Suburgatory is the newest comedy on ABC’s Wednesday night of comedy. Can it hang with The Middle and Modern Family? Scott Malchus tries to find out.
ABC’s latest fish out of water comedy series is the story of a big city girl moving to the suburbs with her dad. You don’t get too many single dad and daughter series, so it was refreshing to see this twist in the sitcom world. Dad, George (a loose Jeremy Sisto), discovers condoms in the dresser drawer of his teenager daughter, Tessa (Jane Levy), and freaks out. So he buys a stomach vomit colored house and the two of them move to the suburbs of Manhattan. Since Tessa is one of those too cool for this world hipster girls who wear tight jeans and combat boots, she can’t think of a fate worse than moving to a place where all of the mom’s are plastic, both in personality and their breasts.
Through voice over, Tessa bitches about how shitty it is living in the burbs, how all of the girls in her new high school are shallow and generally how nothing is as cool as living in the city. Whether it’s being shown around school by her “buddie,” the text happy, couldn’t be bothered, all too blonde Dalia (Carly Chaikin), or enduring a surprise trip to the mall with Dalia and her equally dim mother, Dallas (the always great Cheryl Hines), Tessa doesn’t try too hard to find any good in people. I wanted to slap Tessa and tell her to shut the fuck up; her whining got old very fast. Still, Levy has a way of delivering her lines and making them sound cute and cranky at the same time. Moreover, hers is the voice of a teenager, so I have to cut her a little slack.
Suburgatory‘s view of the suburbs is a cross between the stylized hell of American Beauty and the absurdity of L.A. Story. There are some whimsical moments, but I felt that there are so many reality shows about fake plastic people, I wondered, “Do we really need a TV show about them, too?” The series creator is Emily Kapnek, a talented writer who created the underrated animated gem, As Told By Ginger, and was a writer for Parks and Recreation. She also created the turkey, Emily’s Reasons Why Not (aka that Heather Graham show that was cancelled after one episode) so Kapnek is not perfect. With Suburgatory, she cross pollinates the teen angst of Ginger with the wackiness of Parks and Rec and the results are mixed. Luckily, Sisto and Hines both shine, especially the former. The actor, confined to drama roles the past decade, really has natural comedic timing. He sells his role with conviction and is the best part of the show.
If Kapnek and her team of writers can reign in the bitchiness of Tessa and steer away from the usual cliches about Stepford suburbs, then Suburgatory has a chance. It already has one of the best assembled casts in sitcoms (including Alan Tudyk, Anna Gasteyer and Chris Parnell), the writing just needs to catch up. Sandwiched between the excellent The Middle and the hit series, Modern Family, Suburgatory should had time to work out the kinks. I hope so, because Sisto and Levy are interesting together and I wouldn’t mind seeing these two grow, just as long as Tessa lightens up just a little.