Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Suburgatory'
Jane Levy stars in a familiar, but still clever suburban comedy
[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]
Show: "Suburbatory" (ABC)
The Pitch: "The suburbs are wacky." "Got anything else?" "Well, they're a bit superficial." "OK... and?" "Oh, just go with it and we'll try to make it funny."
Quick Response: "Suburgatory" does NOT blaze any particularly fresh intellectual terrain. Emily Kapnek's script uses a pair of transplanted New Yorkers (Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy as a good-natured father and his uber-sardonic daughter) to reveal that The Suburbs are synthetic and that they force everybody to act and look and talk alike, that they encourage conformity and superficiality. Are you saying you've seen this kinda thing before? Well of course you have. And you've probably seen it done a bit better, whether you happen to have been a fan of the Agrestic seasons of "Weeds" or "American Beauty" or "The 'burbs" or "The Stepford Wives" any of the dozens of similarly askew views of suburban culture. But you don't have to be fresh to be sharp and Kapnek's script shoots through a diverse assortment of pop culture references and hits many of its targets. Levy was a terrific discovery on "Shameless" last season as Mandy Milkovich and it's no surprise that she's got a tart tongue and perfect comic timing with good rhythms and a consistent voice. You could put Levy's Tessa alongside the characters played by Ashley Rickards in "Awkward," Caroline Dhavernas in "Wonderfalls" and animation in "Daria" as part of a recent pantheon of wry teenage observers, or at least it's my belief/hope that the character could develop to earn a place in that pantheon. Levy's definitely good enough to take the character there. Sisto gets good mileage out of his rumpled charm and out of the strangeness of Jeremy Sisto playing the father of a teenage girl, establishing a quick and quality rapport with Levy. The actors representing the suburbanites have been directed to go a wee bit broad and while Alan Tudyk and Cheryl Hines get pilot laughs because, you know, they're good at this, I'm not sure if the types they're playing are sustainable on a network show. After they get softened into real people, we'll see if they're as amusing as they were as caricatures. "Suburgatory" doesn't nail all of its targets and the familiarity -- especially with the recent success of "Awkward" -- is sometimes a drawback, but the pilot shows a lot of potential to mix ironic bite with earnest heart and, if it progresses, I see no reason why it shouldn't fit in nicely between "The Middle" and "Modern Family."
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