[06/08/11 - 10:20 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Suburgatory" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Emily Kapnek; directed by Michael Fresco; TRT: 22:53)

The network's description: "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 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 she 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, Allie Grant ("Weeds") as Lisa, Alan Tudyk ("V") as Noah Lerner and Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") as Dallas Royce. Ana Gasteyer ("Saturday Night Live") guest stars. 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."

What did they leave out? Gasteyer's character, George and Tessa's neighbor, is amusingly only seen shouting from across the street.

The plot in a nutshell: "He pulled me out of school, bubble wrapped my life and threw it in the back of a moving truck," 16-year-old Tessa (a wonderfully sardonic Jane Levy) explains about her dad George (Jeremy Sisto, nice to see smiling for once) in the opening narration. You see, after discovering a box of unopened condoms in her nightstand, single father George decided his Manhattan-raised daughter needs a more suburban experience. And so Tessa and George finds themselves wisked away into the world of manicured lawns, nosejobs, Juicy track suits and having Sugar Free Red Bull served practically by IV. Tessa's horror show begins at school where her assigned buddy Dalia (a zombie-eyed Carly Chaikin) half-heartedly gives her the lay of the land to get extra credit - including a warning to stay away from the ostracized Lisa (Allie Grant).

Meanwhile, architect George - after a hearty welcome from his tangelo college buddy Noah (Alan Tudyk) - coincidentally meets Dalia's mother Dallas (Cheryl Hines, channeling your typical Real Housewife) whom he solicits advice on how to handle to Tessa situation. She in turn - like all the women in town - sees George as a walking, talking piece of catnip. Her suggestion: a guided tour of the mall with their respective daughters. Initially things go over as well as can be expected (Tessa, after George leaves her with Dallas: "If you run into my dad, tell him I hate it here and I want to go home.") however after Dallas catches Tessa's sorry excuse for a bra in the changing room, the feeling that she just might need some motherly influence starts to seep in.

What works: A compelling mix of razor-sharp narration, horror film sensibility and an unexpected dose of heart, "Suburgatory" emerges from its pilot cocoon so sure of itself and its brand of humor that one can't help but be impressed. What really strikes me though is how deftly it manages to balance the aforementioned elements. Its horror movie metaphor could easily have been over the top, its biting commentary could have made things too shrill and its undercurrent of sweet could have left a saccharine aftertaste.

Thankfully the recipe is just right as there's nary a moment that doesn't ring true to the world it establishes in 22 minutes: whether it's the fake friendliness of Tessa's guidance counselor Mr. Wolf (Rex Lee, "I'm here to help you absolutely any time you need between the hour of 12 and 12:45 p.m."), Tessa's polished quips (Dalia: "Are you a lesbian?" Tessa: "You mean because I'm not dressed like there's a pole in my locker?"; Dalia: "This will show off my belly ring." Tessa: "You know what else that will show off: your vagina.") or George's well-meaning efforts ("She needs some of this motherly love... maybe a unicorn and some sparkly stuff, maybe some dead hair."). It's just a good show, plain and simple.

What doesn't: As mentioned above, the moment you think it's becoming too much of one thing the gears shift and you're enjoying the show in a whole new way.

The bottom line: It's by far the best of the new single-camera comedies.

  [june 2011]  


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