May 14, 2014

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Suburgatory”


Tonight’s series finale of SUBURGATORY provided as clear a picture as any of how much the series had lost its way in the course of its three season run.  Originally, Emily Kapnek’s show had a very clear voice and point of view:  Tessa Altman (played wonderfully by Jane Levy) had been moved against her will from Manhattan to the suburbs by her father George (Jeremy Sisto), and her sardonic, hostile, vulnerable commentary on the vapidity she saw around her was the spine of the writing.

Perhaps there was no way to sustain that kind of humorous bile, especially on network TV.  By Season 2, Tessa had become another Chatswin resident, a little brighter and more perceptive than most, and the series both broadened its tone and widened its focus, especially to the love lives of George, Tessa, Tessa’s best friends Lisa (Allie Grant) and Malik (Maestro Harrell), and neighbor Dallas (Cheryl Hines) and her daughter Dalia (Carly Chaikin).  George and Dallas became a couple (and then not).  Tessa and Lisa’s brother Ryan (Parker Young) became a couple (and then not).  Lisa and Malik became a couple.  Lisa’s parents Sheila (Ana Gasteyer) and Fred (Chris Parnell) adopted Victor (Bryson Barretto).  Some of it was funny, but much of it was labored and repetitive, and the series went down a rabbit hole in Season 2 as Dalia became especially hateful to Tessa after their parents got together.  When the show wasn’t being nasty it was being silly, and Tessa herself became bland, lovelorn for Ryan and without any other particular motivation as a character.

Season 3 was more even-toned, but the charm and originality of the series were mostly gone.  What turned out to be the series finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Andrew Guest and directed by Julia Anne Robinson, was a tired reprise of old storylines.  At Lisa and Malik’s wedding the episode before, George and Dallas had fallen into bed together, so the question of whether they’d reunite was back on the table.  Meanwhile, Ryan was in town for his sister’s wedding, and after denying she still had feelings for him (going so far in repression that she joined an elderly women’s knitting circle to distract herself and became obsessed with it), Tessa and Ryan started pulling off each other’s clothes in the middle of the street, in what would have been a cliffhanger if the cliff hadn’t been sawed out from under them by ABC.

Suburgatory still had its talented cast, and put together a few appealing episodes this season, like last week’s wedding, and one where Tessa ended up traveling with Dallas to the funeral of Dallas’s mother.  (Levy and Hines together were a combination that nearly always worked.)  For the most part, though, the show had lost its direction with little prospect of restoring itself, and since the ratings were tepid, falling from its lead-in The Middle, one can’t blame ABC for deciding to move on.  Kapnek already has a new series pick-up with the upcoming Selfie (although one wishes that looked more promising), and the actors will no doubt show up soon enough in their own projects.  Suburgatory wanted very much to set itself apart from other network sitcoms when it started, and for a while it did, but the inspiration proved hard to maintain.

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."