How's it going? Probably not that great, if you're like most of us. Things are pretty horrible for just about everyone in the whole world, and not just because we're all hiding from an invisible microscopic terror that has taken thousands of lives and upended our way of life, but because the global economy is in tatters from the blunt force of the pandemic that is hanging "indefinitely closed" signs from coast to coast. That makes for unfortunate timing for CBS to release a comedy about being broke. Worse that it's actually called Broke.
Broke premieres Thursday, which for a lot of people is the day after rents or mortgages are due despite being fired from their jobs or seeing their businesses collapse because the worldwide economic shutdown has taken money-making stability out of their control. That has left many of us with more time to watch television (if we haven't pawned off our television set yet, let alone have a roof), but is a comedy about people who are struggling with money what we really want to see? Broke is anti-escapism television when we need a mental holiday the most; despite its ham-fisted multi-camera sitcom set-up, it's too real... and then it adds a laugh track.
Said set-up involves hardworking bartender and single mother Jackie (Pauley Perrette, in her first regular role since leaving NCIS) struggling to get by — her duct-taped laundry basket can't even hold a load of laundry without busting open, for heaven's sake — when her excessively wealthy sister, Elizabeth (Natasha Leggero), her husband, Javier (Jaime Camil), and his driver/assistant/maybe more, Luis (Izzy Diaz), drop in unannounced after Javier loses all their money.
The cast is great. Perrette shows why she's so beloved even if the role is a step down from NCIS's Abby, an inspiration to girls to pursue STEM. Camil, who broke out in the U.S. on Jane the Virgin, continues his Rogelio charade with Latin flamboyance but may be even dumber this time around. Leggero, a sharp-tongued master roaster who has circled plenty of television projects and was perfect in Another Period, plays the rich ditz to the extreme, throwing on a British affect and probably saying "Dahhhhhling" a lot. Diaz plays the straight man, who ironically also happens to be incredibly gay. Inevitably and predictably, Javier's last chance to get money fails, so they plead with Jackie to let them move in. Voila, you have a sitcom.
It's reminiscent of NBC's recent scourge of the poor Indebted or countless other sitcoms in which the haves becomes the have nots, relying on financially lean family members to show them the ropes of being common and get used to a life of wiping their own butts. To its credit, Broke at least acknowledges in its pilot what Indebted didn't; that the severe consequences of being drained of a livable income suck. Leggero's Elizabeth is occasionally struck by the reality of her situation and even sobs in a bathtub over her newfound financial ruin, while Indebted's bankrupt parents went to a Drake concert using scalped tickets as if nothing had really changed.
So yes, Broke is better than Indebted, but it still puts blinders up to reality, though that's not necessarily its fault. Network comedies aiming for mainstream approval must always gloss over actual problems and wrap up episodes with the message that family is more important than money, as Broke's pilot does, but at this moment it has the unintended effect of coming off as disingenuous or like a rich person — say a toilet paper tycoon or a hand sanitizer heir — putting their hand on our knee and saying they know what we're going through. The polished fairy-tale depiction of poverty that these sitcoms show doesn't exist outside the 42-inch screen we watch it on. Turn your head too far to the left or right and the despair of the real world is right there in a pile of Top Ramen wrappers and overdue bills.
"We're good people. Good people shouldn't go broke!" Elizabeth says at one point. That may have been a hopeful rallying cry when Broke's pilot was originally written, but now it's just how it is, and it doesn't seem that funny anymore.
TV Guide Rating: 2/5
Broke airs Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c on CBS.