Saturday, July 07, 2012

Review: ABC's "Suburgatory"

There were a few contenders for the title of the 2011 TV season's best new comedy - many landed on Fox's "New Girl," a show which certainly knew its strengths but unfortunately has yet to solve some of its weaknesses (which is understandable, considering they're only about to enter their second season). A show in a similar state of embracing strengths but failing to recognize weakness was "Suburgatory", which unlike "New Girl" had more strengths to use in better ways and is probably a lot closer to weeding out its Alan Tudyk problem than the Fox sitcom is to weeding out its Lamorne Morris problem. As a result, "Suburgatory" was not only the best new comedy of last season, but was in many weeks the best new series of last season.

Like any freshman series, "Suburgatory" is not without its issues, primarily in its adult characters. Too many of them are treated like cartoons, a result of problematic writing far more than in performances by veteran comedians like Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell (both SNL alums, of course). I have yet to think of a reason I'd like to see Alan Tudyk back on the show next year - Noah was a character that not only never really fit into the lives of anyone in Chatswin, but became frankly annoying by the end when he was trapped in the miserable and unfunny adoption storyline.

Those problems addressed, Emily Kapnek and co. are able to craft somewhat cartoony but also sympathetic and non-annoying adult characters - Cheryl Hines' Dallas and Rex Lee's Mr. Wolfe often provided some of the funniest moments of certain episodes, such as when Dallas watched "The X-Files" or when Mr. Wolfe told his "girlfriend" that he loved being heterosexual with her. Jeremy Sisto also brings an endearing if not sometimes overly-idiotic life to George, and his relationship with Tessa is an area that requires no adjustments heading into next season.

Also requiring no adjustments next season: the teen actors on the show. So, so perfect. Jane Levy and Allie Grant both easily make my hypothetical Emmy ballot. Levy has an incredible range and brings a lot of depth to Tessa, a character that another actress could have made very annoying. And Grant is just downright hysterical, and Lisa showed remarkable growth through the season following early episodes where she was given nothing to do but hate Tessa's guts or stand near her parents with a sour look on her face. (I'd also like to ask Malik how I can join his "Medium" fan club, so that I can play the Neve Campbell "Recapitator" role next Wednesday night.)

I'm not really sure why I didn't even try "Suburgatory" in the fall considering it was sandwiched between two shows ("The Middle" and "Modern Family") which, despite not being as funny as "Suburgatory" I watched anyway out of habit. It's a very funny show that, barring some kinks that could be worked out, I am very much looking forward to in September.