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.

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