You are probably familiar with a comedy created by Dan Levy about a rich family who loses everything and must downsize their lives and live somewhere rather uncomfortable. It's called Schitt's Creek, it's on Pop TV (and the first five seasons are on Netflix), and it's really good. Please do not confuse it with NBC's new series Indebted, a multi-camera comedy created by a completely different Dan Levy (The Goldbergs) about a rich family who loses everything and must downsize their lives and live somewhere rather uncomfortable. Where Schitt's Creek has heart, Indebted just has an empty hole.
Indebted, which premieres Thursday, Feb. 6 at 9:30/8:30c, stars likable actors Adam Pally (Happy Endings) and Abby Elliott (Saturday Night Live, daughter of Schitt's Creek's Chris) as Dave and Rebecca, a couple whose lives are sitcommed when Dave's once-loaded parents (more likable actors in Fran Drescher and Steven Weber) knock on their door completely broke and end up moving in with them. It's a premise way too common in broadcast television nowadays; even by-the-numbers shows of yesteryear like Everybody Loves Raymond put the parents next door, but having to walk 30 feet on the sidewalk is light years away compared to what comedies need nowadays, as network executives would rather throw overbearing parents into an Instant Pot with their adult kids. (In a decade, I'm sure TV parents' consciousness' will be injected directly into the head of a young mom played by someone like Sarah Hyland as the need to get older moms and dads even closer to their kids for laughs increases.)
Generational lowest-common denominator humor follows, with Drescher's Debbie scoring high on the Boomer index with clueless chatter about apps (sorry TV writers, a 60-year-old getting Twitter's name wrong is not a joke) and Weber's Stew decades behind on societal norms. (Side note: It's scary how good Weber has adapted to playing a dad's dad in a broadcast sitcom.) Meanwhile, Dave and Rebecca try to keep some semblance of their lives while mom and dad accidentally terrorize them by being old and overbearing, but it's hard when Stew accidentally posts footage of Rebecca topless on the internet while begging for money via a GoFundMe-ish site. Don't ask how that happens, I couldn't even explain it and I watched it unfold twice.
But the humor isn't the problem with Indebted; the problem is how it treats debt and fiscal irresponsibility. Debbie and Stew's debt comes from unlikely-but-also-not-impossible stupid decisions, sure -- when they got sad after they realized they lost all their money, they booked an expensive trip to Cabo to lift their spirits. But the repercussions of their financial idiocy are never addressed, nor are the new constraints on the kids who now have to support them. Everyone drinks wine, all the time. Debbie and Stew fit somewhere in the house comfortably, as there doesn't seem to be an issue with space for some reason (maybe it's because Dave and Rebecca's elementary-age kids are virtually non-existent?). When Dave and Rebecca score tickets to see Drake, guess who surprises them at the show, vaping, despite supposedly being broke?
No one struggles. Debt is a joke to Indebted. It's the means to a sitcom premise and not one of the cruel realities facing millions of people in our country and all over the world today. When people in real life talk about being broke, they don't talk about only being able to afford upper-level seats to see a mediocre Canadian rapper, they talk about not being able to afford his CD. Yet Debbie and Stew float through life drunk and laughing, magically pulling money out of their ass from somewhere if it means there's a gag to be had. It would be so easy for Indebted to make empty bank accounts feel like a problem, but it ignores it altogether because it accomplished what was needed to pitch the show to networks: it got the parents in the house.
There is a moment in the third episode when the show seemingly finds a groove for its characters. The four are obsessed with dirty gossip, swapping stories in a dinner table game. They go from being at odds with each other to all being awful people, a formula that can work for the right comedy family (think Arrested Development and its ilk). But catching that nuance is hard, and instead they just become a family of whispering jerks instead of adorable scamps. And yes, debt has almost nothing to do with the episode's storyline.
The grand return of Fran to TV (the Emmy winner's last regular role was on TV Land's Happily Divorced, which aired from 2011 to 2013) marks Indebted as a show of some interest, but even the great cast can't make it work. At least they're cashing a paycheck doing it. If debt really is funny, put a camera in my house as I clip coupons for dried beans and give me an Emmy.
TV Guide Rating: 1.5/5
Schitt's Creek airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Pop TV, and the first five seasons are on Netflix.