What’s that you said? “Why won’t TV show people who aren’t rich?” It’s a good question, especially for this aging TVWriter™ minion who as a proud Gen Xer can uncategorically state, “Because was ever thus.”
Luckily for all of us, here’s an article that explains it much better:
by Joanna Weiss
[The year 2017 marked] the final season of what might be the most underappreciated sitcom on TV, ABC’s “The Middle.” It’s a single-camera show about an Indiana family—the title refers to its characters’ Middle-American, middle-class existence—and unlike the edgy comedies and tear-jerker dramas that dominate awards time, its humor is unapologetically middlebrow. But “The Middle” is charming, appealing and funny, in no small part because it has another distinction: It’s one of a precious few shows on TV today that focuses, consistently and honestly, on economic anxiety.
If there were ever a time to double down on stories of the American middle-class struggle, this is it. We’re in the midst of a new Gilded Age, with soaring inequality and stagnant wages—the phenomena that helped make Donald Trump president. We’re also enjoying a golden age of TV, with more networks and platforms creating more scripted shows than ever.
Plenty of smart, acclaimed series have tackled complex social themes with sophistication and sensitivity—think “The Wire” for the urban drug war; “Mad Men” for gender; “Atlanta,” “Black-ish” and “Insecure” for race; “Master of None” for the Muslim-American experience. Even “Game of Thrones” teaches real-world lessons about politics and power. At its best, television holds up a mirror to society and helps us better understand who we are. So the dearth of shows that focus on financial insecurity feels especially glaring.
That’s especially true given the power of the medium, with its intimacy and its leisurely, unfolding storylines, to reshape perceptions of our culture. Socially conscious television producers have long used their scripts to powerful effect. Norman Lear explored America’s racial and social turmoil in “All in the Family,” which set up Archie Bunker, in his armchair throne, as a ’70s-era avatar of the MAGA spirit.
A few years later, Lear produced “Good Times,” the first sitcom that featured an African-American family. It was set in a Chicago housing project, and its theme song was a tart, ironic ode to economic struggle: “Temporary layoffs (Good Times!) Easy credit rip-offs (Good Times!)” In 1998, well before gay marriage became the norm, “Will & Grace” used comedy to pave the way for acceptance.
But Will and Grace were a corporate lawyer and an interior decorator, highlighting this dissonance: Often, on TV, social issues get a full exploration while economic issues are brushed aside. For every Al Bundy selling shoes or Roseanne Conner on a factory line, there have been dozens of shows that peddle material aspiration and the pleasures of real estate porn.
This is the cultural soup we grow up in: As a kid in the ’80s, I spent too many evenings glued to “Diff’rent Strokes,” the cross-racial adoption fantasy that plunked two boys from Harlem on Park Avenue, and “Silver Spoons,” about a father and son who traversed their family mansion on a life-sized toy train. Little had changed by the aughts, when my daughter was binge-watching Disney Channel sitcoms set in penthouses and on yachts—along with a show called “Good Luck Charlie,” about an exterminator, a nurse and their family, who lived in Denver in a house that seemed only a wee bit smaller than Buckingham Palace….