Topher Grace can see similarities between the cast of “Home Economics” and that of his first series, “That ‘70s Show.”
“Everyone’s so individually talented but then there’s that extra skill of being able to share that with other people,” he explains during a Zoom conference. On other series, actors aren’t as generous. “They’re selfish with their talent and they shouldn’t be on a show like this.”
Playing the older brother in a family with varying degrees of economic success, Grace says there’s a give-and-take necessary to make the comedy work.
“If I pass the ball to one actor, that’s great. They’re passing it over to another actor.”
That synergy is essential to “Home Economics.” In the ABC comedy, Grace plays a writer who’s penning a book about his family – a wealthy younger brother and a struggling younger sister. He’s the man in the middle, just trying to have enough time to finish his work. He asks the rich brother, Connor (Jimmy Tatro), for a loan and, immediately, there are ties that bind. Younger sister, Sarah (Caitlin McGee), loses her job and struggles to get back on track.
The conversations they have are important right now, McGee says. “Support of family members is what gets you through job loss. It’s not a comfortable thing to talk about. But having it in this context – in a comedy – can make people laugh. We need distractions.”
Creator Michael Colton based “Home Economics” on his own family situation. He and his writing partners were in the middle of a bad economic year while his twin brother was enjoying a financial boom – he sold a company for $7 million. “And then I have a sister who works in social work and has never made money,” he says. “It was all these feelings of anxiety, mixed with pride, mixed with jealousy and insecurity (that had) the makings of a show.”
Like Colton’s twin, Tatro’s Connor is invested in companies that no one really understands.
“It’s a very meta concept because Grace’s Tom doesn’t tell his family that he’s writing about them,” Colton says. “With my family, I told them but I waited a little while (to let them) read the script. I was a little unsure how they would react, but I think everybody is excited about it.”
Colton’s twin isn’t separated from his wife, but producers felt it would be good to give the character some vulnerability. “He might have all of the money and the big house but his personal life is in trouble,” Colton says. “He needs his siblings to help him out with that.”
Although Grace never struggled in show business (he was hired for “That ‘70s Show” without any acting experience), he knows how important it is to rely on others. Ashton Kutcher and Laura Prepon, for example, had only modeled before the show. Wilmer Valderrama “could barely speak English. There were other learning curves that we had to deal with.”
Now an executive producer on “Home Economics,” Grace sat in on the casting sessions so he could be sure the chemistry was there between actors.
Karla Souza, who plays Tom’s wife, says she could sense there was bonding in just a matter of weeks. “We’ve had such a blast and it’s only been two episodes,” she says.
Because they didn’t want to copy the template for “Modern Family,” “Home Economics” producers embraced the financial disparity of the siblings. “When you look at (the ‘Modern Family’) families…all of those guys are rich,” Executive Producer John Aboud says. “They are not dealing with any financial troubles.”
Like “Modern Family,” “Home Economics” uses a mockumentary filming style that lets they show what characters are really thinking. “With Tom’s narration, it’s very organic, compared to your typical voiceover, because he’s actually telling this story,” Aboud explains. “We get to see Tom’s perspective and get a lot of extra information in a really simple and fun way.”
Among the gems: Connor lives in a house once owned by Matt Damon. That lets them drop in commentary about past movies and celebrity perks.
Grace says the ribbing works because “Home Economics” has a “dream team” of actors. “It’s like going on a date, except not just with one person. You either have that chemistry or you don’t.”