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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Suburgatory hosts "The Barbecue"

     ABC's new sitcom Suburgatory, in its second week, finds George (Jeremy Sisto, Law & Order, Six Feet Under) forced to host "The Barbeque," lest he be ostracized by his neighbors. Luckily, Noah (Alan Tudyk, Firefly, Dollhouse) is there to lend him a hand. As is Dallas (Cheryl Hines, Curb Your Enthusiasm), though her advice more concerns George's daughter, Tessa (Jane Levy, Shameless). Tessa makes out with neighbor Ryan (Parker Young), who is all abs, and no brains. But Tessa doesn't need George's help to know that she should not be fooling around with Ryan, and she breaks it off.

     Many people really enjoyed the "Pilot" of Suburgatory, but I was not one of them. Since my opinion seemed so far off of others, I decided to give the series a second week to win me over before writing my review of it. I enjoyed the second episode a lot more, not because "The Barbeque" was all that much better, but because it became possible to see past the things that bothered me in week one, and embrace those elements that appealed to the masses.

     The biggest issue I have with Suburgatory is its cartoonish cast. George and Tessa are layered, complete characters, but are surrounded by a bunch of plastic stereotypes. This does not make an interesting, long-running series. And yet, the very unrealistic nature of them is what gives Suburgatory its humorous, offbeat tone. This means this major characteristic of the sitcom is, at the same time, both a turn off and a turn on. What will sway the scales one way or the other is how development is handled, meaning there needs to be some, and also if the fresh jokes can keep coming out of the neighbors' mouths. Because, for now, they are still novel enough to be very entertaining.

     The second detriment is, I am currently in the middle of watching Six Feet Under. It is an excellent series, but features a crazy, creepy Sisto that sticks with you long after the episode ends. This means it is very hard to digest the actor as George, not thinking he is just hiding some psychotic tendencies. By episode two, this gets much easier because Sisto brings heart and ease to his father figure, proving his talent range.

     And Sisto is not the only one. Levy is both adorable and sympathetic. She is attractive far beyond average, and yet has a relatable quality where she doesn't seem completely unattainable, a hard balance to strike. She really gets a chance to shine in "The Barbeque," allowing her vulnerability as a girl to shine through the commonsense, smart exterior. Thus, she captures the teenage spirit. Everyone can be a slave to hormones at one time or another.

     Hines takes what she did in Curb, and ratchets it up twenty notches for an amusing, lonely housewife. Tudyk plays the almost-straight man to the jokes, providing viewers with a way to "get" what is really going on. Saturday Night Live alumni Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell work as the good-hearted, trend-following couple across the street. Allie Grant does a character that is much departed from her Weeds role, defining all new levels of weird, in a totally cool way. Finally, Rex Lee (Entourage) plays the gudiance counselor, apparently now a staple in family series that venture into high schools (see: Awkward., The Secret Life of the American Teenager, etc.). All in all, a solid ensemble.

     Watch Suburgatory Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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