Jimmy Tatro Transforms From Fratty to Daddy on ABC’s ‘Home Economics’
The “American Vandal” actor has made a career of playing (and satirizing) bros. So how did he wind up playing a single dad on an ABC family comedy—and why is he so good at it?
Jimmy Tatro knows that playing a dad is not exactly an expected move for him. At 29 years old, he’s primarily known for his frat-tastic YouTube channel, and for playing “bro”-y characters in movies and on TV. (See: Grown Ups 2, 22 Jump Street, and American Vandal for a few salient examples.) But on Home Economics, ABC’s delightful new family comedy, the YouTuber and American Vandal actor has taken to fatherhood like a fish to water—or, perhaps more aptly, like a middle-aged man to New Balance sneakers.
“A lot of people, my age would be worried about getting aged up by playing a dad,” Tatro told The Daily Beast during a recent interview. “But I think I’ve been playing high school and college guys so much that the idea of it just really appealed to me. And I just thought it was a good, different kind of a look.”
Home Economics follows three siblings, each living in a different income bracket. Topher Grace plays older brother Tom Hayworth, whom the show frames as middle class. (Although for the record, given the size and location of his home in San Francisco’s Bay Area, Tom’s family as at least upper-middle class, if not upper class.) Caitlin McGee plays the oldest sibling, Sarah—who is struggling financially, especially due to a recent job loss. Tatro’s character, baby brother Connor, owns a private-equity firm, placing him firmly in “the one percent.”
On paper, Connor reads as nothing short of obnoxious. He made his money by investing in a weirdo friend’s harebrained invention. He constantly brags about having bought Matt Damon’s mansion, and asks his daughter’s nanny to put whipped cream smiley faces on his pancakes in the morning. Like so many of Tatro’s characters, he would be easy to hate if the actor playing him didn’t lean so compellingly into his good-heartedness.
It’s a trick Tatro has pulled off before, including on American Vandal, which plays his burnout character Dylan Maxwell for laughs in early episodes before slowly peeling back the layers until viewers simply feel bad for him.
“These characters are someone that you’d see or read on paper and think, you know, ‘idiot,’ ‘dick,’ ‘douchebag,’” Tatro said. “And then I like to just try to prove your instant judgment wrong.”
That strategy comes straight from Tatro’s personal experience. From the way he looks and the way his voice sounds, the actor said, people tend to assume that he’s a dick himself.
“When I talk on the phone sometimes... and I’m like, ‘Hello,’ people are like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on? What did I do?!’” Tatro said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, no, this is just how I talk... This is just my voice.’”
Tatro grew up in Venice, where he began making and posting skating videos. Eventually, these turned into humor videos, and then into full-blown comedy sketches. In college, as Tatro was looking for a way to make money, he found out the paydays some YouTubers took home and decided to go full steam ahead.
Tatro is the first to admit that his “bro” image is partially his own doing. Between playing a fratty character on his YouTube channel, LifeAccordingToJimmy, and creating the parody series The Real Bros of Simi Valley, Tatro has played up his rowdier qualities many times. He’s even occasionally faced awkward run-ins with fans who conflate his persona with his actual personality. (“They’re trying to give me a shot, and I’m like, ‘I’m just trying to have lunch.’”)
“I think just like everyone, I’m kind of constantly trying to prove that I’m more than what you see,” Tatro said.
Home Economics makes full use of that reputation, initially framing Connor as a two-dimensional blockhead before revealing that he and his wife, Emily, are separating—leaving Connor a single parent to their daughter, Gretchen, as he and his ex figure out what he calls “the custody sitch.”
As Connor frets over his daughter and, at times, overcompensates to make up for their stressful family situation, it’s hard to feel anything but love for him. (Although that said, some of his meltdowns are pretty funny—especially one that happens to take place during children’s karaoke.) Above all, Tatro’s keen understanding of not only his character, but the assumptions we’ll make about him, shine through as he subverts them one by one.
Speaking of Gretchen, working with child actors has actually become one of Tatro’s favorite aspects of working on Home Economics. Shiloh Bearman, who plays Gretchen, has already made a particularly strong impression on her screen dad. He recalls one occasion in which she asked, “Have you seen the original Wizard of Oz? The one with Judy Garland?”
“I didn’t even know her name was Judy Garland,” Tatro said—before adding, after a long pause that felt almost perfectly timed, “... Don’t put that in there.”
And although Topher Grace plays the show’s designated wet blanket, Tatro has apparently already begun to act like a bit of a “dad” on set.
“It’s really funny just having kids around,” he said. “I like to say, when there’s one, there’s one—but if there’s two, there’s six. And if there’s three, there’s, like, nine. They multiply exponentially.”
Tatro swears he has not yet become the guy who begs kids to use their “inside voices”—but that’s largely because he’s already the guy scolding them for eating Fruit Gushers for breakfast. “I’ll see them eating Gushers or, like, candy at 10:00 AM, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?!’” he said.
At this rate, an “inside voices” plea can’t be that far away.