Television review: ‘Suburgatory’
In “Suburgatory,” a deft new sitcom premiering Wednesday on ABC, Jane Levy stars as Tessa, a Lower Manhattan teenager whose single father (played by Jeremy Sisto), having discovered a box of condoms in her bedroom, drags his daughter to “the suburbs” in order that she may lead “a normal adolescent existence” somewhere that “box of condoms” does not describe “normal adolescent existence.”
“He pulled me out of school, bubble-wrapped my life and threw it into the back of a moving truck,” says Tessa in the knowing narrative voice-over common to TV series in which young women come of age. Created by Emily Kapnek, who also created the Nickelodeon middle-school cartoon “As Told by Ginger,” it’s a neighborhood comedy to sit alongside ABC’s “The Middle” — it does, in fact, do that on the schedule — though it is a little more Dorothy-over-the-rainbow in its affect.
Once upon a time girls such as Tessa — smart, sardonic, a little suspicious — were stuck playing sidekicks, like junior Eve Ardens; nowadays, in a world remade by “Daria” and “Juno,” they’re as likely to be center stage. (See also MTV’s “Awkward” for another current example.) They are typically too smart for their surroundings and too ironic and deadpan to be understood by any but their closest friends, if they have any; yet they may be afflicted at the same time with a vague desire to belong to the club that would not have them as a member.
Indeed, notwithstanding Tessa’s horrified vision of troops of non-working mothers “shuffling out of the tanning salons in their mani-pedi flip-flops with their ever-present daughters and enormous frozen-coffee drinks,” “Suburgatory” seems to want to pay its country-clubbing subjects some of the same respect that “My Name Is Earl” applied to white trash. Say hello to Cheryl Hines.
An arrangement of tightly clad curves topped by a wide row of white teeth and a cascade of blond hair, Hines’ Dallas may superficially personify a Real Housewife of Somewhere Not Far from New York City. But there is no malice in the actress’ portrayal, and only a sympathetic, maternal concern in the character’s desire to get Tessa out of her “lesbian boots” and into “a nice heterosexual dress shoe.” Taste aside — “It’s a little long, I could hem it” she chirps to her daughter Dalia (Carly Chaikin) over a skirt already too short to be called clothing — Dallas may be the most well-adjusted character on the show. In any case, it’s a thoughtful performance that finds the person in the caricature.
The dialogue has a nice snap, the jokes come from just to the left of where you expect them to, and the players are all first-rate. There’s something original in the way that Chaikin lets the words “That’s so lame your mom died, beeee-yatch” fall slowly from her mouth, or the way that, after Tessa and her father argue, “Dad and I expressed our feelings through passive-aggressive reference books”: “Is Adoption for You?” for him, “How to Become an Emancipated Minor” for her.
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