It says a lot about the state of the sitcom wife that Katie, with her perpetually blown-out hair and flawless makeup and, what, size 14 body, is positioned as a kind of anti-hero. Katie and Greg are a nice change from the fat-slob-husband/thin-beautiful-wife dynamic we’re used to seeing on network comedies. Still, it’s disappointing that the one time a sitcom wife is heavier than her husband, the show has to make it all about the fact that she’s heavier than her husband.
American Housewife’s satire of privileged stay-at-home moms who live in yoga pants is too broad to be all that funny. But those characters seem to exist less for the laughs than to make Katie and her family look like scrappy underdogs and not the beneficiaries of the exact same privilege. After a “Westport mommy” fake-smiles at Katie and congratulates her for being “so real,” Katie turns to her cool-mom friends (played by Ali Wong and Carly Hughes) and says, “What do you say, bitches? Second breakfast?” Just because Katie eats solid food instead of sipping discreetly from a Mason jar doesn’t make her any more “real” or less advantaged than the objects of her scorn.
American Housewife is a strange and deceptive mix of progressive and conservative impulses. When Katie objects to Oliver’s stock-trading hobby, he points out, “If I thought I might be a girl on the inside, you’d let me wear a skirt to school. This is no different.” In one scene, Greg casually wears a t-shirt that reads, “My wife is married to a feminist.”
And yet the second episode firmly establishes the conservatism at the heart of American Housewife, with a plot that revolves around Katie’s desire to take a nap. Through more irritating voiceover, we learn that Katie has a marketing degree from Duke and used to work as a sales director — for a stroller company, lest this information throw her essential domesticity into question. Driving home after her ritual second breakfast, Katie notices Oliver left his lunch in the backseat of the car. “If I had a job, I’d have my assistant do this,” she says in voiceover as she delivers the lunch bag to school — as if every job comes with such perks.
Later, Katie reveals that her boss at the ol’ stroller company wants her back, in her old position. She appears to be on the verge of accepting the offer, until she abruptly talks herself out of it and decides, “Being at home with my kids is the most important thing I could be doing right now.”
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a woman who wants to stay at home and look after the kids. And I appreciate that taking care of children is hard work. But for Greg and Katie, this isn’t even a conversation — there’s no mention of whether they can afford childcare if she goes back to work, or if it would be viable for Katie to commute to work, or if Greg’s lone salary is enough to support the family. There are no difficult choices to be made here; just endless snide remarks about the depravity of everyone else.
American Housewife presents itself as a story about a housewife who’s too fat to fit in. But Katie’s weight turns out to be a mask for the show’s retrograde message, which is that women with children belong at home. The result is a mess, a weird mix of antiquated sitcom tropes harking back to the bygone era of Leave it to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show, diluted but not countered by its of-the-moment liberal talking points. According to this show, putting a wife to work may not be “dangerous.” But it ain’t American.
American Housewife premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.