ABC’s American Housewife offers a refreshing new take on the sitcom mom. In other series, the matriarch has traditionally been the force of sanity and structure on the household: Today there’s Modern Family’s Claire, going all the way back to Wilma Flintstone and June Cleaver. But Katy Mixon’s Katie is more of a fierce source of strength, even as she frequently oversteps and comes up with outlandish escapades. Mostly, Katie is determined to raise her three children into valuable human beings in the tony suburb of Westport, Connecticut, even as her son gets bowled over by his friends’ fancy houses and her younger daughter struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Fortunately, Katie is aided in her efforts by her two best friends, Doris and Angela, played by Ali Wong and Carly Hughes, respectively, as they also break from the traditional Westchester mom mold. At the winter Television Critics Association, The A.V. Club talked to the three of them about that hardest job of all. Mixon was especially enthusiastic about it, as she was seven months pregnant with her first child at the time.
Katy Mixon: I grew up in a family, six girls and one boy, so I watched my mommy handle it. So walking into this role, it just felt so natural. My dearest manager, Larry, goes, “I need you to read this script. You’re a mommy of three.” And I was like, here we go. I welcome it. I naturally walked into it. And then on top of that, now I’m really pregnant. So it’s a really cool situation.
The A.V. Club: Why do you think it’s such a good role for you?
KM: It’s something to be said when actors are able to literally play a role that just says it like it is. And she’s not bottled up all the time, and she’s not perfect, and she knows it. And you watch her ebbs and flows, and I think that’s refreshing.
AVC: What I love about her is she sees the big picture—she can’t have her kids grow up to be assholes.
KM: Exactly. They can’t be assholes. And I’ve got to rectify the situation before it happens.
AVC: I also like the show because I am frequently the mom at school pickup in pajama pants.
Ali Wong: I’m a big fan of the whore’s bath. My mom calls it the bitch bath. She was like, “I’m just going to do the bitch bath today,” and as a kid I’d be like, “You’re what?!” A bitch bath is better than no bath.
Carly Hughes: We called it cowboy bath.
AVC: I love that it has a name everywhere. Are you guys moms yourselves?
AW: I’m a mom.
AVC: How old?
AW: A year and a month. So I love the episodes. I really, really loved the one about the nap. Do you remember that one? Where she’s just trying to take a nap.
AVC: It’s this completely unattainable goal.
AW: People keep telling you that you need to take a nap. It’s like, “I know I need to take a motherfucking nap!” But you’re like, I can’t do it. Things keep coming up.
CH: I don’t have any kids, but I’ve had my hand in helping raise several in my lifetime. I have a huge family, and I’ve dated men with kids, so there have been times where I haven’t been able to take a nap!
AVC: I’m sorry to call out Julie Bowen, but I don’t know many moms who look like that.
CH: There’s a diversity in bodies just like there’s a diversity in anything else.
AW: And the mom who gets to make the jokes, too, which is nice with Katie. I feel like moms always get made fun of for being naggy and annoying, but she gets to be the lead. She gets to be the voice that drives the stories on the show, and that’s something really subtle but huge that you don’t see a lot on television at all.
AVC: It started with the “dumb daddy” thing. That’s why they had to call the old show Father Knows Best, because all the sitcoms were like Life Of Riley or The Flintstones, and the dads would wander into something stupid, and the mom would always have to fix it.
CH: Right. Always about Dad.
AW: It was like a hands-on-the-hips character and the finger wag.
CH: They’d have no personality.
AW: And it’s no fun to play that character.
AVC: Katie brings that different energy.
AW: And she’s got the talent to back it up, too.
CH: She gives it personality, she gives it life, she gives it meaning. It’s not just a joke or a caricature coming at you on screen. These are everyday things that a lot of moms that you know go through, or yourself, our viewership. So it’s nice to see that. It’s great.
AVC: Especially with the youngest daughter and the issues she has.
CH: Right, not all your kids are the same.
AVC: They’re all going to have different issues, but some are tougher than others. Medication? Non-medication? That’s a hard one.
AW: And that’s something else that makes it a nontraditional show. Yes, she has a special needs kid, but that’s not her character. That’s also not what the show is about. It doesn’t center around this family that struggles around this special needs child. She’s got two other kids, and if you know a family like that then it’s like, it’s another kid. It’s not this huge thing.
CH: And it’s another layer of the show, of what she has to be naggy about, or testy, or short-tempered about. Because she has three kids. And they’re all extremely different. And then your husband, you know, you’re dealing with all of these things. You get to see it.
AVC: Are you guys surprised by the show’s success?
AW: This is the fourth network show I’ve done, but the first that’s gone past one season. And I didn’t know—I did not expect this at all. Because there’s not a ton of promotion for the show, so we were the underdog in many ways, much like Katie’s family, Katie’s character. And I think it actually worked out really well because the way it was promoted was not through billboards or print, which probably wouldn’t sell the show that much, but GIFs of her or sound bites of her talking. Because this is a show where people are not so much interested in, again, what she looks like.
CH: It’s more about what she has to say.