Quick Take: Suburgatory, “Pilot”
“I feel like this is a Fellini movie.” – George Altman
Review: Suburgatory, “Pilot”
(S0101) The problem with a lot of pilots is that they often play out their concept like an anvil instead of taking the subtle route. That’s mostly a byproduct of the business and what networks demand to hook the audience, so while it can be a bit much there can be strong potential percolating under the heavy handed treatment. Such is the case with ABC’s new single camera comedy, Suburgatory.
Like a bullet from a gun, the show quickly sets up its premise with the first person narrative of Tessa Altman (Jane Levy), a Manhattan teen being raised by her single parent dad, George (Jeremy Sisto). [As an aside, Sisto is playing a dad now? Oof, with the feeling old.] Turns out dad pulled an unannounced “search & seizure” of Tessa’s room and found an unopened box of condoms. In a panic move, he pulls Tessa out of school in the big city and moves her to the suburbs so she can get more supervision and maybe more of a woman’s touch, which he thinks is lacking in her non-girlie ways. Tessa wants none of it and snarks, “It’s ironic that a box of rubbers landed me in a town full of plastic.” By plastic, she means the soccer moms and daughters with their big hair, pink outfits, push up bras and Red Bull addictions.
It’s all very Mean Girls meets Juno, without the baby bump. Gratefully, Jane Levy’s Tessa pulls back from the full on Ellen Page sardonic, and has an air of sweetness that blooms by the episode’s end. Of course the dialogue suffers from the Diablo Cody overdone syndrome, especially at the start as Tessa eye’s up and frowns at the Stepford Wives vibe of her new school and neighborhood. But there’s not a lot of time for deeper reflections as the pilot is on a mission to cram in the caustic along with the introduction of the key players. Ana Gasteyer “yoo hoo’s” a lot as the noisy neighbor from across the street in a one-note stereotypical character so far. Alan Tudyk is a bit of a smarmy oddity as George’s long-time friend who embraces the country club life and plastic surgery boobs that surround him. He’s much better than what he’s been given so far so one can only hope the coming episodes flesh him out less predictably.
Aside from Levy and Sisto, the other most promising performance is Cheryl Hines’ vapid housewife Dallas Royce, who has her eye on George. She’s got an equally superficial daughter in Dalia (Carly Chaikin) who hates Tessa (and the feeling’s mutual). Dallas shoves her way into Tessa’s life taking her on a mall trip to update her wardrobe and get her more suburban appropriate. Cheryl displays her great comedic timing as she’s skanked up in leopard prints and short skirts advising Tessa on proper bras and cleavage displays. However, what could have just have been a Desperate Housewives reject character in Hines’ hands actually has some genuine heart by the last act that even manages to crack into some of Tessa’s vulnerable core. It’s in the last act where we get to see that genuine moment, along with a nice bonding moment with dad and daughter and the introduction of another misunderstood teen named Lisa. It's in that crush of moments where the show’s potential really swells.
Suburgatory’s pilot might be suffering from a case of the “trying too hards” but it feels like there’s something in there that will be worth exploring if it’s given time to balance its sass with some less obvious, more clever satire.