There are basically two types of season finales that can put into play, depending on a variety of factors. The first type is the clean finale, one that ties up loose ends, corrects mistakes, and generally finds each of the main characters in a pretty favorable place going forward. It might not make for the most compelling of television, but a clean finale is best utilized when a show is truly on the bubble or knowingly ending once and for all. A bubble show ending cleanly calms the inevitable firestorm of “Save Our Show” campaigns that pop up every May, while a show ending for good can spend its final moments basking in the happy and celebrating the characters we’ve all grown to love. Whereas a messy finale (like Suburgatory), with no (real) conclusions and little warm-and-fuzzy moments to speak of, leaves things hanging until next season, in hopes of making the summer hiatus that much more painful.
It couldn’t have been any other way, right? From the moment it bounded onto TV screens last fall, Suburgatory has been anything but clean, in the best way possible, and ending its debut season with hugs and a knowing voiceover explaining this week’s life lesson wouldn’t have felt right. Take, for instance, the subversion of expectations that came from Tessa’s uninvited guest and Lisa’s exposure to the truth about her paternity. Each could have very easily turned into a Special Moment, but rather than give into the potential cliche, the show flipped each on its ear in a way that intrigues me that much more for season two. Bringing back Tessa’s grandmother, rather than her mother, and having Tessa’s reaction be centered on using her to get out of Chatswin gave the ending more of a bite than it would have had otherwise, another instance of Tessa demonstrating her cynicism has yet to fade from her time in the ‘burbs. But it didn’t play as her being scheming or especially manipulative; it played as Tessa being sad, fed up with Eden, and lonely given the time of year, ready to do anything that she can to finally get out. And if she has to fake it til she makes it (out), then so be it.
Lisa, on the other hand, found out that she was biologically Sheila’s – it’s her brother Ryan that was adopted. Once the letter came with the results, I assumed that the plot was dead, another blow to Lisa’s hopes of distancing herself from her mother, so I was rather taken by the blood freezer and its contents. I don’t know how much more you can do with a plot like this, but I’m down for more time with the Shay family, particularly if all four members get to play a role in the paternity issue. Ryan, especially, hasn’t had much to do in recent weeks, so centering a plot like this around him could bring him into the fold a little more and allow the entire family dynamic to get an exercise. Lisa and Sheila are, of course, arch enemies, but we’ve not really had an extended Lisa/Ryan story and something like this, far fetched as it may be, gives them the excuse to bring the two siblings together for a few episodes.
The Shay family highlighted another pretty fun plot in the Mother’s Day 5K, ridiculously competitive Sheila taking home first place with Dallas ending up in the hospital. (Chekhov’s Golden Shoes?) Like a lot of shows with richly talented ensemble casts, Suburgatory benefits from bringing multiple unrelated characters together for various plots. You get a different vibe from each combination and it strengthens the town’s position as a character in the show, so having the two moms face off, head in opposite directions, and end up in good plots of their own was a nice piece of writing. (If the show uses the 5K next season, I hope it’s its own major plot, rather than a stepping stone, though.) Dallas, in particular, headed to an interesting place, injuring her ankle, hallucinating Yakult as talking to her (through the voice of Whoopi Goldberg, hilariously), and reaching out for Dalia, currently in Israel. Dallas and Dalia have had a very weird time lately, the divorce driving a wedge between them that has been slow to dislodge itself, so hearing Dallas ask for her daughter in a moment of pain was sweet (and another display of her growing humanity). The heartbreak, though, that it brought Tessa, desperately looking for a mother figure and rejected once again, was palpable and a testament to how much the two have bonded during the season.
Also, it may not have been a plot development or anything especially deep, but my biggest laugh of the night came from the James Ingram cameo and his rendition of “One Hundred Ways” delivered in the Shay living room. Suburgatory can sometimes be a little too wacky for its own good, but this was on the right side of silly and hinted that the Sheila Shay that stands before us might not have always been this way. Am I the only one that would die for a flashback episode of Suburgatory? Considering how good (and random) the Ingram cameo (and info that he used to date Sheila) were, I think it could be a delight.
The only thing that didn’t quite work for me was Eden, unfortunately. I like Alicia Silverstone (a lot), but the surrogacy angle, as well as her character’s not-that-pleasant personality, have made the character a bit more of a drag than I thought. I completely get what they’re going for in having her around, since she brings tension to George’s relationships with Noah and Tessa, but it just saps a little bit of fun from an exceedingly fun show. George having a semi-permanent non-Dallas love interest is one thing, something that could bring a little double-punch of spice and stability to the proceedings, but her late-term pregnancy, overbearing personality, and the growing distance between George and Tessa aren’t things that make Suburgatory better. They’ve taken, arguably, the core of the show and hidden it behind an unnecessary plot complication, hopefully to be overturned during the second season. George and Tessa’s relationship is Suburgatory and now that George is an inch away from being on an episode of Maury, it’s very much on the backburner. I like the trope where a single parent begins to date again and bring around their new love interest, since it rocks a pretty stable dynamic and enforces the changing nature of life, but here, it’s felt like too much too soon. George went from a lonely single dude looking for a little companionship to housing a walking, talking plot point, very little personality to speak of (and what we’ve seen hasn’t been that nice.).
Suburgatory ends its first season on an appropriately messy note. Nobody’s that happy, everybody wants something more for themselves, and it’s all a great big ordeal. Like life. Even though the show can edge toward being a live-action cartoon now and then, the thing that I love, and the thing that keeps me coming back, is the note that they hit time and time again. Despite differences in outward appearance, money in their pocket, and eccentricities, there’s not much difference between the Altmans and the Chatswin residents. In the end, they all want to be loved, to find someone to accept them for who they are, to feel wanted. They might go about finding that love and attention in different ways, but it doesn’t change the fact that George, Dallas, Tessa, Dalia, and all those in between are vulnerable and looking for a way to fit in in a town all about looking happy on the outside. Little do they know that behind every plastic smile and sequined jump suit lies a little bit of themselves.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-“There are 950 dead snakes on this wall alone.”
-“Is it because of my blue throbbing spider veins?”
-“Did she hold off on your latest bout of ringworm?”
-“You look good…with your fine ass.”
-“Yakult, so cryptic.”
-“Ain’t nobody talkin’ ’bout Tessa.”
-I really liked that Tessa didn’t get her internship (and that we didn’t know until the end of the episode). Following her as she tries to get out of Chatswin next season should be pretty fun.
-What did you think about the slightly altered theme song?
-Thank you guys for reading, commenting on, and sharing my Suburgatory reviews this season. A case of chiffon wristlets and crystal Joy Behars for you all, if I could. Here’s hoping we all reconvene in the fall to talk will they/won’t they, mama drama, and the latest delicious dirt going on in Chatswin.