"You're so real" is one of those backhanded compliments said by fake people that only accentuates their fakeness. It could mean a lot of things, but on ABC's new sitcom American Housewife, the lead character Katie (Katy Mixon) — the recipient of the "You're so real" comment — takes it to mean that she's fat.
And by her repeated admission (the word "fat" isn't sparingly used), she is. But it's an instant exchange that makes Katie relatable whether you're fat or dark or one-legged or not a fan of Game of Thrones. I'm real, you're real, the skinny woman in the yoga pants drinking the glass of algae or whatever who told Katie she's so real isn't. That's the hurdle that American Housewife jumps over right off the bat, one of the reasons American Housewife continues ABC's trend of quality family sitcoms.
ABC is the network leader in television's hot trend of diversity, and it's most noticeable in its comedies. Modern Family has important gay characters, Black-ish centers on an African-American family, Fresh Off the Boat follows Asian-Americans and new comedy Speechless has a disabled family member as its focus. Here on American Housewife, a plus-size woman gets the spotlight and issues of weight are addressed, continuing ABC's trend of covering all bases. (Next year, entirely delusional people get their own ABC sitcoms in the imaginary-friend comedy Imaginary Mary and the talking-dog comedy Downward Dog, but I'm not sure if that counts.)
By relating to "normies" like you and me, ABC's comedies give much-needed attention to "real" people who aren't always given their turn on television. But the ultimate message in American Housewife — formerly known as the more direct and less patriotic The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport — is the same as ABC's other comedies: it's time for the rise of the outsider.
Mixon plays a married mom of three kids in the suburban Lululemon enclave of Westport, Connecticut, and when her heavyset neighbor decides to move away, Katie becomes obsessed with knowing that she'll be going from third-fattest housewife in town to second, and boy, is she sour about it. But it's that contempt of having that self-given title that gives American Housewife its drive and character, fantastically brought to life by Mixon.
Mixon has experience playing the "healthy" woman in a sitcom about fat people. She was Victoria Flynn on CBS' Mike & Molly, and if you're familiar with the show, you're familiar with Mixon playing a morally loose stoner who consumed men as often as she consumed snacks. On American Housewife, Mixon gets to show another side, and she's spectacular to the point where watching American Housewife is worth it just to see Mixon.
Katie is sarcastic, playfully mean-spirited (except when she ain't playin') and brutally honest. In voiceover, she has no trouble admitting that her youngest daughter Anna-Kat (Julia Butters) is her favorite child, which is a good indicator of the type of person she is. She'll spit venom at the skinnies behind a smile and let that smile turn to a sneer the minute their backs are turned. This is classic ingroup-outgroup behavior from our high school days played out in adulthood, and in Mixon, we have our warrior willing to stand up for all of us who could never be on the cover of Suburban Mom Monthly.
Her family is in the middle of a crisis, with oldest daughter Taylor (Meg Donnelly) blossoming from awkward stick figure to well-developed popular girl and middle child Harrison (Daniel DiMaggio) channeling the conservative idealism of Alex P. Keaton. Husband Greg (Diedrich Bader), meanwhile, is the typical clueless but caring (and funny) dad who acts as Katie's buoy whenever she gets too upset. It's not a revolutionary setup for a TV family, but again, it's all about how Katie handles them — like the aforementioned confession of unapologetically favoring her youngest child — that makes it work.
However, what will make American Housewife work or not work is how the series chooses to address weight issues, and there's reason to believe that the show isn't quite sure how to handle them. In the pilot, Katie bounces back and forth between unwavering confidence in her body and bouts of concern over how she looks with no real transition between them.
But maybe that's the point and we're seeing a nuanced character with layers to their self-esteem, something everyone not named Donald Trump deals with. Maybe Katie wants to be that confident woman but still struggles with her own self doubt. It's hard for that to play out effectively over a 22-minute episode, so it will be something to watch out for throughout the course of the season. If American Housewife can get it right, we may be looking at the best new sitcom character of the season. Not just because she's fat and dealing with it, but because she's real.
American Housewife premieres Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.