Archive | 4:30 pm

Fall 2011 Review: Suburgatory

4 Oct

Suburgatory tells us a tale we’ve all seen before – outsider doesn’t fit in at exaggerated suburban high school, because high school is a jungle and as vicious a setting as anywhere else in life.  We’ve seen it in Mean Girls, in Easy A, in Clueless (Cher’s not an outsider, but the same other operating principals apply), in Heathers, and I’m sure in a number of other high school in suburbia movies.  Suburgatory expands this principle to the entire town rather than just the school, but the idea is more or less the same.  That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it instantly opens itself up to comparison against similar shows and movies, whereas my being unable to think of an instant comparison to, say,  Homeland makes it harder to have a direct benchmark to put it up against.

Jane Levy, portraying Tessa Altman, is moved by her dad, George Altman, played by Jeremy Sisto, from Manhattan after George discovers a box of condoms in his daughter’s room and panics, deciding he needs to raise her somewhere more wholesome.   When they get there they find the suburb to appear vaguely Stepford Wives-ish, while underneath is a culture of gossip and plastic surgery and incredibly irritating teenagers.  Both father and daughter struggle to fit in with the unusual surroundings, which go over the course of the episode, in Tessa’s opinion, anyway, from utterly hellish to maybe-not-entirely-the-worst-place-on-Earth.

How does Suburgatory do as a suburban satire?  Well, okay, but okay in the slightly disappointing sense rather than okay in the slightly better-than-I-thought sense.  The ideas are there – this is a concept that can certainly work, but the jokes and humor mostly falls flat.  In this suburbia-gone-mad setting, it’s always difficult to know how exaggerated to make everything – should you hew close to reality, shifting the humor towards very relatable situations, or should you go extremely over the top, drawing humor from the ridiculous and absurd?  Suburgatory seems to mostly stray towards the uber-ridiculous, which can work, but it mostly doesn’t, with a couple of exceptions.  There are a few concepts that seem like they could be funny, but just don’t quite click.  For example, Tessa describes Sugar Free Red Bull as the official drink of the suburbs.  This abstractly seems like it could be a funny idea, but in the context of the show it just doesn’t hit.

Cheryl Hines as the uber-hip but clueless mom (Think Amy Poehller’s character in Mean Girls) just didn’t work at all for me.  Whoever’s choice it was to give her an incredibly irritating accent was a poor one; honestly, it’s hard to tell how much of my dislike of the character was due to anything other than the accent.  Alan Tudyk was a little bit better as Sisto’s friend who seems to have convinced him to move to the suburbs, and he has one or two of the few standout lines.  Rex Lee, Entrouage’s Lloyd, who will be joining the cat full time as a guidance counselor, gets probably the best line of the episode, when he introduces Hines’ Plastics-ish daughter as Levy’s buddy.  Hines’ daughter notes that “Buddies are not your friends,” to which he agrees, “Not necessarily” (it doesn’t really work written, but it did spoken).

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It wasn’t out and out bad, and I like Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto, but it disappointed.  I’ll certainly be interested to check it out at my mid-season check in, if it lasts that long, and see if it improved, because I do think it can, I just didn’t get enough out of that first episode to check in any earlier.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 17: 30 Rock

4 Oct

You know the Thursday NBC line up is coming up through this list (and if you didn’t, well, you know now).  30 Rock might be many people’s top of the line up, but it’s my bottom, but that’s really no disrespect – it’s the best single network night on tv.

I do always feel a little bit mystified by this weird consensus that had formed around the show as the best on TV, though I think that’s faded a bit in the past year or two, as the mainstream Emmy voters throw their love towards Modern Family, and the more edgy writers towards Parks and Recreation and Community.  In hindsight, I suppose I’m glad it has its time ; it would be foolish for me to spend more time talking about how it’s a little bit overrated than on how it’s actually a very good and very funny show.

The past season had some excellent plots and parts and some exceptionally strange ones as well.  In the strange category, some of the leading candidates offhand might be the scam pulled with Jenna, Kenneth and Kelsey Grammar  involving ice cream cakes, Jack’s wife being kidnapped by the North Koreans (is this really a permanent exit for her on the show?  Seriously?) and Jack using Kenneth to fill in for his wife, after her disappearance in the last episode, featuring one of the simplest yet funniest lines uttered by Kenneth, as he says grace at the table with Jack (it’s not going to work as well written, but I’m still writing it), “Dear God, thank you for this venison. Onion god, thank you for these onions.”

Another highlight of the season for me was Jack’s competition with his boss’s granddaughter, portrayed by Chloe Moretz for future control of the company; hopefully we’ll see their rivalry again in future seasons.

It’s worth making a comment about the live episode 30 Rock aired towards the beginning of the season.  The episode had plenty of laughs, as any episode of 30 Rock does, but it felt awfully unnecessary, and although I understand the idea, it’s very hard for a live episode to not seem gimmicky for me.  Only once or twice did the episode take advantage of the fact that it was live for comedic purposes (a flashback with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss portraying Liz).

About the cast as well, all of them are funny when put in the right positions, but it feels like Kenneth and Jenna (and sometimes Tracy) are overused a little bit, at the expense of the writers (Judah Friedlander, Toofer, et al), who certainly don’t need to be elevated hugely, but in some episodes don’t even get more than one or two lines.  It all comes back to Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin at the show’s heart, with the other characters there to provide absurd b-plots, and I think the show realizes that.

Why It’s This High:  Alec Baldwin is truly masterful, and the scenes with him and Tina Fey are the essence of the show and the best part

Why it’s not higher:  The supporting cast is not nearly as strong as the two stars

Best episode of the most recent season:  “Queen of Jordan” – the entire episode is shot as a reality show starting Tracy Jordan’s wife and her entourage and it is a gimmick that actually does work, and contains another great 30 Rock wordplay joke – the promotion celebration that Mrs. Jordan’s single “My Single is Dropping” is dropping.