Suburgatory TV Review – ABC

Suburgatory TV Review – ABC

ABC‘s Suburgatory is a show that, whatever else it may manage, is going to have a lot of critics talking. A lot of them are going to love it, and I suspect a lot of viewers will as well, but a lot of them are going to wonder what the hell anyone could see in it. Either way, this is not a show that is going to slip past without comment.

On the other hand, it’s also a show that may be in too tricky a situation to survive, no matter how many people are mentioning it to you. It’s on Wednesdays following another popular sitcom, The Middle, and there is even a sense in which the two shows are somewhat aligned in their social commentary. As helpful as that may be, the reality is that both shows are on against X-Factor and Survivor. Of course, they are also up against two other sitcoms, Up All Night and Free Agents, so we have to factor that in as well.

I wouldn’t normally mention the competition, but in this case it looks as though the show may have a very tough time pulling in sufficient numbers (though perhaps certain people take these things into account), and love it or hate it, it’s at least pretty interesting.

On another note, the show may well fall to the curse of having people in it that I want to do well. Jeremy Sisto and Alan Tudyk are both in the cast, and we know how well my being a fan has worked out for them so far.

The show focuses on George (Sisto) and his 16-year-old daughter Tessa (Jane Levy). They lived in lower Manhattan until George found a box of condoms in Tessa’s dresser. He immediately decided to move upstate to the picket fence world of the suburbs, and now Tessa has to figure out this vastly different world, that is not quite (to her mind) the living, breathing animal she’s used to occupying. More like a limbo where people come to wait for their chance to be on Real Housewives, the suburbs are a social creature that Tessa is ill-equipped to handle, and George certainly has no better idea what to make of things.

On her first day at school, Tessa meets Dalia Royce, who is assigned to be her “buddy,” and show her around school. Straight from the stock pool of vain, annoying High School princesses, Dalia is more or less Tessa’s polar opposite in every way. Conveniently, George meets Dallas Royce on a job (he’s an architect), and the parents arrange for a sort of “play date” at the mall.

Hilarity at the culture clash can now ensue.

(ABC/KAREN NEAL) JEREMY SISTO, JANE LEVY, CHERYL HINES, CARLY CHAIKIN

It’s a hard show to get a real hold of, at least at first, and while Tessa is a character that could theoretically make her mark on popular culture over the next few years, it’s hard to envision that happening when the rest of the show doesn’t seem absolutely convinced about where it’s trying to go.

It’s mostly clever, and certainly takes a harder edge than most things that come your way, but the majority of the pilot is almost like Bring it On meets ludicrous, airhead, trophy wives (which means that it’s making fun of them while exploring them in their natural habitat), but the end sort of let’s them off the hook… which is odd. Why build a show, apparently, around the idea of ruthlessly mocking a certain set of people, and then leave us hanging for the next episode by pulling back from doing so? Especially when the style of the show is giving us a certain feel of ruthlessness?

Still, there is a certain similarity in many respects to MTV‘s brilliant Awkward., which has recently made a pretty big splash, and I suppose that fact alone has its own set of pros and cons. The most unfortunate part there is that it is hard to imagine the similarity won’t jump to mind, and it isn’t nearly as good. On the positive side, it’s mostly bold enough to live up to the generality of the comparison, and if things move forward without pulling punches, it may yet turn into something that will hook viewers.

The real question of the show, one way or another, won’t be answered in the pilot, because what the show ultimately comes down to is where writer Emily Kapnek is going to go, and where she’s going to be allowed to go. I get the feeling that the pilot was “softened” from some original version, probably in many ways, and this just isn’t the sort of show that works in such a state.

This is a show that, as it is laid out for us anyway, has to go big or go home, which is the difficulty in getting some of the best shows to network television. Not that there is anything built into the show that needs to be more graphic, or suffers from a lack of cussing, but the show needs to move away from tempering itself, and go for the throat. Of course, I’m sure a lot of viewers will be surprised that I don’t think it is already, but this is a show that needs to go too far in order to be interesting enough to really sink its teeth into audiences.

The gritty-esque teen who laments her move to suburbia, and all the trappings of same, is enough to get us through a couple of episodes, but it isn’t enough to last long. In the case of Suburgatory, pretty good isn’t good enough. It’s either awesome, or it isn’t going to be watched… that’s just what flavor this show is. That’s a shame too, because I’d sign up to follow Tessa’s adventures, but I’m not convinced that’s the show I’ll really end up watching. Perhaps to give you some understanding, all things being more or less equal, if this show was premiering on HBO or Showtime, I’d tell you to make sure you never miss it.

Still, I’d be happy if the show proves me wrong, and six or seven episodes down the line I get to tell you just that.

 

Single father George only wants the best for his 16-year-old daughter, Tessa. So when he finds a box of condoms on her nightstand, he moves them both out of their apartment in New York City to a house in the suburbs. But all Tessa sees is the horror of over-manicured lawns and plastic Franken-moms. Being in the ‘burbs can be hell, but it also may just bring Tessa and George closer than they’ve ever been.

Tessa (Jane Levy) and George (Jeremy Sisto) have been on their own ever since Tessa’s mom pulled a “Kramer vs. Kramer” before Tessa was even potty trained. So far George has done a pretty good job of raising Tessa without a maternal figure in their lives, but suddenly he’s feeling a little out of his league. So it’s goodbye New York City and hello suburbs. At first Tessa is horrified by the big-haired, fake-boobed mothers and their sugar-free, Red Bull-chugging kids. But little by little, she and her dad begin finding a way to survive on the clean streets of the ‘burbs. Sure, the neighbors might smother you with love while their kids stare daggers at your back, but underneath all that plastic and caffeine, they’re really not half bad. And they do make a tasty pot roast.

The show stars Jeremy Sisto (“Law & Order”) as George Altman, Jane Levy (“Shameless”) as Tessa Altman, Carly Chaikin (“The Last Song”) as Dalia Royce, Rex Lee (“Entourage”) as Mr. Wolfe, Allie Grant (“Weeds”) as Lisa Shay, Alan Tudyk (“V”) as Noah Lerner and Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) as Dallas Royce. Ana Gasteyer (“Saturday Night Live”) guest stars. Jay Mohr appears in the recurring role as Steven Royce, Dallas’ husband.

Emily Kapnek (“Hung”) writes and executive-produces this bitingly ironic single-camera comedy. “Suburgatory” was directed by Michael Fresco (“Raising Hope”), who also executive-produced the pilot. It is produced by Warner Bros. Television.

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Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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