The fact that the debut of ABC’s “Home Economics” coincides almost exactly with that of the tone-deaf abomination which is CBS’s “United States of Al” is horrifying. The latter, at least, has been rightfully called out by critics from the moment it released its trailer. However, “Home Economics” seems to be getting away with disseminating its own harmful, performative message.
With the two programs’ releases, it appears some of the Big Three networks have recognized the market in post-Trump social consciousness. In seeking to commodify leftist movements, “Home Economics” hints at a new era of television more dystopian and dangerous than when programs stayed away from politics completely.
“Home Economics” is about three close siblings, each from different economic classes. At the very top is Connor (Jimmy Tatro, “The Mighty Ones”). Owner of a private equity firm and a one-percenter, Connor is fresh off of buying Matt Damon’s old mega-mansion. At the bottom of the financial barrel is Sarah (Caitlin McGee, “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet”): a mother and child therapist who constantly struggles to make ends meet. Stuck in the middle is our narrator and main protagonist, Tom (Topher Grace, “Irresistible”): a middle-class, best-selling author with a lot of kids.
The pilot episode follows Tom as he works up the nerve to ask Connor for financial help, following the failure of his most recent book. As we find out later, Sarah has the same goal, unable to find a job that can support her two children. While the two bicker about who deserves the money more, they are shocked to discover that Connor is going through a divorce and quickly apologize for being so self-centered.
By making a show directly addressing the class divide in America, it can only be assumed that the writers must have a firm grip on the problems facing the country. It’s a delicate needle to thread. Instead, however, they have offered the most insultingly capitalistic solutions to social issues, essentially making a show that’s just as classist as the systems it pretends to critique.
The way we are called on to feel the most sympathy for Connor, while all of his family members struggle to pay their bills and support their children, is, in fact, a perfectly twisted portrait of modern America. While best-selling authors and hardworking child therapists can barely afford to raise their children, “Home Economics” insists we should feel worse for the guy with a house that would put the “Parasite” mansion to shame. The conclusion it offers of this horrific economic dilemma is not that things need to change, but more “Oh well, that’s family!”
In a country where working-class people are constantly stolen from by multi-billionaires, the depiction of lower-income households is especially insulting. Sarah, who represents this tax bracket, is portrayed as a suffocatingly annoying “Social Justice Warrior” who bothers everyone with her political correctness and veganism. To paint Sarah as the stereotypical crazy liberal while giving all the sympathy to her multi-millionaire brother, the show seems to tell us that everyone has their problems, and therefore Sarah needs to actually stop complaining about her inability to live. Or worse, it suggests that her financial difficulties are her own fault.
But don’t worry. The show cannot be socially unaware because every once in a while, they throw in a phrase like “white privilege” or “What are the doll’s pronouns?” as comedic punchlines, breezing over language associated with sensitivity as some kind of modern trend. Here, the series’ performative activism is at its most transparent, an indication of fake “wokeness” that seems to say, “We did it. We elected Biden, everything is fixed and now it’s time to calm down with that progressive stuff.”
Unless this is some sneaky setup for a crazy out-of-nowhere twist, I have no kind words to offer. With the advent of shows like “Home Economics” and the aforementioned “United States of Al,” I can’t help but shudder at how closely this kind of media echoes that of the Obama “post-racial” era. There seems to be a notion in upper-class liberal circles that since former President Donald Trump is out of office, the problems facing working-class people have simply disappeared. Yet, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The commodification of social movements is a key element to ensuring change never really happens — that it remains nothing but a cute, empty idea so that those with power and wealth don’t actually have to change anything. This show seems like exactly that: Mockingly privileged shlock, patting itself on the back for saying the word “pronouns,” (albeit in the form of a punchline).
By taking progressive rhetoric and selling it off as a silly trend without acknowledging any of the root problems it seeks to address, shows like this only serve to delegitimize pressing social issues. Make no mistake, the harm that it can do is equal in measure to anything else. With the emergence of so many important progressive movements we’ve seen in the past year, we cannot afford to champion shows like this, which aim to quell rightful frustration.
To the Big Three companies and all media-creating sources, I beg you: Either do these issues justice or don’t do them at all.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.