From the “The Brady Bunch” to “Home Improvement,” from Ralph Kramden to Ray Romano, the middle class has always had a comfortable spot on our TV screens, and Americans always seemed to prefer it that way. Remember in the late 1980s, when the couples on “thirtysomething” were considered self-absorbed whiners with too much time and money on their hands? People seemed rattled by these families who were, with their two incomes and conspicuous consumption, relatively more affluent than the viewers at home. What happened to jeering those greedy bastards on “Dallas” — or at least giving the raspberry to “The Beverly Hillbillies'” pompous banker, Mr. Drysdale?
Well, hold onto the arms of those threadbare La-Z-Boys, because this fall’s lineup makes the Steadmans of “thirtysomething” look absolutely destitute by comparison. The filthy rich aren’t caricatures anymore, and the default for TV characters is no longer middle-class like it was 20 years ago. Gone are the battered couches of “All in the Family,” the teenagers with summer jobs of “Eight Is Enough,” and the grumbling and penny-pinching of Mr. C on “Happy Days.” Even the upwardly mobile jubilation of George Jefferson seems positively provincial, in light of the flawlessly designed lofts and finely appointed multimillion-dollar homes inhabited by your average TV character today.