Freeform’s ‘Everything’s Trash’: TV Review

8 mins read

Everything’s Trash is, first and foremost, an excellent showcase for the towering charm of executive producer and star Phoebe Robinson. As Phoebe Hill, a broke 30something podcaster trying halfheartedly to get her act together in Brooklyn, she’s basically impossible not to like, even though the entire series revolves around her being (as she puts it) “hella messy.”

Case in point: In the premiere, Phoebe nearly derails her brother Jayden’s political campaign launch when she’s caught sleeping with a member of his rival’s team, and then adds to the mini-scandal with a very public wardrobe malfunction. Yet the drama of it all only makes Phoebe seem more lovable — simultaneously relatable and aspirational. A lot of us, after all, have hooked up with people we maybe shouldn’t have; most of us only wish we could bounce back from it with Phoebe’s confidence, self-awareness and playful sense of humor.

Airdate: 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 13 (Freeform)
Cast: Phoebe Robinson, Toccarra Cash, Jordan Carlos, Moses Storm, Nneka Okafor, Brandon Jay McLaren
Executive producers: Phoebe Robinson, Jonathan Groff

It’s an endearing combination of qualities that’ll be familiar to fans of Robinson’s other work, including the essay collection that inspired Everything’s Trash. Her saucy-sweet voice is the show’ greatest strength, lending it the sunny, easygoing vibe of a catch-up session with your funnest, funniest friend — although it’s not always clear, in the five half-hour episodes sent to critics, what exactly Robinson and her team (which includes executive producer Jonathan Groff of Black-ish) want to say with it.

Everything’s Trash finds Phoebe thriving, sort of, in Brooklyn. Happily single in a city full of people eager to mingle, she’s rarely short on juicy exploits to share in candid detail, Carrie Bradshaw-style, on her hit podcast — along with her musings on money, body image, politics and everything in between. Her best friends include her pragmatic producer, Malika (Toccarra Cash), and her oddball roommate, Michael (Moses Storm). She’s also super-close with Jayden (Jordan Carlos), despite the vast chasm between her cheap, hedonistic approach to life and the upper-middle-class family life he enjoys with his socialite-turned-professor wife, Jessie (Nneka Okafur).

And … that’s pretty much it. Everything’s Trash has a loosely serialized structure thanks to Jayden’s political run and Phoebe’s sort-of-forbidden romance with Hamilton (Brandon Jay McLaren), and the siblings’ overlapping journeys serve up opportunities to skewer everything from parental guilt to sneaker culture to well-meaning gentrifiers (“In this house, we believe that Black lives matter and that everybody poops,” a white couple announces to unexpected visitors). But individual installments tend to be focused around minor shenanigans over big twists or grand cultural statements, and they’re at their most enjoyable when they’re just letting the characters be silly.

In that regard, Phoebe’s podcasting job serves as a convenient justification to let her (and therefore Robinson) let loose with the jokes, as when she spends minutes raving about how not pregnant she is after taking Plan B: “Like, the acoustics are so good ’cause it’s empty.” Really, though, the excuse is unnecessary. Such are Robinson’s comedic chops that she can milk laughs simply by standing alone in a bathroom, puzzling out how to pronounce “bergamot.”

The ensemble surrounding her are similarly hilarious — particularly Carlos’ Jayden, who’s so dorky his own grade-school-age daughter deems him unworthy of Black Panther face paint (“You so give Tinker Bell vibes,” she informs him), and Storm’s Michael, the sort of only-in-New-York weirdo who not only has an “owl guy,” but can’t believe everyone else doesn’t.

Woven through it all is a strong sense of affection for Phoebe, as well as for the people surrounding her and the relationships between them. It’s not that Everything’s Trash ignores or excuses Phoebe’s missteps, or that Phoebe herself does. More than one storyline ends with Phoebe admitting she messed up, and trying in her way to right her wrongs. But the series is cheerfully uninterested in raking her over the coals for them. It’s not exposing her ugliest qualities a la Girls, or unpacking her most painful traumas a la I May Destroy You, or pushing her to get her act together a la Single Drunk Female. (All great tales, BTW, just ones doing very different things.) It knows she’s flawed, and loves her enough to allow her the space to grow, or not, on her own terms.

If there’s a drawback to this laid-back approach, it’s that Everything’s Trash feels at times like it’s still figuring out its purpose. Asked to explain what her podcast is about during a snooty cocktail party, Phoebe responds: “Everything’s trash, and it’s only through acknowledging it and diving into the muck that we even stand a chance of surviving the dumpster fire that is our world.” The summary might double as a thesis statement for the series as a whole, and the underlying sentiment more or less rings true. However, it’s also vague, and “diving into the muck” suggests a rawer tone than either Phoebe’s ultra-casual podcast or Robinson’s pleasantly low-stakes TV show delivers.

Then again, that particular episode ends with Phoebe coming to a realization. “All of me, the messy and the smart, belong in any room,” she tells a crowd of students and academics. The epiphany feels a little pat in the moment, but also touchingly earnest in its message that a person need not be perfect to be worthy of respect and attention. Everything’s Trash makes the case for loving its imperfect heroine just as she is, for appreciating her crackling energy and sincere intentions while also rooting for her as she tries, off and on, to become an even better version of herself. Her series deserves the same.

Freeform’s ‘Everything’s Trash’: TV Review

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