October 6, 2011

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Suburgatory”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.

Previously… on SUBURGATORY:  Tessa Altman (Jane Levy) was a perfectly happy urban New York teen, until she’s outraged to find herself uprooted by single dad George (Jeremy Sisto) to the suburbs, where he thinks–after finding a condom in her room (that was actually her friend’s)–she’ll find a safer, more wholesome life.  The joke’s on him:  he’s as out of his element as Tessa, and the two of them, alternately bemused and horrified, have to survive their new surroundings, and their strange new neighbors, together.  By the close of the pilot, Tessa has found her first friend, outcast Lisa (Allie Grant), and George has been taken under the wings of old friend Noah (Alan Tudyk) and the somewhat rapacious Dallas (Cheryl Hines)–whose daughter Dalia (Charley Chaikin) embodies everything Tessa despises about her new life.

Episode 2:  The second episode, written by veteran sitcommer Bob Kushell and directed by pilot director Michael Fresco, is somewhat less acrid than the pilot.  The main storyline has Tessa torn between despising Lisa’s hunky idiot brother Ryan (Parker Young) and wholeheartedly lusting after him, and it’s cute, but not in a particularly satiric way.  Notably, the characters of Dallas and Dalia, who were key in the pilot, have little to do in the episode, as the main neighbor characters are Lisa and Ryan’s parents (Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell).  In the B story, George is informed by Noah that he has to hold “the barbecue” or forever be considered a stranger in their midst.

The regular series tone of Suburgatory is broader and less distinctive than the pilot suggested it would be.  (The episode’s big joke–repeatedly twice for good measure–has two stereotypically campy gay neighbors turn out to be married to women and apparently heterosexual.)  Combined with Jane Levy’s Emma Stone-ish appeal, the show feels more like an unofficial spin-off of Easy A than ever.  That’s not to say the series isn’t fun:  Levy is still enormously likable, and the relationship between her and Sisto as her TV dad is comfortable and funny.  But Tessa’s anger at being taken from her New York life, and the surliness that went with it, are gone, and what originally seemed reminiscent of My So-Called Life is now considerably less edgy. 

It’ll take a few more episodes to determine whether Suburgatory has been, well, suburbanized for good, or whether ABC chose a particularly toothless episode to ease it into its place in the Wednesday line-up, sheltered between The Middle and Modern Family.  The hope here is that as the show goes forward, it’ll recapture some of the originality that made it seem special in the first place.

Original Verdict:  Potential DVR Alert
Pilot + 1:  Bring Back the Rough Edges


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."