Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Homecoming" to Suburgatory

No, the title of ABC's Suburgatory season premiere does not refer to some lame high school football game or dance, as it almost always does when gracing an episode moniker of a television show. Instead, it means that Tessa (Jane Levy) returns to Chatwin from Manhattan, a place that is no longer home, as much as she might long for it to be.

In the episode "Homecoming," Tessa struggles to figure out who she is. She has learned a bit about her mother during the summer, such as her musical ability, and inherited her coat. It's understandable that any kid would want to know where she came from, and despite Tessa not showing many signs of longing for a maternal figure before late last season, it does feel natural that it's time for her to explore this side of herself. As a teenager, she is coming into her own. To do that, she must examine her past.

As hard as it has to be for Tessa, at least she gets some excitement and happiness out of looking back at the woman who made her. George (Jeremy Sisto), on the other hand, likely has no desire to remember the girl that left him and broke his heart. You wouldn't know that by watching him this week, though. He acts like a real father, supporting Tessa, and even offering her a bit of good memory of her mother when Tessa most needs it.

Tessa and George can be a little immature, but they both care deeply about each other. This journey that Tessa is on is a journey for the both of them, and they are likely to become more developed people because of it. George will heal an old wound somewhat, and Tessa will get more insight into who she is. For a sitcom, this is a pretty impressive feat, and to have the courage to tackle it as early as the start of season two is astounding, in a good way.

Suburgatory actually returns with more heart all around, even where you might least expect it. Dalia (Carly Chaikin) doesn't properly know how to express her sadness at losing her nanny, Carmen (Bunnie Rivera), but in a moment of vulnerability with Tessa, it's clear that she does have feelings. Behind that blank expression and the mean 'tude, there is a real person there. It's moments like these that give Dalia depth, and make her worth having on the show.

Sheila (Ana Gasteyer) and Fred Shea (Chris Parnell) are also not good at expressing how they feel about daughter Lisa (Allie Grant), even if they don't have the same trouble with their son. But when confronted by Lisa, it opens up something else inside of them. This isn't just about blackmail; it's also about seeing their daughter in a new light, and making her feel like a wanted part of the family.

Is this Suburgatory's message about how the suburban life works? So much is a facade, but the same love swells below the surface as one would find anywhere else. Even when they act cartoonish, the characters are actual layered people. What a wonderful message for "Homecoming" to impress upon the viewers. And Tessa singing her mom's song, which happens to be the series theme song, is icing on the emotional cake.

Oh, and the show is funny. Did I forget to mention that? The Sheas do a dance in cat suits, Dalia hangs out with her pet kangaroo, and Noah (Alan Tudyk) checks his baby at the country club like a coat! Ridiculous? Sure. But if you've read the rest of my review, hopefully you see that you'd be foolish to write this show off just for this stuff, which comes across as pretty darn amusing in context.

Suburgatory airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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