ABC’s flagship sitcom Modern Family professes to depict different versions of the typical American family, but the similarly generically titled American Housewife may eventually do a better job. Namely because the title character actually resembles the average American housewife (size 12 to 14) more than Sofia Vergara or Julie Bowen does.
This twist on our main character does nothing to lessen her appeal; in fact, it may even add to it. Maybe it’s her honeyed Southern accent on top of a just-beneath-the-surface frantic energy, but Katy Mixon, late of Mike & Molly and Eastbound & Down, is the kind of person you can instantly hang an entire sitcom on. As Katie, her fourth-wall-breaking voice-over leads us through her introductions of her kids (newly glamorous Taylor, enterprising Oliver, troubled but adorable Anna-Kat) and her hapless husband, Greg (Diedrich Bader, who has proved in series like The Drew Carey Show that he’s an excellent supporting player). While he might not be quick enough to contradict Katie when she says she’s fat, Greg is clearly smitten, even as he’s well aware of his wife’s propensity for madcap scheming. But it’s clear who rules the roost among the Ottos, who’ve rented a house in a posh community so that their kids, especially Anna-Kat, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder, can take advantage of the excellent school facilities. That means their somewhat unusual family has to fit into a Stepford-esque colony where everything, really, is pretty usual.
What no one tells you about having kids is that, in some ways, it’s just like breaking into middle school again: As kids weave their way through their social circles, their parents have to find their way through drop-off and pickup conversational klatches. As the second fattest housewife in Westport (the original title of the series), Katie is the only one at drop-off wearing not yoga pants, but a pizza-stained sweater on backwards. Her strength is in not wanting to fit into Westport’s cookie-cutter pattern, alongside the desire to have two of her kids fit in less, and one fit in more. Fortunately she’s not totally on her own in Westport: Besides her family, Katie also has backup in the form of “second breakfast” pals Angela (Carly Hughes) and Doris (Ali Wong).
Katie is conflicted about her weight, like just about every woman in America. Her real friends tell her (rightly) that she’s gorgeous, but her status as the “second-fattest” troubles her so much that she considers some outlandish schemes to welcome some larger women into her neighborhood that may push her further down that particular ladder. As sitcom plots go, that’s pretty unusual (as is Chrissy Metz’s weight-loss storyline on this season’s This Is Us). Of course, after a brief foray into the dark side, Katie realizes that it’s pointless to be anything but herself, and the fun of the show comes from watching her not just discover that but also teach it to her kids. Katie’s mostly unwavering confidence even helps set up her possible future nemesis in the pilot, a double-FitBit-wearing Leslie Bibb as a perfect blond mom. Other secondary characters, like Nude Ned, Westport’s resident homeless guy who wears cashmere castoffs, merely fall into the trap of quirk for quirk’s sake.
Yes, Katie’s “love yourself” is an age-old motto, but one that hasn’t really been shown much from this viewpoint. So few people fit the ideal standard, and most everyone feels like they fail to measure up. This show’s bland title does it a disservice (and there are far too many shows with “American” in the title to keep track of now anyway); its original one would have been both more accurate and more of a draw. Because it’s fun to cheer for a fierce, funny heroine like Katie, who never falters as she tries to snap her kids in line. Who looks right into the camera as she embraces her “second-fattest” status, dances with Anna-Kat, and says, “I’m gonna eat this cupcake.” It shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is.