Suburgatory 1.04 “Don’t Call Me Shirley” Review

Shilo Adams October 20, 2011 1

Though Suburgatory has made it its mission to expose some of the cracks in the suburbs during its first three episodes, ranging from the exaggerated vapidity of its residents to the homogenized quality of life, it took on one of the positives in “Don’t Call Me Shirley”. The suburbs may be a place where everybody knows your name, which later can get dragged through the mud at any given time, but they’re usually a rather quiet, safe, secure place practically tailor-made for families with children. Like it or not, the ‘burbs offers a sense of security that’s hard to beat anywhere else.

Which is exactly why George moved Tessa there, considering how she now longs for the sound of police sirens, and why the theft of Sheila Shay’s prized collection of Shirley Temple dolls (come back, Lollipop Shirley!) was such a good plot for them to explore. Thus far, Suburgatory has tried to dispel the idealized notion that the suburbs are this Garden-of-Eden-with-a-mall, so what would happen if the safety of its residents was threatened, even slightly? Aside from an increased interest in panic rooms and mouth guards, the Chatswin residents were fairly resilient, which was kept the show a little more grounded when it could have gone super broad.

Well, all the Chatswin residents were fairly resilient…except for Dalia and Dallas, who moved in with George and Tessa until things blew over. “Don’t Call Me Shirley” threw the fearsome foursome together for an extended amount of time and watching their interactions, you kind of wish they had done it sooner. Sure, they’ve been to dinner parties and school together, but being alone in a house with Dalia Royce is an experience in and of itself, to say the least. Although the more people the show involves, the better it gets, I like that they’re already trying to establish that the Royces are more than just neighbors down the street. A show with such a deep bench like Suburgatory can have more peripheral characters come by, say something funny, and be involved in only a couple of minutes with no problem, but it needs steady presences of other characters than George and Tessa to thrive. They don’t need to be best friends or anything, but deepening relationships will always be a good thing for a sitcom to do, especially one that can get as zany as Suburgatory.

I actually love how breakneck its rhythm can get, especially because the jokes can come pretty fast and furious, but you have to be able to care about the characters first, otherwise the show can get a little cartoon-y. Luckily, Suburgatory has (so far) managed to zig when it needs to zig and zag when it needs to zag, so as long as they continue gradually shining new lights on the characters (i.e. Dallas’s throwaway line about how she sometimes feels like a single parent since her husband is always one), bring on the craziness.

The show explored security on a different level by keeping Tessa locked away nice and cozy in Suburgatory. After realizing she was completely over the suburbs, Dalia Royce, and histrionic reactions to doll nappings, she tried to take the fall for Shirley-gate, but alas, no one leaves the suburbs that easily. I found it pretty interesting that the show juxtaposed the idea that while the suburbs are a fairly safe place that gets worked up over the slightest bit of criminality (i.e. trying to keep other people locked out), all Tessa wants to do is get out and she can’t (i.e. she’s locked in). At least not until she’s 18. The plan with Dalia, though not as effective as faking a pregnancy would have been, seemed like a last-ditch effort by somebody that was getting desperate to return to their old life; however, she had to know that it wouldn’t be that effective. Try as she might to avoid thinking about it, Tessa knows how similar she is to her father and how much he wants to be in Chatswin, so she needed something a bit more foolproof and without the opportunity for meddling. The reveal that it was actually Lisa who boosted the dolls wasn’t that unexpected, considering how much of a dark side she seems to have and how much anger she has towards her mother, but I think that it may have cemented her as Tessa’s bestie for the foreseeable future.

Now that Tessa realizes she can’t get away from the suburbs, no matter how many petty thefts she admits to, I think we’ll start to see her ease into life with George. Not saying she’ll all of a sudden join Dalia’s Blonde Mafia or anything; Tessa has a couple of friends and enough asocial tendencies to where I think she’ll do her best to lay low in school. That’ll be hard, though, if George continues to hang out/pursue (?) Dallas, as our heroine will likely be looking to take her frustrations out somewhere and the population of her school may be the perfect target.

Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:

  • “Frightened people rarely add bonus rooms.”
  • “I haven’t felt this vulnerable since I test drove a smart car.”
  • “Lisa, you’re a victim…in so many ways.”
  • “This crime spree started when certain people moved here from New York, New York, New…New York.”
  • “Dalia? Did I accidentally summon you?”
  • “Oh, Dalia spit up the tiniest bit from her claustrophobia.”
  • “Right, Tessa?” “Right, Oprah.”
  • “Oh, hey, Sheila. What’s the word from the Cabbage Patch?”
  • “If you’ll excuse me, I have a pile of freshly laundered doll clothes to fold. That’s what my night looks like!”
  • “Unreal. She even sleeps like a.”
  • “Are you gonna fake a pregnancy? Kenzie faked a pregnancy last year to get out of Earth Science.”
  • George is watching a lot of Oprah these days. I always took him for an Ellen kind of guy.
  • The pseudo pairing of Dallas and George may read a bit contrived, but the chemistry between Cheryl Hines and Jeremy Sisto is so good that I say bring it on.
  • More cool sight gags: Sheila’s “Missing” shirt, the Andy Warhol-ish painting of Mr. Wolfe in the cafeteria, and the shrink wrapped doll clothes. Also, Dalia’s “blinking”.
  • Next week: It’s Halloween in Suburgatory. Tessa wears a costume that freaks people out (naturally), George tries to scare the hell out of Dallas, and Jay Mohr guest stars.
  • http://www.alefbet.com Alef Bet

    I think the writing is unique, and quick as well. The one that stuck out though was in the 2nd or 3rd episode, can't remember when Tessa called a geek in high school a self-hating Jew. don't quote me on the exact wording, but what was that all about?