There are laugh track sitcoms which have been on television since the black and white days of television, and then there are more subdued sitcoms which have largely supplanted the raucous din of the former with background silence. There are more differences than simply off-stage chuckling between the two types, though. They are different at the core, deriving their humor from completely different fountains. Laugh track sitcoms gain power over the audience through slapstick, snide remarks, or crazy facial expressions; on the other hand, those lacking audience guffaws often (but not always) delight through the agency of more subtle means such as irony, bizarre moments, or parody.
American Housewife is something between these two. Adherents to the new style will call it a more “mature” or “refined” laugh track sitcom. This very much depends on your definition of “mature” and “refined”, of course, and is very much up for debate. Katy Mixon plays the somewhat typical American housewife in a manner very reminiscent of Melissa McCarthy – stubbornly overweight, moderately crude, and histrionically humorous. Her family has recently moved to a suburb occupying an economic rung just barely above their means.
Mixon as Katy Otto presides over the raising of three children with personalities embodying different stereotypes. Anna-Kat is her youngest, her favorite, and perhaps the most original of the three. She is an imaginative young child; Oliver is her middle son, who wants nothing more than to fit in with the preppier crowd at his new school; Taylor is her sports-loving oldest daughter. Diedrich Bader, whose last traditional sitcom was The Drew Carey Show, plays what may be considered a typical American husband – henpecked and barely visible Greg Otto.
So far, this sounds like a very typical setup. The rags-to-riches scenario of television sitcoms might have changed drastically from the overtness of The Beverly Hillbillies, where a very poor family moves into a very rich town at the behest of destiny, but it’s still very much present today. The lower-middle-class family barely staying afloat (both financially and socially) in an upper-middle-class suburb has been done to death since the late 90’s on television – almost exclusively in sitcoms and comedies.
The difference is that here the characters are a little closer to reality and the themes dealt with are dealt with more roundly. For example, in one episode, Greg tries to teach math to an academically unresponsive Taylor. She has difficulty learning and explains that she’s simply better at sports, to which Greg responds by encouraging her to be good at a wide range of activities. Both sides are presented and the debate continues. In a typical sitcom, the whole situation might be boiled down to the most simplistic of conclusions, with the writers taking a stance and presenting it as truth on screen. Father and daughter would make up and have a sentimental moment with an intrusive sighing audience.
The fans seems to appreciate the distinction as well, as #AmericanHousewife has noticeably better reviews on ratings aggregate websites than other sitcoms of the traditional ilk. IMBD users give it a 7.0 out of 10, which is high for such typical family sitcoms. As for Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of the audience likes it and gives it a 4.5 out of 5. Metacritic users conspire to give it a noticeably worse rating of 5.1 out of 10, though. The critics agree with this last rating against the consensus on IMBD, with the show scoring 60 out of 100 among Metacritic professionals and the same score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Since the show has all the outward appearances of a derivative white middle class household sitcom, it might be difficult for some fans and critics to get past the veneer of convention. It’s been more than 60 years of seeing nuclear white middle class families spouting sarcastic quips to each other on television and some segments of the viewing public are starting to find it banal, demanding more novelty from every TV show. The Middle, another similar show on the same channel, scores better for its unique direction style. #AmericanHousewife does well on its own merits, though, as the numbers show. Well over 5 million people are tuning in on average to each episode of this ABC prime time comedy. While not as strong a performance as The Middle, it handily beats sitcoms on competing networks, such as Fox’s New Girl.
The viewer numbers and fan interest are good enough to keep this show alive for more seasons. ABC was shy about releasing the production initially, only going so far as to commission half-hearted starts, but the full 22-episode treatment was commissioned by the broadcast network in November. It looks likely that we’ll be seeing another season of this show next year as well.
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What are your thoughts on Katy Mixon’s new series? Do you think Oliver will ever be able to fit in with the popular crowd? Who is your favorite character on the show? Give us your comments and opinions down below.