For a moment or two, it is difficult to comprehend that "Easy Money" is a television drama premiering in the fall of 2008.
Look, there are people who actually resemble real Americans, as opposed to a central-casting-corralled swarm of super-rich young things. We are far, far away from New York or Los Angeles, and, lo, the main characters are neither doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officials or even fashionistas.
How on earth did this happen? "Easy Money" (9 p.m. Sunday on the CW) is easily the most intriguing new show of the season, if only because it relies on neither the great wealth, modern science or female bonding for its narrative thrust.
It also stars Laurie Metcalf, a cause for great rejoicing right there. She plays Bobette Buffkin (Bobette Buffkin!), the matriarch of a family that has made its fortune the old-fashioned way: loan sharking.
Now, when I say fortune, I don't mean "Dirty Sexy Money" or even "Brothers & Sisters" type fortune. In the small sun-bleached town of South Nile, the Buffkins may have a nice little gated spread, but it's still South Nile, honey, where the white grit that swirls off desert roads makes everyone feel a little desperate.
Prestige Loans is truly a family business, employing the entire clan, which includes Cooper (Jay R. Ferguson), the functional-only-with-a-keyboard son; Brandy (Katie Lowes), the daughter who longs for a bigger life but is still pretty excited when a Renaissance fair comes to the mall; and Morgan (Jeff Hephner), the son who can argue existentialism one minute and take a disgruntled "customer" out with a kidney punch the next.
Although the pilot may not be quite as darkly funny as writers Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider think it is, "Easy Money" is worth watching simply because it showcases what is rarely seen on television these days: the working class. "Easy Money" promises a bracing dose of real populism.
The pilot offers up Morgan (middle name Stanley) as the primary source of narrative tension. Though he loves his family and dutifully plays his first-born role in the business, he isn't sure the loan sharking life is for him. Having just lost his girlfriend to the local storage unit don and threatened by the appearance of some tough competition, Morgan finds himself torn between duty and dreams.
With undercurrents that would not be out of place in Shakespeare and top notes that are almost David Lynchian -- who is the old dude in the wheelchair with the parrot who keeps showing up in scene after scene? -- "Easy Money" is a welcome respite from television's fixation with either the overly lush or the overly noir.
All this and Judge Reinhold too. He appears as a gloriously sweaty and twitchy private investigator, Barry, who thinks he's putting his stripper girlfriend through nursing school. Maybe he is. With a show like this, anything seems possible.
Where: the CW
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)