American Housewife (Season 5 Premiere Review)

Who's that girl? Daniel DiMaggio, Meg Donnelly and newcomer Giselle Eisenberg stand near Diedrich Bader and Katy Mixon.
AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE began its fifth season on a very odd note. It narrowly survived cancellation though its audience numbers suffered from constant air date changes. 

And then COVID hit, forcing the industry to take a break.  When shooting re-started, health and safety became first in mind. On the set of AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, everything is wiped down once an hour, cast and crew wear masks. Some actors mentioned on social media that as a result everything takes longer to shoot.

And if that wasn't enough, fan favorite Julia Butters (who played the youngest child, Anna-Kat, the quirky and precocious one), quit the series after basking in the warm glow of her fledgling movie career. Butters shared the screen with Leonardo DiCaprio in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD and she is now off to pursue a movie career instead. Butters was replaced by Giselle Eisenberg (LIFE IN PIECES).

Throughout television history, sitcoms have gone through cast changes with mixed results. It might take a while (if at all) for the new cast member to find their groove.  Longtime fans may remember that AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE already had a cast change from its pilot episode, when Meg Donnelly successfully replaced Johnny Sequoya as the eldest daughter, Taylor. 

So the fifth season premiered on an episode that was actually written to be the end of season four. Every member of the Otto family is dealing with a crisis. Taylor is ready to graduate from high school but, in a plot line borrowed from THE MIDDLE, a long overdue library book is holding her back. Katie ends up dealing with Principal Ablin (Jerry Lambert) to negotiate Taylor's graduation by arranging his wedding to Maria (Julie Meyer). Greg battles with Lonnie (Matt Shively) on how to finish Lonnie's autobiography. Anna-Kat is at odds with Franklin (Evan O'Toole) over going to summer camp. And Cooper (Logan Pepper) discovers that his family is relocating to Florida.

What worked? The sharp writing and fast paced snaps and comebacks are back. It's a feat to juggle so many cast members. And it's always been that teetering with PG-13 rated innuendo-laced dialogue where AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE shines. Greg to Katie, "I'm going to have to give him that happy ending that he wants." Oliver to Cooper, "I'm happy for you, fiscally." And Cooper to the Otto's, "You drink tap water, which is practically like drinking toilet water."  Yeah, that's the stuff.

What didn't? Sorry, it will take more than a couple episodes to get used to the new Anna Kat. To the showrunner's credit, they didn't cast a Julia Butters lookalike but to their detriment, it will take some time to get used to the blonde stranger with the lower voice  walking around the Otto house. Eisenberg is 13 years old. Butters is 11. It's just one episode, but Eisenberg hasn't found Butter's Anna Kat's tone or enthusiasm. She doesn't necessarily have to - eventually Eisenberg will make the Anna Kat character her own - but it will be these transition episodes that will stick out the most.

Finally, what was also jarring about this premiere episode was that it was written pre-COVID (as part of Season four) but shot just a month ago. To be in AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE's Westport where the school students are not wearing masks or practicing safe distancing was immediately noticeable.  By the time we hit the graduation ceremony, I was looking at the crowd and thinking, wow, those people are sitting way too close together. In a year where no one in America had a normal graduation ceremony, seeing one on TV made the episode look immediately dated.

Chalk it up to a very odd 2020. I would have preferred an AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE Halloween episode, but it's great to have the Otto's back to keep us company during the pandemic. It's like a nice big plate of comfort food - Katie's meatloaf anyone?  And this episode's script serves up a lot of elements for the new season ahead. Spoiler alert - how will Oliver's new roommate deal with such a small house?

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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