Fat Pam is finally moving away from the “skinny bitch haven” that is Westport, Connecticut. (OK, I don’t think that was a direct quote from the show, but the first two words I’m sure made it in there in some combination). See, without Fat Pam to serve as a buffer for the other neighborhood twig-ettes to fat-shame, Katie becomes the “Second Fattest Housewife in Westport” and will only have one fat woman fatter than her that she, herself can fat-shame. It’s a dire situation. Did I mention that all of this is told to us through the use of voice-over inner-monologue from Katie, a common ABC trademark used across the channel in everything from The Middle to Black-ish to Grey’s Anatomy and a few others? But here, unlike on many of those other shows, it comes off as super annoying. I know I just jumped ahead to my grading, but I just couldn’t hold that in for one more sentence let alone two more episodes.

As said before, Katie hates Westport because not only will she become the second fattest housewife really soon, the town is dominated by yoga-pants-wearing, skinny-butted, yacht-and-labradoodle-owning jerks that make money and live lives of superficiality... supposedly. This totally isn’t the Otto way of living. Instead, the Otto’s rent a modest house and are “good people” according to Katie.

On a busy morning, she has to tell her youngest Anna-Kat to stop peeing on the lawn, try convincing her son Oliver to donate canned goods to his school’s homeless food drive and make sure that her eldest Taylor is stocked up good for feminine products. As she enjoys her morning breakfast, she sends Anna-Kat upstairs to her father to make him check her homework as he sits on the toilet, something Katie is jealous of because her husband takes too long of a morning constitution and no mother ever could do that.

When Katie goes to drop off her youngest daughter at school, a school which I’m assuming is one of those weird all-grades schools because in later episodes it looks like she picks up every one of her children at the same school, because there’s definitely the same crossing guard there to annoy her, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Where was I...? Did I even complete that last sentence? For all the times I misuse em dashes and parentheses and I didn’t do anything to that sentence? Huh! Oh, right, Katie runs into some of the other skinny-yoga-bitches I told you about before (did I forget to mention that this review/recap would have slightly more cursing than usual? It’ll have slightly more cursing than usual) that judge her as they sip green drinks and cackle outside of the school at the drop-off area. A few good eye-rolls and side-eyes later, and Katie finds her group of the “keepin’-it-real-and-ethnically-diverse” moms. Her friends Angela (played by Carly Hughes) and Doris (played by Ali Wong) are the cool black lesbian and the soul-crushingly wealthy Asian, respectively. They’re always up to go and eat food at their favorite diner while they judge those skinny bitches and laugh at how vain they are—totally different than what the skinny bitches do. The skinny ones cackle and judge right to your face. Big difference. While at their fave diner, they see yet one more double-Fitbit-wearing skinny girl who looks out of sorts like she is either just passing through or came to visit someone she knows in town. This woman is important as she is Viv and she is played by Leslie Bibb. More on her a little later, but let’s get back to the plot.

After Katie complains to her friends about soon earning the title of the second fattest housewife in Westport, she does the same thing to her husband as she plots a way to not become the second fattest housewife in the town. Her main idea is to scare away all good potential buyers, forcing Fat Pam to keep the house and not move away. From this, we get such brilliant gems as tampon wind chime and making sure that they appear more Islamic-y or terrorist-y. No, seriously. But when her husband suggests seeking out a fatter person to buy the house, she, Greg and Anna-Kat engage in fake-gossip warfare during the open house. Apparently, there’s an arsonist in the neighborhood (lie), Anna-Kat loves coming to talk to her dead friends in the house (lie), and one of the families before got coincidental-cancer after living in the house. Then they see that same two-Fitbit-wearing heifer from before as she is looking to move to town. Katie is about to give up when she sees a ghetto black man’s dream: a fat blonde white woman with a cute face and hips as wide as your grandpa’s Buick. That woman has to buy the house! And the house goes into escrow, but when the woman comes by to talk with her new neighbor once again, she lets her racism and bigotry show when she talks about avoiding “those Blacks,” you know, the rich ones, and those Gays—the ones with the capital Gs.

Now, Katie must make a decision on whether she can live across from that terrible of a bigot or if she will suck it up just to not be the second fattest housewife in Westport. While she initially chooses the latter, by the end of the episode she changes her mind, enlists her gay black friend Angela to do a make-out sesh in front of blond-and-big-boned, and gets Viv back in the house. Viv, a past-fatty herself, is now this thin blond bimbo who lives to walk-run, and walk and run, and sometimes just run a lot without the walking. She can’t wait to get her hands on Katie to help her lose all the weight and she instantly earns Katie’s ire.

There’s some side-story stuff in there about how Anna-Kat has trouble making friends because she doesn’t touch hands until her father tells her that sometimes friends are more important than germs. She shakes some people’s hands and gets puking sick. There’s also a story about how Oliver helped one of the weird neighbors they call Naked Ned with some kind of landscaping/gardening job and earned some money from doing it. Katie tells him that he has to share some of that cash with the canned goods drive at school and he makes a deal.

Episode two revolves around just how tired Katie is on a daily basis. I’m really not going to get into the big argument on whether she should or shouldn’t be tired as a housewife, but I will say that watching this episode felt more tedious than I’m sure Katie could ever feel. After a night of interrupted sleep that saw Oliver thinking he was having a heart attack, Anna-Kat doing something cute but ridiculous, and Taylor waking up for a five a.m. run, Katie is greeted in the morning by the news that her old job just opened back up and her boss is going to keep it available for her if she wants it. So, as she considers what she wants to do on that front, she is guided by Angela and Doris to try taking a nap during the middle of the day.

Crossing Guard Irks Her
As is always in a sitcom, hi-jinks commence when all she wants to do is go to sleep. First, one of her kids leaves their lunch in the car, so she has to go and take it to the school where she gets into a confrontation with the power-hungry crossing guard. Then she returns home to a husband who is home from work because he thinks he is coming down with something and can’t go to college that day. But then he remembers that he signed up to read to Anna-Kat’s class that day but can’t go because he could expose the kids to something, so Katie has to go.

When Katie gets there, she loses it while reading a book about a mom who is overworked. She laments that she wants to return to work and how big of a deal she was at work before she had to have kids, and the class isn’t impressed. She returns home to try sleeping again, and degrades the fact that her husband works because “at least he gets a break” (again, I’m not going to get into that debate that asks what she’s doing all day at home while all of her kids are at school, because it doesn’t seem to be that she writes or runs an online business or anything, but I digress) and she never does, and this happens before she is called back to school because Oliver got suspended for the day for doing insider trading in his young mock stockbroking class (is that really a suspendable offense? Seriously, writers?). To add salt to sugar, Anna-Kat is found out as not having all the required immunization shots and sent home for the day, too. And just for the heck of it, Katie decides to pull Taylor from school for no reason and chides her for having signed up for basketball and soccer, focusing on sports more than school work. She returns home after trying to teach her children a lesson by making them pick up trash on the side of the road, only to embarrass her husband by telling his Skyped undergrad class that he isn’t wearing any pants while teaching them. The episode ends with her swearing that she doesn’t want to miss the good times after her husband takes over with the kids, therefore she won’t take that job. She tells Oliver and Taylor to limit the extracurriculars and that’s it.

Episode three focuses on Katie’s insecurity about having Viv as not only her new neighbor but as a role model and best buddy of Taylor. When the 14-year-old starts hanging with Viv who is super athletic just like she is, Katie can only see that relationship as something she must crush and crush immediately. The quickest and easiest way to do this is by proving how better she is at... running? A Halloween-themed episode, the town is having a Zombie run where participants are split into two groups: runners or zombies. A glorified game of tag, the runners are decorated with flags that the zombies must tear off of them similar to flag football. Whoever survives the race with at least one flag intact wins.

Katie not only believes that she can win this race after not having run since grade school, but she thinks Viv is in some deeply-rooted conspiracy to take her place, in her daughter’s mind, as a great mom. So, she has to win this race. While Greg and Anna-Kat decide to be zombies, Katie zips through the race by cheating with far more flags than she should have (supplied by Doris), and finally gets near the end where she and her daughter talk. Turns out, Taylor was hanging with Viv out of pity because Viv’s husband is never around, her step-sons don’t talk to her at all, and she’s got no friends in town because she’s new (yes, this will lead to Viv becoming part of the group of Katie’s friends and I know this without having to watch past episode 3). This is when Katie realizes that her daughter isn’t becoming like Viv but is pure Greg because she’s so nice and kindhearted. But when Anna-Kat comes and rips her last flag, Katie both laments it and is proud because she knows that Anna-Kat is just like her: sneaky, conniving and all-around deplorable.

What’s my grade? I give this a D. I have mentioned multiple times on this blog how much I hate criticizing the creative work of others because I know how hard it is to put something, anything out, especially something of quality, but yikes! I wanted to end this new Fall show season on a high (I still have Falling Water to review, so we’ll see how that goes), but this show has got to be the worst new show of the season. There’s so much bad here that I don’t know where to start, but I’ll try my best.

For starters, it is a cobbled-together mess of a ton of other far superior comedies. I already mentioned that it has the smart but conservative business child of Growing Pains and Family Ties, but it also has the fish-out-of-water/family-that-doesn’t-belong-here vibe of Speechless and the child with a disability. There’s the older hot daughter like from Roseanne, and the nosy neighbor similar to Family Matters’ Urkel. Throw in a heaping helping of “boy do I hate my neighbors because they’re different than me” from the short-lived ABC comedy The Neighbors, too. Worst of all, it feels like the very short-lived dramedy GCB also from ABC. For those that don’t remember (most don’t because they didn’t watch) GCB or Good Christian Bitches was an hour-long dramedy that originally aired on Sundays that starred, surprise, surprise, Leslie Bib as a woman who moved back to her childhood home in Texas after a divorce and supreme life ruin. There, she ran into a group of Christian women that were grown, catty mean girls who had no right to talk because of their own overbearing problems kept swept under the rug. This show has that feeling to a T.

Similar to where that show went wrong (outside of the fact that they tried to make Christians look bad... on Sunday nights, which was supposed to be their answer to the Desperate Housewives gap) this show is trying to juxtapose the ego of the main character that you’re supposed to like with the ego of another group of moms (yoga-wearing bitches) and to a greater extent, the entire town. The problem sets in when you have this voice-over work going throughout the show and it reveals Katie’s true feelings. Frankly, Katie is just as much of a bitch as everyone else in the town. She thinks she’s better than the other moms and why? Because they try to stay fit or thin? Or because they have money? She has this constant refrain of “I’m real and they’re not,” which would be better proven if she didn’t say it often and narrate as such.

I was totally going to do another Gone Girl/Gillian Flynn homage here (as I did in my summer episodic novella series The Writer season 2) but I really didn’t have the energy after writing about this show like I thought I would. Instead of the cool girl, this time the rant would be on the cool mom. Unlike the “cool girl” which Flynn argues is the product of the male’s fantasy (though, I’d argue many women want to be the cool girl even before a man comes into their life), the cool mom is a manufactured pressure put on solely by the mother herself, and not society, and definitely not the kids. Take note that this is NOT to be confused with the good mom which is more enforced by women, but the cool mom. Katie reminds too much in the first three episodes of that high school football mom who wants all of her sons to play on the team and date cheerleaders because that’s what she did, and she’s constantly trying to relive those “glory days.” Yeah, no. She feels like the kind of mom that’s all about letting you and your friends smoke weed and drink in the basement all you want because “at least when they’re home I know it’s safe,” which is the same sentiment that that one woman whose son just died at a party in her house had. Katie feels more obsessed with being her kid’s friends or worse, having them be miniature replicas of her, than she is about being a parent that allows their child to grow and figure some things out for themselves. One of the lines of the show spoke about how she saw it as her main job to make her youngest daughter fit in a little more and make her two oldest children fit in a lot less. In other words, the only reason she really had children was so she wouldn’t feel alone, and sees them growing into their own people as a threat to that.

If this rant seems too much like complaining, well I’d turn around and say that I’m only mirroring the show because that is yet another thing that annoys me. Not only does she seem to have an average American life, but she complains about all of it because... well, that’s what she does. Granted, I could see if you’re complaining about your life if you are constantly trying to do something amazing and better and wholly different, but she’s not. It’s not like she’s trying to start a business or have another baby after years of trying or even trying to lose weight. I could see if her husband was a D, but he’s not. When she laments how busy she is and how he has it easier because he gets to go to work, he tells her she should take her old job back if it makes her feel happy. Does she? No. And the reasoning she has doesn’t even fit the same reasoning of an actual housewife to me. Her lack of real empathetic draw makes her grousing inner-monologue of complaints about how great her daughter is and how she used to have youth too, less funny and “as a parent I can totally understand,” and more cringy and “well, why the heck did you have and keep your kids? Try to change your life already, lady, if you hate it so much.” You’re mad at your daughter because she just got breasts? You have not only breasts but a man who absolutely loves you and is still very much attracted to you even after having kids when most couples say the passion dies. Again, this would be a joke that maybe played well on a different show, not here.

And the last thing I really don’t want to harp on because I know that it is Katy’s voice and she can’t change that, but the narration is very annoying. I have seen her on other shows and in movies and enjoyed the voice there, but here... I don’t know if it’s the way she delivers the lines or what they’re showing on screen as she says stuff or the background music, but her voice comes off like a nausea-inducing squirrel chirp (I know they don’t chirp!): it wiggles into your ear and goes manic on your brain. Frankly, it makes all of the narration feel far more down-your-nose judgmental than anything because it sounds like that polite high lilt voice that every mean girl who is trying to be cute and condescending at the same time in a movie or real life uses. Every time I hear her saying her lines and smiling that fake smile, all I hear is, “Oh, you drive a used Prius. How cute,” like that’s not good enough. She seems more akin to Kristin Chenoweth’s character from GCB than Mama Heck from the Middle or even Minnie Driver’s character from Speechless—two endearing Middle-Class moms who, like Katie, are just trying to keep it all together.

Should you be watching? No. Again, family comedy is sometimes hard to find in this day and age and, when looking anywhere but ABC, you probably won’t find much in the way of a sitcom, but with the nine other family sitcoms that ABC is offering this season, surely you can find something that fits and reflects your family better than this. Ultimately, while most family sitcoms look inward to the family where the notion goes, “Yes, we’re all different from each other, but we’re really all the same,” and that makes the family bond work better, American Housewife goes outward for the comedy to the world to say, “All of these people around us are different, and think they’re better but we are the ones that are better than them, therefore we have to stick together so we don’t become like them.” And that doesn’t feel quite as good as it should. But check it out for yourself. American Housewife airs on ABC Tuesdays at 8:30pm EST.

What do you think? Have you seen American Housewife? If not, do you think you’ll tune in for a few episodes? If so, do you like it? Was I too harsh on it? Who is your favorite character? And do you think the show has benefited or lost out on its renaming from its original title “The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport?” Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

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If you’re looking for a scare, check the YA novel #AFuriousWind, the NA novel #DARKER#BrandNewHome or  the bizarre horror #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic and adult, check out #TheWriter. Both season 1 and season 2 are out NOW, exclusively on Amazon. Stay connected here for updates on season 3 coming summer 2017. If you like fast action/crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Look for the mysterious Sci-fi episodic novella series Extraordinary to premiere sometime this winter on Amazon and my blog. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.

Until next time, “American Woman... stay away from me-ee. American woman... just let me be-ee.”

P.S. That is all I can remember from the Lenny Kravitz song, but it totally applies to this show. I have to work on other projects and often have to drop some of the new shows I watch even when I like them, but on certain occasions, I still take a peek at them through the season to see if they've changed. This one, while I am actually leaning toward the thought that it will not only last but get renewed, I don't think I'll ever watch again.

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