Most good comedies offer two things: a small group of relatable characters worth watching every week and a larger group of more ridiculous supporting characters who pop in now and again at just the right moments. For every Jerry, a good comedy needs several Uncle Leo’s, David Puddy’s and Newman’s. Ordinarily, it takes several years, at minimum, to build up this proper ratio, but with such an insolated environment of PTA moms and off-on-business dads, the setting of Chatswin allows Suburgatory to nurture and grow both primary father George (Jeremy Sisto), and daughter Tessa (Jane Levy), as well as their large circle of friends, enemies and frenemies.
The result is a show that feels oddly mature by the midway point of its first season. Rather than awkward moments, dips in quality and aborted plotlines, Suburgatory’s first twenty-two episodes are snappy and streamlined, a well-oiled, funny and satirical product that satisfies more than one of the frequently downed Sugar Free Red bulls. There’s a homey-ness to the characters and a natural flow to the story arcs. Unfortunately, that competence comes with an almost inherent downside.
During their first few seasons, most programs get up to some weird shit. In the process of trying to figure out which characters best interact with each other and which story arcs are best focused on, they experiment, experiment and experiment some more. Suburgatory never really does that. Five years from now, we’re not going to see first season highlights and think, “Why did that seem like a good idea?” Obviously, that’s a testament to the competent writing and directing found throughout the season, but it’s also a shot at staying a little too far inside the box. If every single episode of a show falls somewhere between a 7.5 and 9, there’s little incentive to take shots at brilliance when mistakes could be made.
Humorously, the special features for Surburgatory: The Complete First Season chart pretty much the same course. Well conceived and deftly executed, the bonuses are oddly competent, without any excess filler. Most of the episodes feature an unaired scene or two, and the gag reel, while not surprising or new in any way, is extremely fun and watchable. Tessa trying to figure out how to say “Game On” with the right cadence is worth the time spent on its own, and there are some particularly good moments with the always-uproarious Dallas Royce (Cheryl Hines).
If there is one reason to watch Suburgatory, it’s Dallas, or more specifically, what she represents. In the informative, pleasantly long and only featurette “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell: Life In Suburgatory,” the cast members talk about, among many other things, how this obnoxious, over-the-top housewife goes from Stepford clone to genuine romantic possibility within just a few short episodes. And the scary thing is we buy it.
There are so many characters in Suburgatory that (pink) skirt the line between caricature and relatable human being. From Dalia (Carly Chaikin) and her eye makeup-inspired blinking problems to Fred Shay (Chris Parnell) and the constant fear he feels about his wife (Ana Gasteyer) finding out about his personal life, they all (outside of Tessa and George) have absurd personalities, but the show gives them enough genuine moments to never lose touch with reality. They feel like real people who live in the suburbs, just amped up fifty or sixty percent, and as a rule, watching real people is more satisfying.
Suburgatory isn’t the type of show in which you need to call people to help process what happened in the last episode, but it is the type of material best enjoyed with friends and spouses every single week. It’s a breezy, always enjoyable smile-fest with a hearty web of familiar characters worth getting to know. Whether on their first or fifth time through, an overwhelming majority of people will find plenty of little tidbits in the town of Chatswin to fall in love with. It’s comfortable, satisfying and like this first season set, far better than good enough but just shy of great.
Length: 473 min.
Distributor: Warner Bros
Release Date: 09/18/12
Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Jane Levy, Cheryl Hines
Directed by:Ken Whittingham, Michael Fresco, Adam Davidson
Created by: Emily Kapnek