Suburgatory 1.01 “Pilot” Review

If there’s one thing that I took away from the pilot of ABC’s newest comedy Suburgatory, it’s that the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” may still have some validity.

It’s hard not to judge the suburb that Tessa Altman (Jane Levy) has just moved into with her dad George (Jeremy Sisto) following an embarrassing incident with an unopened box of condoms. The 15-year-old went from the concrete jungle of Manhattan to the perfectly manicured lawns and desperate housewives of a zombie-like cul-de-sac, so you have to feel for the culture shock that she’s currently undergoing.

Not helping things are the eclectic cast of characters that populate this currently unnamed oasis of team spirit, custom skylights, and endless Red Bull. Tessa’s already been forced on a mall-cation with her “buddy” Dalia (Carly Chaikin) and her mother Dallas (Cheryl Hines), the latter of which seems to have made a connection with George already. It may have ended on a positive note, as Dallas got to showcase some nice maternal instincts, but all the bra advice and kind words in the world don’t make up for the (hilariously) hideous ensemble Tessa was forced into. 1999, eat your heart out. Also populating Suburgatory are the Altman’s ever-chipper neighbor Sheila, she of the red pot roast container and constant “yoo hoo!”-ing; George’s college buddy Noah (Alan Tudyk), a fellow big city transplant who prefers parfait and cellists these days; and Sheila’s daughter Lisa (Allie Grant), who may just be the kindred spirit Tessa needs to survive her time in Suburgatory.

Suburgatory works on a surprising number of levels. At its heart, it’s a rather sweet story of father-daughter bonding that forgoes the schmaltz factor in favor of a few well-placed quips and an end-of-episode revelation that maybe Tessa understands her father more than she lets on. The show is dressed up in suburban satire, however, taking cues from Weeds, Mean Girls, and Daria along the way; it may not have as much black humor as Weeds or as much snark as Daria, but Suburgatory manages to get in a few good shots without putting anyone down too much. The humor may not be as laugh-out-loud funny yet, but it’s clearly quite amusing in its sending up of suburban stereotypes and sarcastic voiceovers.

What compensates for the lack of immediate laughs is how darn good the cast is. From Emma Stone-esque lead Jane Levy on down, everyone felt quite comfortable in their roles and never let a scene drag. Relative newcomer Chaikin shines as Queen B Dalia, who, with her garish outfits and deadpan delivery, felt like Regina George on downers, while veterans Gasteyer, Tudyk, and Hines all provided much-needed energy whenever they were on-screen. (Hines, in particular, got to establish a clear, multi-dimensional identity for her potentially one-note character right off the bat.) Levy and Sisto already have a believable banter between them, walking the line between friends and father-daughter with fine precision.

By the end of the first episode of Suburgatory, Tessa seems to have worked through most of her initial frustrations about the sudden move. She still misses the city and doesn’t quite ‘get’ the land of little boxes that she now inhabits, but in the short time she’s been in the ‘�burbs, Tessa has seen that her first impressions may not be the best thing to go by. The initial interactions she had with Lisa and Dallas were, shall we say, not the greatest, but once Tessa finally lets her guard down and opens her eyes, she sees that good can reside where you least expect it. Even in Suburgatory.

Suburgatory airs Wednesdays at 8:30 on ABC.

Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:

  • “Yeah, I can keep my adult undergarments in the wicker basket.”
  • “First he searched, then he had a total seizure.”
  • “Her dog has nicer hair than I do.” “There’s no way that’s his natural color.”
  • “You, antithetically, are the color of a nerf ball.”
  • “The little gangbanger!”
  • “What’s a Bugatti?” “It’s a car women want to have sex with.”
  • “I’m here to help you absolutely anytime you need…between the hour of 12:00 and 12:45 PM.”
  • “In Manhattan, the handicap bathroom would have leased for $950 a month.”
  • “It’s so lame your mom died, beeyotch.”
  • “Doesn’t your mom screw your dad?” “No.”
  • “There he is. There’s my boyfriend. Hi, George! I’m stalking you!”
  • For those curious, and I’m sure there are a ton of you, this is my favorite comedy pilot of the fall, mostly because of how much potential it has.
  • I think my favorite recurring element of the pilot was that Sheila is never not watering her lawn.
  • Can we all agree that this song needs to be the show’s theme song?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34u_3Z9_LUw]

  • Arden Myrin (Jocelyn) is awesome. Please let her be recurring.
  • Fellini reference!
  • Does anybody else think we’ll get an episode where Tessa’s mom comes back into the picture? They made it clear that she didn’t pass away, so maybe she’ll make an appearance.
  • Still to make an appearance are Chris Parnell, who will be playing Sheila’s husband, Jay Mohr, who will be playing Dallas’s husband, and Gillian Vigman, who will be playing Noah’s wife.

3 Comments

  1. playame September 29, 2011
    • tim yaw September 29, 2011
  2. Johnna Bedaw December 3, 2011

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