On Wednesday (Sept. 28), “Suburgatory” joins ABC’s family-focused line-up as a sort of bridge between “The Middle” and “Modern Family,” but where the established shows are straight-forward comedic takes on family life, “Suburgatory” takes a different tack: It delivers laughs, for sure, but with a brainy, subversive and sometimes absurdist edge.
Jeremy Sisto (“Law & Order”) stars as George Altman, an architect who gets spooked when he finds a box of condoms in teenaged daughter Tessa’s (Jane Levy) room and uproots her to live in a generic suburb.
Tessa is a Juno-like home-skillet (apologies to folks who haven’t seen “Juno”) who — though she doesn’t have Diablo Cody writing for her — does have Emmy-nominated writer Emily Kapnek (“Hung,” “Parks and Recreation,” “As Told By Ginger”) to deliver sharp dialogue and give the show a forward motion that keeps us interested in these people and their somewhat inane existence. And, having grown up in suburbia ourselves, we can vouch for the inanity and the absurdity.
Tessa is pretty, but eschews pink in favor of earthy tones and combat boots. She’s brainy and independent, but something’s missing. That would be her mom, who we’re told left when she was born. So we can forgive her the slight chip on the shoulder and understand how even a girl as independent as Tessa melts when a Dina Lohan-esque suburban mom in the form of Dallas (Cheryl Hines) gives her a frilly pink bra and opens her mind to the possibilities of mall shopping.
Dallas’ daughter, Dalia (Carly Chaikin) is destined to be Tessa’s frenemy. As Tessa says, she looks like she “has a stripper pole in her locker” and bullies a homely student in the bathroom. She also deadpans “Are you a lesbian?” when she first meets Tessa — apparently the combat boots set off her gay-dar.
The show’s one weakness is the initial premise. We’re asked to to believe a single dad moves his smart, perceptive daughter away from the city they both love when he suspects she may be sexually active. He can’t possibly be naive enough to think suburban kids don’t don’t get freaky. I mean, doesn’t the guy watch “Glee” or “90210?”
The single dad/daughter dynamic is one that hasn’t been well-explored since “Veronica Mars” and we’re hoping that this show, like its big sister, will grow and stretch into a more nuanced relationship between Sisto and Levy. Given the talent involved — the aforementioned Kapnek and co-stars Ana Gasteyer, Chris Parnell and Rex Lee — we’re thinking it’s a sure bet.
Oh, a warning: The viewer — along with Jane Levy — is literally assaulted with Red Bull. It is — we kid you not — flying through the air to hit Tessa in the head and it’s lined up in gleaming rows in Dallas’ fridge. We get a little product placement, but this is like show placement in a Red Bull ad.
“Maybe these moms weren’t all bad,” says Tessa at the end of the pilot. “And maybe sometimes under a giant pair of synthetic breasts, you can find a giant non-synthetic heart.”
Good advice, and there’s more where that came from.
“Suburgatory” debuts on ABC on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 8:30 p.m. ET.