You might be surprised to hear that the best new network show of the fall season may well be on The CW, shunted onto a throwaway night that the network turned over to an outside production company to fill with programming. Because The CW and the studio, Media Rights Capital, didn’t send me a premiere screener of Easy Money, which debuted last night, I was just as surprised.
Easy Money would be intriguing for its scarily prescient premise alone: it’s a comedy-tinged drama about the Buffkin family, who run a loan-sharking business presided over by matriarch Bobette (Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf) and largely run by her son Morgan (Jeff Hephner), whom Bobette gave the middle name “Stanley” in a burst of postpartum optimism. “My business is based on one simple idea,” Morgan tells a date of his: “Never tell yourself no.” Easy Money is suffused in that philosophy, not just embodied in the loan business but in various characters who chase get-rich-quick dreams, from buying lottery tickets to joining acai-berry-juice pyramid scams.
The show isn’t perfect; the pilot worked a little too hard to sell its themes (although it probably didn’t anticipate a credit crisis making those themes so glaringly self-evident). But Hephner makes a compelling, sympathetic lead as the scion who’s not entirely comfortable with his family’s business, and Metcalf, who was unforgettable on Roseanne, gets a deserved showcase as Bobette, the self-rationalizing embodiment of the American Scheme. “Nobody calls MasterCard a Shylock!” she protests, when Morgan expresses doubts about their chosen line of work. “Is Arby’s taking advantage of people’s weaknesses because they make cheesecake poppers?”
The series is even more frighteningly on the mark than 24 (whose pilot was shot the spring before 9/11); that show spent its first season worrying about a single assassination plot and terrorists from Serbia. Easy Money has a clear-eyed sense of who the danger is now: everyone out there keeping up with the overextended Joneses, and the money-pushers who made it possible.
Granted that best show of the fall is a low bar to clear this year, Easy Money is easily one of the top two or three candidates (the others, so far, being Fringe and Life on Mars, to give you an idea of the competition). The CW is not yet streaming the pilot online, but you can look for it (and find previews) at the network site, and I recommend checking out the second episode. If the TV or computer you’re watching it on happens to be paid for, bonus points for you.