From the mean streets to the clean streets . . . and cul de sacs.
That’s the leap single dad George (Jeremy Sisto, “Law & Order”) makes when he panics after finding a condom in the bedroom of his 16-year-old daughter, Tessa (Jane Levy, “Shameless”). He wants to get her far away from her urban jungle New York City playmates and into a more wholesome environment: the suburbs, which in this series look like they’re in California. Welcome to “Suburgatory.”
I know. It sounds like an updating of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but with a jaded teenage girl instead of a “Yo homes, smell you later” rapper, and without the rags-to-riches element.
Jane was doing just fine before the forced move and can’t understand why her father took such drastic action. I do. If I was a single dad and my 16-year-old daughter looked more like a 22 year old (Levy’s real age), I’d probably move her to Tibet.
But the burbs are mystifying and surreal enough, especially as seen through the eyes of creator Emily Kapanek (“Parks and Recreation,” “As Told by Ginger”) and other writers who manage to make the suburbs look like a cross between Wisteria Lane and Pleasantville.
“It’s so QUIET,” father and daughter realize. How can anyone sleep without screams, gunshots, and police sirens lulling them off to lala land?
And the moms, they all dress and act alike. When one person waters the garden, everyone does. On weekends, there’s the buzz of lawn mowers as everyone keeps the family plot looking oh so decent. And if a man’s home is his castle, well, his barbecue grill is his backyard turret. God help you if you move to the suburbs and you don’t respect the grill, or, worse, don’t throw a barbecue for the whole neighborhood to show that you want to fit in and be one of them.
Unlike some shows that focus on a single character, “Suburgatory,” the word that Tessa coins to describe the suburban purgatory she’s found herself in, takes a two-pronged narrative approach. Part of the time we follow George as he becomes reacquainted with an old buddy (Alan Tudyk) who operates a dental practice and seems determined to school George in the way of the suburbs. But George stands out in the neighborhood of neatly landscaped yards and picture perfect houses because he doesn’t have a wife. And while one neighbor, Sheila (Ana Gasteyer), wants to play surrogate mother to the two of them, another neighbor, Dallas (Cheryl Hines, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), may or may not be entertaining thoughts of having an affair with the hunky George.
Tessa, meanwhile, is struck by how plastic and phony all the popular people are, as epitomized by one of their “leaders,” Dalia (Carly Chaikin), who also happens to be the daughter of Dallas and an ex-husband (Jay Mohr) who still comes around. She finds a friend in next-door neighbor Lisa (Allie Grant), but this season jeopardizes that friendship by lusting after Lisa’s cretinous brother (Parker Young), who never seems to wear a shirt and likes to put on a “gun show” while also aping sexual acts, ala Happy Gilmore.
The half hours pleasantly pass as we see the suburbs through the eyes of these New Yorkers at heart, sympathizing (or perhaps empathizing) with them as they try to fit in and get used to their new neighborhood and lifestyle. Some of the writers’ takes on suburbia are so on the money that “Suburgatory” sparkles as satire, while other times slightly over-the-top characters provide the humor.
Twenty-two first-season episodes are contained on three single-sided discs and housed in a standard size keep case with plastic “pages” to hold the discs, then tucked inside a sturdy cardboard slipcase. A full-color tri-fold gives full details on the episodes and bonus features:
“Pilot.” A pot roast, a “buddy,” and a new bra. The first day in the suburbs for Tessa and her father, George, brings surprises in all shapes and sizes.
“The Barbecue.” Tessa finds herself unexpectedly attracted to her jock neighbor Ryan Shay and George is pressured to host the perfect barbecue.
“Don’t Call Me Shirley.” Tessa is thrilled at a doll-sized crime wave in the neighborhood, until a panicked Dallas and Dalia decide to crash at the Altman home.
“Halloween.” George and Tessa are excited for Halloween until George butts heads with the Neighborhood Association, and Tessa learns she’s living in a dead girl’s room.
“Charity Case.” Tessa Tries to get the student body involved with charity work, while George’s reputation as “The Skylight King” leaves him overexposed.
“Sweet Sixteen.” Tessa agrees to let Dalia plan her 16th birthday bash at the country club. George also feels the pain of getting older when he throws his back out and Sheila volunteers as a caretaker.
“Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving dinner with the Royces falls apart after Dallas and Tessa see George with a woman while he is “working” in Manhattan. Plus, Lisa feels the heat when she takes a stand at home.
“The Nutcracker.” George’s tree-decorating party has all the trimmings of disaster when his ex-girlfriend, a potential new girlfriend and the Royces all show up.
“Driving Miss Dalia.” George applies for membership in the Chatswin Country Club, and Tessa’s new driver’s permit attracts attention from Dalia . . . and Dalia’s crush, Scottt (Thomas McDonnell).
“Out in the Burbs.” Suspicious minds. Tessa suspects her new student buddy, Josh (Dan Byrd) is gay (when really he is undercover as a narc) and George suspects Dallas has the hots for him.
“The Casino Trip.” When George wins a trip to Atlantic City, it turns into a getaway with the guys. Back home, Tessa plans her own getaway . . . with a guy.
“Sex and the Suburbs.” The more Tessa sees of hot Scottt, the less she likes him—except when Dalia’s around. Meanwhile, George freaks out over Tessa’s nonexistent sex life.
“The Body.” Tessa undergoes intense scrutiny when she runs for student body president, while super jock Ryan “The Body” Shay is sidelined due to injury.
“Fire with Fire.” Toxic tensions run high as Dallas flaunts her hot young beau in front of George and Dalia flaunts her new “friendship” with Lisa in Tessa’s face.
“Poetic Injustice.” George becomes a croquet god and Fred Shay (Chris Parnell) thinks his wife worships George’s mallet; Tessa tries to impress as poetry teacher who thinks Dalia is a genius.
“Independence Day.” With freedom comes . . . wheels! When Dallas hires Tessa to work at A Crystal Cup of Crystals, Tessa buys a scooter with her hard-earned cash.
“Down Time.” Even people in Chatswin sometimes get a little down: Dallas is in a post-divorce slump; Dalia attempts therapy; and Tessa resolves her third-wheel issues with Ryan.
“Entering Eden.” George has an immediate attraction to Eden (Alicia Silverstone), a woman he meets at the Chatswin Farmer’s Market. Her healthy lifestyle is also attractive to Noah (Tudyk) and his wife, Jill (Gillian Vigman), but for different reasons.
“Hear No Evil.” Tessa adopts Dallas’s work ethic, Lisa thinks she’s adopted, Eden and George grow close, and Noah’s overprotective behavior takes its toll.
“The Great Compromise.” Eden moves in with George and Tessa. Noah moves into Eden and the baby’s personal space, and Malik (Maestro Harrell) and Lisa move on a summer camp decision.
“The Motherload.” Disappointment springs maternal when Dalia disappears, Eden freaks out, Lisa learns the truth about her family’s adoption, and Tessa deals with a difficult truth in this mother of a Season 1 finale.
For a DVD, the video presentation looks super. Colors are bright and nicely saturated, black levels are strong, and there’s decent edge delineation for standard def. “Suburgatory” is presented in matted widescreen, enhanced for 16×9 televisions.
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 that does the job. There’s not much in the way of rear speaker action because the show is dialogue-driven, but everything is clear and distortion-free. Subtitles are in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
All but five episodes come with unaired bonus scenes, but besides a gag reel the only other bonus feature is “Somewhere between Heaven and Hell: Life in Suburgatory,” a very short extra that feels like a promo piece.
In “Suburgatory” the suburban life take a lambasting, but the show’s satire is is made even sharper by strong writing, effective scenic construction, and a solid cast.