Judge Patrick Bromley was recently expelled from the DVD Verdict Country Club, for reasons too disturbing to discuss here.
Escape is not an option.
I didn't watch its first season when it began airing last fall, but the ABC sitcom Suburgatory turns out to be the best new show of the 2011-12 TV season.
When single father George Altman (Jeremy Sisto, Clueless) starts to think his daughter Tessa (Jane Levy, Shameless) is growing up too fast and in the wrong kind of environment, he uproots them both from their hip Manhattan life and transports them to the upscale suburb of Chatswin, populated by the usual cast of eccentric characters: there's Dallas (Cheryl Hines, Curb Your Enthusiasm), a wealthy woman with an absentee husband who appears to be auditioning for the next installment of Bravo's Real Housewives series; her daughter, Dalia (Carly Chaikin, The Last Song), a spoiled, vapid teen who's practically an unofficial Kardashian; Noah (Alan Tudyk, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil), George's best friend; the busybody, too-perfect neighbors Sheila and Fred Shay (Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell, both alumni of Saturday Night Live) and their daughters, dumb jock Ryan (Parker Young) and awkward Lisa (Allie Grant, The Runaways), who is also Tessa's best friend. Over the course of the first season, there are friendships formed, loves both found and lost and driver's licenses acquired while George and Tessa learn to navigate life in Suburgatory.
I had my reservations about Suburgatory in its first few episodes, but what could have been a smug, tiresome premise for a TV show—cool city people move out to the lame suburbs where everyone is quirky and shallow—is quickly done away with. Suburgatory instead becomes a character-driven comedy fleshed out by a great supporting cast and a genuine interest in relationships that grow and change. Seeds are planted in one episode that won't pay off until four or five shows later, and the writing rarely stops to recap what has led to a specific moment or joke. Characters who are introduced as one-dimensional stereotypes are gradually revealed to have actual depth, and the series doesn't shy away from embracing the drama of a given moment. For as broad as it's capable of being, Suburgatory takes its characters seriously. That goes a long way towards making the viewer want to return week after week.
The show looks cartoony, with its bright, beautiful colors and the heightened pitch of the performances, but it's a lot more clever and subtle than it appears. In fact, the visual style is a perfect approximation of the world that these characters inhabit—though it appears to be nothing but attractive surfaces, there is depth and substance to be found if you're willing to put in the work. The series that I'm reminded of most watching Suburgatory is Gilmore Girls, the late, great fast-talking WB comedy drama. That's a pretty high compliment. Not only does it focus on a kid/parent relationship that's as much a friendship as it is familial, but it's the kind of series that creates an exaggerated-but-believable world for its characters to inhabit. We get to know everyone who lives in Chatswin over the course of the season through little bits of detail and business, and it's a fun place to be.
The acting on the show is pretty impressive, too. It's nice to see Jeremy Sisto, who has languished in series both failed (Kidnapped) and canceled (he jumped aboard the long-running Law and Order just before it sank for good), finally get a show off the ground. He isn't who immediately comes to mind when thinking "funny," but Sisto is able to do some very subtle, grounded work, and only improves as the season goes on. Cheryl Hines is incredible playing a woman who should by all accounts be horrible but instead is impossible to dislike (though the will-they-or-won't-they dynamic between her and George that's established early on is a bit tiresome, if only because every TV series has to include a relationship like it as a throughline). The real find of the show is Jane Levy, who becomes a TV star in the span of a single episode. Comparisons to Emma Stone are inevitable, not just because Levy looks a lot like Stone but also because she shares her talent for being a little smarter, a little more sarcastic, a little sharper than everyone else in the room.
Between Modern Family, Cougar Town, Happy Endings and now Suburgatory, ABC has developed an impressive stable of single camera sitcoms in recent years, the latter of which is quickly becoming my favorite of the group. The show looks very good on DVD, presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The photography on the series is excellent and DVD does right by it, with bright, beautiful colors and no digital messiness to provide distraction. The 5.1 audio track mixes the dialogue and bouncy surrounding audio nicely. It's all appropriately lively. The bonus features are a disappointment, though, consisting only of a standard production featurette, a collection of unaired scenes and a decent gag reel. With so many lesser sitcoms getting far move lavish DVD treatment these days, Suburgatory feels woefully underserved.
The best thing I can say about Suburgatory is that I liked spending time in Chatswin, and I looked forward to putting in another episode so I could go back there. I'm so glad I got the opportunity to review the show, as I'm not sure I would have watched it otherwise. It turned out to be one of my new favorite sitcoms on TV.
A really good show.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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