Rebel Yells, But You're Likely to Yawn in Response

New ABC show wastes Katey Sagal’s massive talents.


  • Rebel. ABC. Thursday, April 8, 10 p.m.
  • Home Economics. ABC. Wednesday, April 7, 8:30 p.m.

Disney holds monthly search-and-destroy meetings to root out the apparently endless amount of racist material in its old movies. If only the company could make a fraction of that effort to eliminate the brain-dead drivel in its captive ABC network, TV critics could all whistle while we worked instead of putting lit cigarettes out in our eyes, which I'm sure will take a major uptick in the CDC statistics after this week's screeners get around.

Not since the U.S. Army Air Force and the RAF last visited Dresden have two such fearsome bombs exploded at the same time as ABC's Rebel and Home Economics, and there aren't even any Nazis around to blame it on.

Like Dresden, Rebel has an awesome mortality rate, the most tragic fatality being the career of Katey Sagal. Sagal is an astonishingly versatile actress, hopping between eccentric dramatic roles—a homicidal motorcycle hoochie in Sons of Anarchy, a 14th-century Welsh witch in The Bastard Executioner—with astounding power. And she started it all by brilliantly reworking (or maybe bitch-slapping) the smiley-faced June Cleaver/Harriet Nelson suburban housewife archetype with her gloriously deviant portrayal of the slothful ("the laziest bitch in Chicago," as she bragged in one episode) and promiscuous Peggy Bundy in the sitcom lampoon Married…With Children.

But in Rebel, Sagal is trying to animate a character whose bellicosity and smug populism obliterate everything around her, including plot, characterization, and credibility. That's Rebel Bello, a political activist disguised as a paralegal, who litigates not with evidence and witnesses but by unleashing mobs on the country clubs of defendants. ("She's not a lawyer, she's just loud," observes another character with deadly accuracy.)

She's fond of saying—well, shrieking—things like "I keep hoping one day I'll wake up and the world will have saved itself!" and "I bring the CEOs of multinational corporations to their knees!" This apparently keeps the class-action plaintiffs rolling in, though it's a little rough on Rebel's husbands—three and counting. By the way, saving the world apparently pays pretty well: One of Rebel's regular complaints is how her ex-husbands wind up with all her money. You'd think the Savior of the World and Slayer of Multinational CEOs could find a decent divorce lawyer. But she's too busy drumming up class-action business for that.  At the moment, she's seeking victims of a sleazy manufacturer's defective heart valves, which bring on death in outlandishly lurid and jury-pleasing ways.

If the concept of a belligerently trashy blue-collar paralegal substituting emotion for evidence as she attacks a purportedly murderous corporation sounds familiar, keep an eye out as Rebel's credits roll for an amazing coincidence: Erin Brockovich as executive producer! If you change those heart valves for contaminated water, Rebel's plot is a virtual clone of the 2000 film about the real-life paralegal Brockovich. That one at least had an engaging story, even if it was almost entirely fictionRebel is merely a boorish bore.

Home Economics is also from a familiar genre, that of the dysfunctional family forced back together by hard economic times. This has produced some pretty good sitcoms, though not a one of them has survived more than a single season.  Audiences who are working in miserable pinch-penny circumstances seem not to enjoy seeing it on TV at home, too.

That won't be a problem for Home Economics, which fails entirely on its own demerits. It's about three siblings—one boundlessly rich (he just bought Matt Damon's house), one grindingly poor (she can't afford Damon's movie tickets, much less his home) and one going down fast (his last novel sold five copies, one of them to the rich brother).  No worry—they're all brought together by mutual peevishness, spite and jealousy. After extensive and determinedly unfunny airing of grievances, they conclude that, as the rich brother declares, that "we're all screwed up." And, he adds: "What a relief!" Speak for yourself, buddy.