‘Broke’ but not yet broken
Last spring, no one could have predicted the economic downfall we currently find our country in. Meanwhile, broadcast television networks have been developing sitcoms based on the premise that everyone has extended family just one questionable investment or medical misfortune away from being forced to consolidate under one roof. This kind of uncertain economic pre-apprehension makes comedies like NBC’s “Indebted” and CBS’s “Broke” feel eerily grounded in our reality.
Even ABC has an “Extended Family Loses Their Fortune Forcing Multiple Families Under One Roof” show with “United We Fall,” set to premiere later this spring. These shows’ applicability to our current reality doesn’t inherently make these shows funny by any means, but their foresight must be worth something. As far as these new and suddenly relevant sitcom subgenres go, “Broke” probably has the most potential — which isn’t really saying much.
Marking the former “NCIS” star’s return to television, Pauley Perrette plays hardworking, bartending Jackie — the loud single mom of talented elementary-aged Sammy (Antonio Corbo, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”). Jackie’s childhood home is practically falling apart when her estranged sister Elizabeth (Natasha Leggero, “Another Period”) and wealthy husband Javier (Jamie Camil, “Jane the Virgin”) unexpectedly show up at her front door. Jackie hopes to use their sudden reappearance as an opportunity to ask for a loan to get back on her feet, but little does she know that Elizabeth and Javier are also broke. Don’t worry, given the name of the show, this isn’t a spoiler. In the pilot, and presumably in subsequent episodes, Javier learns and Elizabeth re-learns to live a life within new financial limits. Meanwhile they still deal with a personal assistant named Luis (Izzy Diaz, “Telenovela”) because he remains on Javier’s father’s payroll.
Perette’s performance should only improve as she settles into the kind of acting necessary to perform in front of a live studio audience. But, for that to happen, the writers will need to give her more to work with.
There’s a clear division between Leggero and Perrette’s characters that enables Perrette to find humor in her own. Leggero’s character has one of those faintly British “I only started speaking like this after I got money” accents as well as a tiny dog for her purse, while Jackie’s personality revolves around having a son and being stressed about finances.
Anyone who has seen “Jane the Virgin” can immediately appreciate Camil’s character — a toned down version of the big-hearted actor Rogelio de la Vega, one that fits the blue-collar atmosphere of the show as opposed to the extravagant one you would get from a telenovela. The best character, who will surely get more screen time as the series progresses, is Javier’s assistant Luis. He’s gay, but that isn’t at the forefront of his character, as he circumvents stereotypes with cleverness. There are also frequent interactions between Javier and Luis when they speak in Spanish to each other, which is an added layer of realism to an otherwise unrelatable show.
“Broke” attempts to reflect the current delicacy of the economy, recognizing that the low unemployment rate and high stock market aren't benefiting all families equally. However, the volatility of the economy isn’t what leaves Javier and Elizabeth in poverty, following the predictable tropes of multi-camera sitcoms. Javier was cut off by his dad for wasting money on dumb things, grounding the show in something very low-stakes and unrelatable to most American families.
With Camil’s incorporation of a character containing Rogelio’s best traits, Diaz’s modern characterization and Leggero unabashedly pushing for laughs, it is very possible that “Broke” can become something better than what it’s being advertised as. But I don’t know when or if that will happen. Good thing most of us have nothing better to do than sit in front of our television screens!