Rediscovering American Housewife

By Harrison Cheung

With the end of ABC's long running family sitcom MODERN FAMILY, Wednesday evening is a time to rediscover the often time slot shuffled and under appreciated AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE.  A recap? AH follows the trials and tribulations of Katie (Katy Mixon) and Greg Otto (Diedrich Bader) and their family of three.  Now in its fourth season, the Otto's story - in grand sitcom tradition - began as strangers in a strange land - a middle class family relocated as renters living in hoity toity upper crust Westport, Connecticut. 

You can binge all the seasons on Hulu and watch how the Otto's have evolved.  In season one, the show was focused on the issue of "image." Brash and defiant Katie sneers at the twiggy Westport WASP wives while she deals with her own body image issues as a plus size person. Husband, Greg, is a professor of American colonial history - let the nerd humor begin!  Eldest daughter, Taylor (Meg Donnelly) is a ditz. Middle son Oliver (Daniel DiMaggio) is a ruthless capitalist in the mold of Alex Keaton from the sitcom classic, FAMILY TIES. And the youngest daughter, Anna-Kat, (Julia Butters), has quirky emotional issues requiring special ed classes, hence the move to Westport.

AH is well written with sharp dialog and some outrageous moments. Series creator, Sara Dunn, is a veteran writer from MURPHY BROWN. But it's 'bigger than life' Katy Mixon who holds the show together as its comedic center. She's the mother wolf who complains about her family to her friends but can tease her son all day about "chubbing out" in his ballet dance leotards.  AH isn't afraid to paint Katie Otto as unsympathetic at times.  She's cut from the same tough mom cloth as Patricia Heaton's Debra Barone (EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND) or Frankie Heck (THE MIDDLE), Constance Wu's Jessica Huang (FRESH OFF THE BOAT) and Jane Kaczmarek's Lois (MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE). In fact, given Heaton's track record with hit sitcoms, Mixon would be a fool not to follow the example of her career.

Fortunately, Mixon is surrounded by a great cast which includes fan favorite Doris (Ali Wong) and Angela (Carly Hughes).  Wong, who scored a huge Netflix hit last year with her acerbic take on a romcom, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE and her standup comedy specials, must be itching for her own starring vehicle.  ABC - make that deal!

As the current season comes to an end, there are lots of interesting possibilities for AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, especially as their child actors grow up and their teens become teen idols.  

At the age of 10, Anna-Kat is cute and precocious - we've seen this character in sitcom's before, from Cindy Brady to Brick Heck (THE MIDDLE) to Dewey (MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE).  And with Julia Butter's recent acclaimed performance in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, this year, she's become a young actress to watch. In fact, in an recent Reddit poll, Anna-Kat was voted favorite character of the show!

Meg Donnelly, 19, already has a very successful second career on Disney Channel with her ZOMBIES TV movies, directed by Disney veteran Paul Hoen who launched the careers of the Jonas Brothers and Shia LaBeouf.  Donnelly also happens to be a pop sensation in Japan with 1.2M Instagram followers. Her AH character, Taylor, just got accepted to Carnegie Mellon to study music so she might have a lot less screen time. (Interesting trivia: on that same Reddit poll, Donnelly's character was voted least favorite!)

Daniel DiMaggio turns 16, his character Oliver is learning to drive, and there has long been a "is he or isn't he" gay vibe about his relationship with onscreen bestie, Cooper Bradford (Logan Pepper). Will AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE explore that plot line?  Oliver has the most potential for laughs as he enters his hormonal prime because teenage boys are comedic gold.  Think Axl Heck (THE MIDDLE), Malcolm, Reese, Frances (MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE); Eddie and Emery (FRESH OFF THE BOAT).

AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE has also had a lot of fun with guest stars, but the one I'm hoping for would be Katy Mixon's MIKE AND MOLLY co-star Melissa McCarthy!

One sign that AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is still an undiscovered gem is its social media footprint. AH only has 75k followers on Instagram. By comparison, MODERN FAMILY has 842k followers, THE GOLDBERGS have 211k, BLACKISH has 641k.  On Twitter, AH has 30.1k followers, while MODERN FAMILY has 1.3M, THE GOLDBERGS has 106.9k, BLACKISH has 326.7k.  Sure the other shows have been on the air longer, but a savvy network should be keeping an eye on where that MODERN FAMILY audience goes to.

However AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE fares, the show will enjoy a pandemic-enforced stay at home prime time audience!  If you miss family sitcoms like THE MIDDLE, MALCOLM in the MIDDLE and FRESH OFF THE BOAT, AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is your comfort food.  In fact, AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE originally reminded me of my beloved ABC sitcom SUBURGATORY (with Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto), another 'fish out of water' 'move to upper crust burbs' comedy that was perhaps too out there for its own good.  SUBURGATORY lasted just three seasons. MODERN FAMILY ran 11 seasons. How will AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE do?

Harrison Cheung is the author of the award-winning biography of Christian Bale (BenBella Books) and a contributor to Brave New Hollywood and The TV Ratings Guide.

@harrisonic (Twitter)

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