Another largely unfunny multi-cam sitcom about economic anxiety at least manages to sweeten the deal with some heart.
This recap of Broke Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”, contains spoilers.
Broke (CBS) is the latest in a trend of network sitcom programming that began with NBC’s Indebted and is set to continue in ABC’s United We Fall – that is a multi-cam show attempting to leverage the inevitability of complete financial collapse for laughs. Vague notions of topicality notwithstanding, the idea of an otherwise prosperous relative only being one stock crash or medical bill away from total ruin is a touchy subject, especially if it might mean extended family huddling on the same studio lot and having all their unfunny jokes met with canned laughter.
Broke, then, isn’t exactly starting from an advantageous position, which is a problem since it isn’t very good either. The kindest that can be said is it’s largely inoffensive and has a couple of characters and ideas I’m rather partial to. Created by Alex Herschlag, the setup in Broke Episode 1 sees single mum and struggling bartender Jackie (Pauley Perrette) living hand-to-mouth with her smarty-pants son Sammy (Antonio Corbo) in the ramshackle house she grew up in. She sees a potential reversal of fortune in her sister Elizabeth (Natasha Leggero) and her wealthy husband Javier (Jaime Camil), who pop in for a random visit with their loyal manservant Luis (Izzy Diaz), but it quickly becomes apparent that they’re suddenly as broke as she is and are moving into the house indefinitely.
You can see where a lot of this is going, including lots of broad, exaggerated gags about excess, with Elizabeth having to embrace a life she thought she had left behind and Javier having to learn what normality is for people who don’t have enough disposable income to buy a pyramid on a whim. The fact that Javier’s financial woes stem from him being cut off by his father for spending his allowance irresponsibly is a limp justification, and a disappointing excuse for Broke not to take a stance on America’s healthcare or fragile economic climate, but it helps to reinforce the idea that Javier is basically just an overgrown child with a pure heart – hence his immediate bond with Sammy, and the persistent loyalty of Luis, who remains on his father’s payroll but would apparently stick by him even if he wasn’t.
The sweetness reserved for Javier by Luis, who considered his support when he came out as gay to be much more indicative of his character than his crazy spending habits, helps to give Broke, which is otherwise a mish-mash of multi-cam clichés, something resembling a heart. Note, too, how Perrette’s loud and boisterous character is quick to bend the truth for Sammy’s benefit; the working-class life-is-hard ethos embodied by something like The Conners is largely absent here, this Jackie more reminiscent of struggling single mothers who’ll keep up appearances for their kids no matter what.
It’s easy to see how Broke might find a slightly new lane to progress in, but it’s also easy to see how it might tumble right into the usual genre pitfalls. If the point of Broke Season 1, Episode 1 was to convince people to stick around and see what the show might become, I can’t say in good conscience that it accomplishes that. But you never know. Perhaps in these trying times, media about someone else’s discomfort is just what we need.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.