Phoebe Robinson’s new sitcom, ‘Everything’s Trash,’ is full of possibilities
“Everything’s Trash,” which premieres Wednesday on Freeform, is a decent little sitcom that finds an effective way to frame and fictionalize star Phoebe Robinson. Robinson’s character, also called Phoebe, is, like Robinson, a podcaster, living in Brooklyn, with an older brother (Jordan Carlos as Jayden) entering politics. (Robinson’s brother Phil was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2018.) She also shares Robinson’s tendency to cut off the end of words — “generashe” for “generation” and so on — or compound first syllables, as in “sere-sere,” an unserious substitution for “serious.”
Co-created by Robinson and showrunner Jonathan Groff (“black-ish,” “How I Met Your Mother”), the series has Phoebe, somewhere in her 30s — Robinson is 37, but Phoebe probably is not — belatedly waking up to (or being woken up to) adulthood. This is not merely to avoid negative publicity that might affect her brother’s campaign, but because she may be tiring of dating losers and her cherished “smash and dash” lifestyle — though she will also defend her right to “spread my legs in discount Victoria Beckham for any man that I choose, just like my ancestors would have wanted.” (In the inadvertently topical opening scene, having slept with an idiot — the memorably funny Tosin Morohunfola — she is out to buy a Plan B pill.) Still, there is more rom-com to this series than sex romp.
Like many sitcom stars, Robinson plays a less successful, or not yet successful, version of her real self, who writes bestselling books — including the one that gives the series its name, “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay” — has her own publishing imprint, performs stand-up, has guest-hosted “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” was Michelle Obama’s interlocutor for five nights on her “Becoming” book tour, and not incidentally, stars in this sitcom.
Phoebe is only a podcaster, the host of a show also called “Everything’s Trash,” which mostly tracks her sex/love life; while not avoiding sex or silliness, Robinson’s own podcasts — including, “2 Dope Queens,” with Jessica Williams, which became a series of HBO specials, her own “Sooo Many White Guys” and the homemade “Black Frasier” — betray a maturity and depth and range of interest that Phoebe will have to earn.
Nevertheless, “Everything’s Trash” is making waves around New York — if little money — as part of a company whose other podcasts include “Murder Gals,” “Skinny Ladies Who Eat” and “Brooklyn Dads.” (“I told you, postpartum from a male perspective was an important voice missing from the discourse.” “I am so grateful my wife’s pregnancy almost killed her.”)
Like “Broad City,” a series on which Robinson worked as a consultant (and whose Ilana Glazer was an executive producer of “Sooo Many White Guys”), it is set in the wonderland of Brooklyn; there are jokes about gentrification and colonization, croissants and coffee. It’s also in the tradition of such sitcoms as “That Girl,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Caroline in the City,” “Younger” and “Broad City,” in which young(ish) women work and play, find or fail to find romance and make a family of friends (and sometimes of family) against an urban background.
That the principals are Black — with the single exception of Phoebe’s roommate, Michael (Moses Storm) — is new and welcome in this lineage. Apart from Michael, the designated goofball, the white people they encounter tend to be cluelessly woke (“We do every single holiday on the calendar just to be safe — we don’t want to exclude anyone”), thoughtlessly patronizing (“Speak your truth,” says a boss who does not plan to listen) or just weird. (See “Brooklyn Dads,” above.)
Jayden is as straight-arrow as his sister is unbridled. (“There’s no way you’ve had sex before,” says Michael, despairing of making him over in search of the youth vote. “I haven’t,” says Jayden proudly. “I make love.”). His wife, Jessie (Nneka Okafor), is a college professor who comes from money; their mouthy child, Aisha, played by Farah Felisbret, has a way with lines like, “Mommy, the babysitter doesn’t want me to watch ‘Making a Murderer,’ so can you please tell her this is my house?” You do wait to hear what she’ll say next.
Rounding out the main cast is Toccarra Cash as Malika, Phoebe’s producer and co-host; in a nice change from the usually wacky best friend, she is smart and centered, and Cash does a lot to root the series in everyday reality. Also solid is Brandon Jay McLaren as Hamilton, with whom Phoebe hooks up without realizing that he is the communications director for her brother’s opponent. (He told her, but she was too distracted eating a cookie to listen.) More than Jayden’s campaign, their off-again, on-again relationship is the series’ dramatic through line, one that allows Robinson to express deeper feelings (and also a horror of them). Robinson and McLaren have a nice chemistry that lends substance to their scenes together; their banter does not bear the stamp of the writers room.
If, based on the five episodes out for review, “Everything’s Trash” is not always as fizzy or funny as Robinson can be just talking, it’s a friendly place, intriguingly populated and full of possibilities.
When: 7 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under age 14)
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