May 17, 2012



It would have been nice if ABC Marketing hadn’t so broadly teased the surprise ending of tonight’s Suburgatory season finale in their promos that they more or less gave it away.  (This is why powerful producers are on the phone with network marketing departments more than they are with their own families.) Still, the network meddlers couldn’t entire spoil a fine finale, written by series creator Emily Kapnek and directed by Ken Whittingham, that advanced several ongoing storylines while setting the stage for a major conflict in Season 2.

Like any first season series–especially a sitcom–Suburgatory spent much of the year sorting out its emphasis and tone, and some of its decisions were better than others.  Cutting down on the hostility between heroine Tessa (the terrific Jane Levy) and her single father George (Jeremy Sisto), caused when he forced her to move with him to the titular town of Chatswin, was a good idea–the show works better when they’re a team than when they’re at each other’s throats.  So was building up and deepening the character of Dallas (Cheryl Hines) from a suburban nouveau riche grotesquerie to a believable potential romantic interest for George.  Ditto for making Ana Gasteyer’s control freak Sheila a regular character.

The arc of the last several episodes, though, reuniting Sisto with his Clueless co-star Alicia Silverstone, must have seemed better on paper than it played.  The set-up was overly complicated–Silverstone’s Eden was the aggressively vegan surrogate mother for the new baby of George’s friend Noah (Alan Tukyk) and his wife Jill (Gillian Vigman), and she ended up having to live platonically with George and Tessa–and not worth the trouble.  Despite their Clueless history, Sisto and Silverstone haven’t been a great onscreen couple, and the tensions with Noah and Tessa caused by the George/Eden relationship feel off-key.

It wasn’t clear at the close of tonight’s season finale if we’re done with Eden, since it turned out she was in false labor, but–having seen and been outraged by Noah and Jill’s nursery decoration scheme, a salute to big-game hunting and baby seal-clubbing–she may back out of letting them raise the baby she’s carrying.  It wouldn’t be bad for the show if she and her plotline vanished next season.

The theme of the finale was, explicitly, motherhood.  Specifically on Mother’s Day as practiced in Chatswin, which is to say insanely over the top, with full-page newspaper ads by children saluting their moms among the festivities.  Overest the top was Sheila’s husband Fred (Chris Parnell), who having already hired Cinderella’s carriage to transport Sheila around town in a previous year, this time brought in the real James Ingram to sing Sheila’s favorite song–a decision that backfired badly, as it turned out.  Sheila’s daughter Lisa (Allie Grant) hoped she would turn out to be adopted, while Dallas pined for her daughter, the ineffable New York-area Valley Girl Dalia (Carly Chaikin), who had opted to spend Mother’s Day with her father.

All of this contributed to Tessa’s feeling of loss at never having had a mother, and it allowed Suburgatory to recapture its emotional core, which is the world as Tessa experiences it.  As long as the show stays with her feelings and perceptions, it’s on strong territory, but its tendency to stray too far into supporting-character goofiness is sometimes a problem.  Luckily, the season-ending twist seems to open the door for a Season 2 that has more to do with Tessa’s emotions about the family she has and the one she doesn’t know, which would play to the series’ strengths.

Suburgatory is blessed with a marvelous cast, especially Levy and Hines, who help even the lesser episodes work, but it faces a tricky challenge in matching its observational humor with broad comedy (it’s very like the dilemma Bill Lawrence has sometimes faced with Scrubs and Cougar Town).  The show, which has done very nicely in the ratings and will stay in its Wednesday 8:30PM timeslot next season, pulls off the difficult mix more often than not, and it’s earned its place in ABC’s killer Wednesday sitcom line-up.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."