In this time of economic crisis, the American people may be persuaded to watch The CW’s Easy Money, in which a family runs a money-lending business for folks who can’t or won’t deal with banks.
Although the financial aspect of the show is intriguing, especially since so many of us purchase beyond our means, it’s really a vehicle to highlight the Buffkin family’s togetherness in the face of unfriendly characters, identity issues, the idea of perception and nature vs. nurture. All that? Well, yes. Easy Money is a straightforward show in some aspects, but it makes a concerted effort to create characters that are more than they seem and does a decent job of it thanks to the cast’s acting talents.
Bobette Buffkin (Laurie Metcalf) is the redheaded matriarch of the family that owns Prestige Payday Loans, a modest yet prosperous business in a nondescript shop in a strip mall. Morgan (Jeff Hephner) is the no-nonsense, responsible son whom she turns to to actually get things done, whether it’s acting as the collections’ muscle, having the clear head or deciding who deserves a loan. It’s no wonder his name is Morgan Stanley (you know, like the bank … holding company).
Oldest son Cooper (Jay R. Ferguson) is relegated to being the go-to computer guy even though he generally uses it for porn, while daughter Brandy (Katie Lowes) does what she’s told but just wants her husband Mike (Joe Peracchio) to succeed at one of his get-rich quick schemes since they spent all of his lottery winnings.
Easy Money’s premiere isn’t too subtle and in fact feels like it cut vital information that could have added more dimension. What we learn though is that the loan business is neither pretty nor easy considering the folks who feel entitled to money even if they don’t repay loans, those who take umbrage to having their car repossessed or even those who want to intimidate you out of business.
The second thing we learn is that Morgan does not belong. No doubt he’s good at what he does and sticks loyally by his family, but he’s not content with his lot in life. He’s an intellectual who argues existentialism, dresses for function not flash and can think on his feet. His situation screams "wasted potential" and no more so when he meets the gorgeous and brainy grad student Julia Miller (Marsha Thomason). But Morgan has always had choices, so the deeper question is why hadn’t he pursued another life?
Morgan is also the "normal" one, the one who is not characterized by some identifying quirk like Cooper’s porn addiction, Brandy’s penchant for short hemlines or local wheelchair resident Shep’s (Gary Farmer) parrot on his shoulder. Besides Julia, the only other person to give him decent conversation is his mom Bobette, who plays off the pretty and hospitable role well, but is a savvy businesswoman underneath her coordinating eye shadow.
A chance bit of information makes Morgan question his identity and his role in the family, his role in the community even. Yes, Morgan has his very own existential crisis. Let the real belly button gazing begin.
As much as these characters are familiar, they’re not always that predictable. Hephner brings a very real earnestness, intelligence and bewilderment to Morgan. He’s good-looking, but not unrealistically soap opera handsome. He’s smart, but doesn’t necessarily think he’s above it all. In short, he’s a good guy we root for even though we’re not sure why he does what he does.
Similarly, the Emmy-winning Metcalf takes Bobette and her overdone styling to a different level. When Morgan expresses discontent about the family business, calling them Shylocks, Bobette answers:
"We help people, Morgan. People that the banks say aren’t good enough, they come to us in their hours of need and we help them. Am I supposed to be responsible for the way people conduct their lives? Is Arby’s taking advantage of people’s weaknesses because they serve cheesecake poppers? I am not a judgmental person. People come to me for a loan. I don’t judge them. I give them what they want."
Although the argument seems simplistic, as if Bobette prefers to live in comfortable ignorance, part of the speech sounds a tad too defensive. Is it possible that Bobette has had thoughts about integrity too? Metcalf has those moments when she allows Bobette to be vulnerable, whether it’s through a fragile bluster or hypocrisy or when she gazes on her children with love. Through that vulnerability comes something else though, which makes her all the more intriguing.
For you see, perception plays a big role here. Despite the cheap and loud appearances they affect for outsiders, they’ve prospered financially to the point of living in excess. The parental home is an impressive estate with vaulted ceilings and multiple flat-screen TVs in one room. Cooper drives a tricked-out H2. Yet they still eat chicken from a bucket for celebrations.
Easy Money may be uneven in its humor at times, but it’s lighthearted, embracing the characters’ various idiosyncrasies in a casual fashion without giving into farce. It’s a quietly likable show that grows on you with each small moment between characters and is a welcome and refreshing change from the "pretty, spoiled and rich" formula that has been taking over The CW.
What did you think of the show? Is it a good addition to The CW?