A review of last night's "Suburgatory" coming up just as soon as I wear a belt made of staples that go into my skin...
My two favorite network sitcom pilots this season were "New Girl" and "Suburgatory," which both entered the world very self-assured with a clear comic voice. "New Girl" then fumbled around for a very long stretch before finally figuring itself out and taking The Leap a few episodes ago. "Suburgatory," meanwhile, also spent much of its first season doing fine-tuning — in particular in finding the right level of reality for both Chatswin and the supporting cast, and in recognizing that the characters are more appealing than the suburban satire — but on the whole has felt like the more consistent show.
That said, "Down Time" felt like it was on a higher level than a lot of the show's episodes leading up to the recent spate of repeats. It tied together a bunch of storylines — Lisa and Malik's flirtation, Dallas and Dalia's feelings about the divorce, the sexual rebirth of Noah's wife, and even the very early storyline about Ryan liking Tessa — in a way that managed to alternate quickly and cleanly between the silly (the various "Damn, girl!" porn parodies with Lisa and Malik), the heartwarming (George telling Dallas that Dalia needs her) and moments that managed to do both at once (Dalia with the Kangaroo Jack, Ryan and Tessa's date).
What they've done with Ryan in particular is really impressive, I think. He's as cartoonish as "Suburgatory" characters get, and the writers really haven't eased off of just how dumb he is; they've just found ways to show why he's cool in spite of having a block of wood between his ears.
A really satisfying episode, all around, one of the best they've done so far and one that has me very excited to see not only the rest of this season, but whatever comes next year. As both a TV critic and a TV fan, I think the most exciting time in a TV series' lifespan (outside of the ones that arrive fully-formed, like "Arrested Development") is right as everyone involved figures out exactly what the show is, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. And we appear to be at that point with "Suburgatory." Excellent.
A few other thoughts:
* Much better guest casting than that episode with The Situation. James Lipton was in appropriately hammy form as Dalia's shrink, and I'm always glad to see Jonathan Slavin (Phil from "Better Off Ted," the mattress salesman here).
* Tessa's love of butter suggests she might really enjoy Homer Simpson's patented space-age moon waffles.
* Speaking of "The Simpsons," Bart's experience with kangaroos suggests that Dalia isn't going to want her cell phone back after it's been in Kangaroo Jack's pocket.
What did everybody else think?