“Suburgatory” ended its first season with single dad George (Jeremy Sisto) letting his daughter Tessa (Jane Levy) spend the summer in New York City — the place he fled in the pilot — and also letting down his guard a little about Tessa’s long-absent mother.
Season 2, which premieres Wednesday (Oct. 17) on ABC, brings Tessa back to Chatswin, but she’s carrying a lot of new feelings about her mom. (Malin Akerman has been cast in the role and will appear later in the season.)
Even though she doesn’t really know her mother, Tessa feels a pretty strong connection — so much that in the season premiere, she takes up the guitar after listening to some music her mom recorded years earlier.
Series creator Emily Kapnek says she and her fellow writers want to play out the “fascination” Tessa has with her mom.
“Being so removed from her mom for all these years, it was sort of easy [for Tessa] to shut it off and not really fixate on it,” Kapnek tells Zap2it. “Somehow in staying with her grandmother and being able to go through lots of her mom’s things, or look at these old photos, it kind of just awakens in her a curiosity that continues to grow this season. It really throws George for a loop.”
If that sounds like kind of a heavy subject for a half-hour comedy to be tackling, it is — but “Suburgatory” has mixed in dramatic moments in the past without letting it overwhelm the funny parts. And the season premiere has its share, including an ongoing battle between new dad Noah (Alan Tudyk) and Dallas (Cheryl Hines) over the services of Dallas’ maid Carmen (Bunnie Rivera) and the Shay family rehearsing a scene from “Cats” for Chatswin’s annual Fall Follies.
Even with all that, though, Chatswin feels a little less cartoonish than it did early in the show’s life. Kapnek says that’s deliberate. She wanted to “grow up” the show’s look a little in part because the show has a later timeslot — 9:30 p.m. ET, following “Modern Family” — and in part because George and Tessa are getting used to their weird, no longer brand-new home.
“We always imagined that a lot of contrast you saw in the show and the almost glaring, poppy, bright landscape was George and Tessa’s eyes on this new environment. I think that as they begin to acclimate, that palate needs to adjust a little bit,” Kapnek says. “They’re fitting in more, and I think the world is feeling like a more viable home to them. So we tried to sort of have that represented visually. … But we still have a lot of that kind of crazy satire and that skewed lens — all the funny stuff that makes Chatswin such a weird little suburb.”
Kapnek says the storytelling in the first part Season 2 moves away from Tessa’s high school experience a little and focuses heavily on relationships, including “some unexpected romance stuff for Tessa.”
“Lisa [Allie Grant] and Malik [Maestro Harrell] have a few bumps in the road, and Noah and Jill [guest star Gillian Vigman, who returns later in the season] are dealing with what it means to try to raise this kid with her away on this eternal book tour of hers,” she says. “Noah is for the first time kind of functioning in a single-dad sort of way like George is, and I think he’s a little panicked about it. We play out some really fun relationship stuff with them.”
George and Dallas will also finally take the next step in their relationship — but not before George badly misreads Dallas in episode 2, the show’s Halloween episode.
“Dallas kind of feels like this is the right time to dive in, and they’re both single, and what better time than Halloween,” Kapnek says. “She kind of approaches George and asks him if he’s interested in going as this themed couple’s costume with her. He’s not really getting the subtext, so at the end of the episode, it kind of all comes out and they agree to go on their first date. …
“George is kind of caught off guard that Dallas is sort of back in that headspace again. They’ve always had a flirtation, and they’ve always had a connection, but he kind of decided that was the extent of it. Then Dallas really puts herself out there, and it’s really been so much fun to write for.”
Season 2 of “Suburgatory” premieres at 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday on ABC.