Recent popular family sitcoms such as Modern Family and Black-ish didn't have money as a focus of their problems. "This left on the table one of the major stories of American family life in an age of increasing precarity, and also created a strange sort of airless feeling," says Daniel D'Addario. "If these folks could afford to do anything, where was the tension? If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see the sitcom take up social class as a concern once again. The next step is to come up with something worth saying. (Recent series including Indebted on NBC and Broke on CBS have run up against this problem.) ABC’s Home Economics has a canny central idea and a game cast, and though its first two episodes lack a certain surefootedness, there is potential there. The challenge the show faces will be coming up with ways to complicate rather than simply restating its premise. And that premise is a fairly elegant one. Three siblings who live near one another occupy three particular rungs of the social ladder, with Jimmy Tatro enjoying a blithe, easy sort of wealth, Caitlin McGee struggling to keep her family afloat, and Topher Grace somewhere in the middle." He adds: "There are definitely stories Home Economics is equipped to tell that hits of the recent past wouldn’t touch; I hope it is able to last long enough to tell them."
ABC may have found its next ambig fily comedy with American Vandal's Jimmy Tatro: While Topher Grace is in peak sitcom form in Home Economics, the actor known for a show about d*ck graffiti is perfect as his charismatic, doofy, ultra-rich kid brother, says Laura Bradley. Home Economics, she says, "starts from a simple premise: Three siblings, each in a very different income bracket, navigate their complicated financial relationship to stay bonded as a family. Topher Grace, echoing his run as endearing dweeb Eric Forman on That ‘70s Show, anchors this new series as wet blanket older brother Tom Hayworth. The impossibly likable Jimmy Tatro, best known for his side-splitting turn as Dylan Maxwell in American Vandal, plays Tom’s insanely rich kid brother Connor, while Caitlin McGee plays their oldest sister, Sarah—who, recently jobless, is struggling the most financially. (You can tell because the apartment she shares with her wife, Denise, is cramped and painted dark green for ultimate dinginess; also, their car has roll-up windows.) It’s fascinating to see this series premiering on ABC roughly one decade after the network unveiled its Emmys juggernaut Modern Family. Although it debuted at the height of a global financial downturn in 2009, the mockumentary-style sitcom (which was extraordinarily popular among wealthy audiences) zeroed in on the recession-proof Pritchett family, and became a reliable hit with critics and audiences alike for years. During the Mod Fam’s reign, the sitcom genre appeared to follow suit, at least on broadcast, until Donald Trump’s election in 2016 sparked renewed interest in the working class." Bradley adds: "It’s impossible to tell, for now, whether this charming sitcom will rise to the notoriety of predecessors like Modern Family. But its soft-focus exploration of class feels like fertile ground for a broadcast sitcom in 2021—and the canny casting, specific but flexible premise, and focus on heart all feel right on the money."
Home Economics wants to be timely, but it's slightly out of sync with its time: "Home Economics is launching at least a year late, since it could have been hailed as the best comedy in a midseason 2020 pack full of shows about how family is the best cure for economic insecurity," says Daniel Fienberg. "Through three episodes sent to critics, it's leaps and bounds better than Outmatched, Indebted, Broke and United We Fall, a quartet of half-season series that even TV critics may not remember. All four indicated that Hollywood is aware that class is something that should be discussed more, without exactly understanding how to do it. Home Economics has the same problem. And maybe Home Economics is two or three years late. In a perfect world, a series like this should at least get the opportunity to grow surrounded by compatible shows; Home Economics would make a terrific match with Single Parents and could be part of an ABC lineup with Fresh Off the Boat and Modern Family and Speechless. Oh well."
Home Economics manages to tackle money matters head-on while making it fun: "Most sitcoms act like struggling young artists can afford giant apartments in Manhattan and don’t bother to explain how; aside from a few exceptions like Roseanne, financial issues are the untouched third rail of TV comedy," says Dave Nemetz. "ABC’s Home Economics, though ... grabs that third rail with both hands, tackling money matters head-on, and that refreshing honesty, along with a very solid trio of stars, make it a newcomer with real promise." He adds that "it's a breezy watch with a casually zany hangout energy, and it hits on some touchy subjects without getting too deep with them. (This is a comedy, after all.) It’s tough to talk about money sometimes, but the Home Economics crew finds a way to make it almost fun."