Commentary: WE tv’s “Downsized”

Mr. NSF recently introduced me to this train wreck of a show, Downsized. It follows a blended family — a couple with 7 children from previous marriages — in Arizona who suddenly have to cut corners after the father’s contractor business went bust along with the economy.

I’m sure a lot of the things that happened in the few episodes we watched were orchestrated by the producers. At least, I hope so, because the things they were doing to make money made no sense to me.

In fact, every single scenario I saw drove me batty — so much so that I’m blogging about it two days later!

Here are just a few of the situations that made me nuts:

1. Wife takes on a part-time job cleaning a neighbor’s house. Then proceeds to make their 4 daughters come and help, promising to pay them $5 each as their “cut.” THEN she only charges the homeowner $80 instead of the $100 she first said would be the fee.

My thought: It would make much more sense to 1) Charge what you’re going to charge and 2) Not take all four girls with you and pay them a ridiculous $5. We’re not talking young kids here – the ages are 10, 14, 15 and 16. The older three could easily get jobs of their own and use the money to pay for a portion of their needs and wants. In fact, the oldest one is said to have a waitressing job.

2. The family JUST now starts to cut down expenses. This is after exhausting their savings and 401(k) plans. One episode has them outlining how much cable TV, extracurricular activities and eating out cost them. They figured out that they could pay the entire rent by trimming the fat and spending less. Their two homes went into foreclosure, but they’re still renting a pretty big house for what seems to be about $1500 a month — and that home fits all 9 of the family members.

My thought: Sure, they originally were living beyond their means, but once the contracting work began drying up, wouldn’t it have been smart to reassess their budget then — and not two years later?

3. The mom complains about giving up her morning coffee, which she purchased from a coffee shop. But her “morning coffee” is really some sort of iced coffee drink. The father comes home with the ingredients necessary for her to make her own, complete with a reusable plastic cup with a lid and straw. So what do we see? The mom proceeds to make a large quantity of the coffee drink and share it with the kids.

My thought: First of all, kids don’t need the caffeine found in coffee, and secondly, she just wasted her entire ingredients supply.

4. One daughter gets to go to prom (father’s daughter from previous marriage), while other daughter (mom’s from previous marriage) can’t, even though she already has a dress. This one really blew my mind. While I know the dad’s daughter was able to go to prom because her biological mother paid for her ticket to attend, the “destitute” family couldn’t afford the same ticket. Adding to the sad story, the tickets wound up being sold out before her boyfriend could buy them.

My thought: The money the dad spent on the coffee ingredients could have put a nice dent in the ticket price. And the situation could cause animosity between the stepsisters.

There were many more examples, but these were the ones that stood out to me. I won’t be watching this show ever again, that’s for sure.

11 comments to Commentary: WE tv’s “Downsized”

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Penny, Penny. Penny said: Commentary: WE tv's "Downsized" — what a wreck of a show. […]

  • I thought that it was just me. I got through half of the episode with the cleaning and couldn’t watch anymore. I just couldn’t take the train wreck. Many portions of the show felt scripted buy the producers. I kept wanting to smack the parents. The smaller kids were getting in the way and I almost felt like some of the older kids were being punished for their parents’ bad judgments.

  • I have seen the commercials but haven’t seen the show; however, it sounds horrible. That would be so frustrating to watch that family (especially since they’re obviously all faking because they’ll be making a lot of money from the show and end up being out of debt for at least a while after they get their big paycheck).

  • GBN

    Having now watched all eight episodes of Downsized, the Bruce had one marketable product, recession notwithstanding, namely themselves.

    No doubt, the production company, Pie Town Productions, auditioned a number of families, and of course selected with the most telegenic people and at a telegenic Phoenix area location.

    That’s showbiz, folks.

    But all told, the show portrayed Todd Bruce as a guy who readily admitted he made mistakes both with business and personal finance, but I think he recognizes the responsibility he has to his family – and is prepared to take, if offered (we won’t know as this occurred during the final episode, an out of town temporary job.

    Wife Laura, sorry to say, was portrayed as an “Italian-American Princess’, who surely was spoiled as a child by her apparently well-to-do family and came into two marriages rather “clueless’. To put it mildly, she is simply another Carmella Soprano. I think Todd has well founded concerns that with him gone and she the head of the household, the plans for fiscal responsibility he had put in place would simply fall apart. In a heartbeat, she’d be back to her Starbucks (whoops, “luxury coffee”; can’t mention brands that are not sponsors) and within a fortnight, be having a ‘spree’ at the local Mall.

    But Laura does have one “Ace in the hold” and that is her Sister who appearing in the final episode, appears to be a “gal with her head screwed on”. At a restaurant, Laura says to “Sis” how she wants to have a child with Todd – age 40 notwithstanding (I guess if you’ve had five normal births, what’s one more?); Sis sure shoots that one down with the kind of advice that I don’t think Laura had too much of along the way (“do you realize it costs $200K to raise a child through High School?”). All told, if Todd goes, Sis had best step in.

    But then this show is entertainment first, and should not be considered any kind of a ‘your money’ show, such as those of Suze Orman and other “gurus’.

    Thanks for reading.

  • marilyn Bolster

    I think you all are full of crap! And full of negativity! How sad to have such a sinister mind. I loved the show. And so did a lot of other people. I believed most of it was real on some level. I feel they all learned something from the experience. And I might add it was renewed! So don’t watch it!It was much better than most reality shows that I have seen. There was some morality in it. About a blended family trying to learn from there mistakes. How bad can that be. Even if some of it was staged. So what!

  • GBN

    Well folks, Season 2 is under way!!!

    I was surprised, and if I may say, delighted when I learned this show had been renewed, so I guess the “in case it didn’t’ scene of Todd being dropped off at the airport turned out simply to be a convenient spot at which to take a break.

    OK, now “fast forward’ to Season 2 where we learn that even though Todd’s Kansas City gig wasn’t to be, the family ‘did OK” (actual amount not disclosed) from appearing in Season 1 and were able not only to “clear up the (plastic) cards’ but also had a ‘rainy day fund’ of about $30K.

    This season, it appears Laura has her head screwed on but that Todd is becoming a bit clueless. Todd wants a new home for all the emotional reasons the current economic conditions have laid to rest (“It’s ours; not someone else’s”); Laura is now the one “putting on the brakes’ over such. Now it appears within Episode 2 that is the prudent step when first one of Laura’s children, Rex, has an asthma attack and runs up $30K of uninsured medical bills (they had some kind of limited coverage insurance; and the insurer says no coverage account a preexisting condition – I guess a child born with asthmatic conditions can be considered “preexisting’) and Todd does not get a contract he thought was “in the bag’.

    Meantime, the teen-aged kids all seem to have the appurtenances of affluent suburban life; they have automobiles (used), cellphones, ‘girls night out”, and all the ups and downs of teen life (a boyfriend breakup that can’t seem to be “shaken”).

    Otherwise, I wish the Bruce family well; think I’ll hang around to watch it all unfold.

  • June

    This a large family of 9 people that have been living above their means for years. (This is the American Way) When the recession was hitting did they not think they would be affected? Start downsizing immediately not wait years later when things really get rough. Instead of using up all your savings or retirement, sell one of your two houses. You can’t physically live in both at once anyway. Do all your kids need cars? How about just the eldest gets one and helps drive the others to school and sports. That’s how families do it in my area. If you’re 16…time to get a part time job, I worked at 15 at the public library. That way you can pay for your own extra spending. Don’t eat out as much, buy groceries with coupons, necessities, not junk foods.

    I guess I just don’t see the value in watching a family that now feels like they are drowning in debt…when lots of American’s live that way. Many of us live frugally and work hard we don’t have shows. Wanna impress me a family that is really struggling and working their butt off to send their kids to college. That’s an uplifting story, the real work towards the american dream. Not a family that has the american dream and couldn’t sustain it because they went too far.

  • GBN

    Well, Episode #6 (of 10) has now been aired, and it appears the production is veering away from the precarious financial condition of the Bruce/Rumsey family and the remedies they are taking to address the situation and into their non-financial issues.

    Laura has MS, and I feel very sorry “person-to-person” that such is the case. But somehow I think that she attends an out-of-town MS charity event in Tucson does not directly related to the family’s financial condition. Likewise, the “sidebar” within Episode #4 relating to Todd’s ‘born to be wild’ son, Cody, who lives away from his family, has little to do with finance.

    The Episode #5 “charade” of making the kids “pay” for their room and board appears rather meaningless, especially in view of that Laura gave them back all of their “payments’ – sort of appeared as an “allowance bonus” to me.

    I can only hope that the final four episodes will return to the “roots” of the production and will define the goals that will signal the family is “out of the woods’ (e.g. purchase of a home) and to what extent they have attained them. While likely this retired CPA views this show from a different set of eyes than the audience at large, this is where I would like to see the series end.

    At this time, I am “indifferent” as to whether or not the series is worthy of a Season #3.

    Thanks for reading.

  • GBN

    Well, it’s over; definitely for the season and possibly for good.

    What was billed initially as a “how to” production for families that formerly “lived large’ to “downsize’ metamorphosed into a “Prime-time Soap’ – with ‘actors” performing at likely less than Guild scale.

    The production simply became one more directed towards addressing family issues such as possible ‘date violence’ (not to belittle that important social issue) rather than personal finance matters, and as a result, it became difficult for me to give it proper attention. It appeared the only matter addressed in the final episode related to family finance was whether one child, Rex, should move to Georgia taking up residency with a relative in order to possibly qualify for a lucrative college scholarship offered to in-State residents.

    Otherwise, all seems to end well. There is acknowledgement that Todd’s contracting business is picking up and that Laura thinks her teaching position is “safe” – and the family is portrayed as a cohesive unit. What of course is not said is that with the remuneration for appearing in the production, the family should have adequate “cushion’ for the immediate expenses, such as apparently community college tuition and orthodontic work, so that life will go on.

    I wish the Bruce/Rumsey family well; as somehow I think this production has ‘run its course”.

    Thanks for reading

    • Nicole

      GBN: Thanks for the commentary! We’ve thought the same, that this season became more of a ‘reality show’ rather than a show focused on personal finance. Oh well.

  • Renee

    I know this is several years later but I just saw season one and had to clear one thing up on the article above. They could afford to pay for the other daughter to go to prom!! She did not want to go because she talked to her boyfriend (on the show) and found out he could not go because he did not get his grades up and she did not want to go without him so she told her mom the tickets where already sold out and that she really did not want to go. Her mom did not believe her but the daughter convinced her. They were prepared to pay but she did not want to go without him… she said that on camera after he told her he could not go.

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