“It is 9:30 on a Wednesday night, and there has got to be something good on.” Truer words were never spoken, Tessa. An episode of Suburgatory that begins with Ryan Shay saying, “Good day, Miss Altman. Keeping it tight, I presume?” and ends with Fred Shay singing “the ‘chickity China’ song” is one to remember. Even though Tessa’s mom returned and Dallas and George got together and Noah finally took it down a notch, this is undeniably the season of the Shays.
Rule of thumb: The more material Parker Young gets, the better this season is. Ryan keeps getting pushed to new places and Young valiantly keeps him human when he’s not howling, stripping off his clothes, and wandering into the forest (and almost even then). In “Chinese Chicken,” we get a sample of what Ryan is like in a relationship. He’s the same dumb, doting puppy dog, but even over a relatively extended time he doesn’t wear out his welcome. He’s really excited that Tessa is hanging out with the football girlfriends, a sweatshop pep crew headed by a Dalia type named Amber. Ryan fills Tessa in on her backstory: “Amber’s had a really interesting journey. She always wanted to date Ronaldo, our tight end, but she used to be fat. But then, she lost a ton of weight. And then they hooked up.” That’s typical Ryan Shay, but the way he tells that story, and then realizes he’s late for a noogie appointment with Ronaldo, and then kisses the top of Tessa’s head and tells his sister goodbye—it’s like we’re getting a sense of how Ryan actually functions in between high-fives and Shay family dinners. The kid actually has a bit of an internal life. (Beyond the periodic bouts of cartoon depression masking very serious issues, that is.)
And Lisa! She gets almost nothing to do—it’s a happily stuffed episode—so her job is just to round out the universe, but Allie Grant bats every line out of the park. Gestures, too. As Ryan motormouths about Amber and his noogie appointment, she mockingly hangs on his every word, faux cringing about his faux pas. Then Lisa gets in a whisper-shouting match with Malik about football players being sexier than lacrosse players (false, but she’s just being contrary). She bellows, “Nobody knows what you’re talking about, Malik!” She turns toward Tessa. “Ignore him.” I’m starting to hope the post-breakup friction lasts.
Meanwhile Fred starts—well, is present at—the formation of a neighborhood dad-band along with George and Noah. The idea is to get away from the wives and girlfriends pressuring the men to be all they can be, but Sheila runs a tight ship (and Fred got all his hiding from Sheila out last week), so Fred’s there more to glorify his wife. And also to play Barenaked Ladies songs. But the point is Fred wants to name the band Sheila’s Pets. George vetoes for the time being—he ends up tacitly accepting that the band is called Sheila’s Pets—but he can’t decide between Full-On Fatherly Assault and Fathers Of Mass Destruction. I’d go with the one that evokes incest less, but that’s because I’ve seen Suburgatory’s title sequence.
But the final Shay interrupts the dad-band’s rendition of “Drift Away,” which is pretty boring except for the part when Noah, shirtless in a leather vest with a pink scarf wrapped around his head, practically makes out with George in order to share a microphone. Sheila isn’t upset about the noise. She’s upset that George is so pitchy, dawg. George walks right into her trap, and before you know it, Sheila’s Pets is playing “Barracuda” and Ana Gasteyer is commanding the stage so naturally that she high-kicks an act-break into the show. Of course, Sheila runs her pets with the same iron fist she runs her family. When Dallas offers the band drinks during a break after Gasteyer’s “I Want Candy,” Sheila tells George, in full view of Dallas, “Tell your piece to hit it. We have a ‘No Yoko’ policy.” If only Dallas had lines this good. Fortunately, that’s when Sheila inadvertently reminds George that Full-On Fatherly Assault is about blowing off steam, not mastering an art form.
Beyond the genius of the Shays, “Chinese Chicken” makes up for that gross incident of the nerd dating above his station. This time when Tessa upsets “the natural order” of high-school cliques, it’s a good thing. Not for everyone—as Ryan explains, the football team loses the game because they lacked the advantage of running through paper with their girlfriends on strike—but for the girlfriends who suddenly have free time to pursue their own dreams and pizzas, Tessa defends her decision rather than restore the status quo. And Ryan accepts. Well, first he lashes out—“Think again, Thinker” is actually a mildly moving line—but then he realizes that support is a two-way street. He intercepts Tessa in the hallway and unveils a banner of paper for her to experience running through. Not only is it sweet, but it illustrates how good Tessa and Ryan are for each other. He’s thinking about other people’s feelings, and she’s going out of her comfort zone and enjoying it.
And I haven’t even mentioned the sweatshop scenes, lit like a movie opium den and wall-to-wall funny.
As Tessa literally stands on a soap-box, she tries to kindle some independent spirits.
“And you? What is your name?”
“I’m Derek’s girlfriend.”
“What is your name, child?”
“I wanna say Joan?”
Needless to say, Joan is my new favorite character. Nice to see Suburgatory pull off a great episode without relying on major life changes. The Shays are all the gravity we need.
- George tries to cover for a lie. “Sometimes my Southern accent comes out from my semester in Charleston… honey-child.”
- Seriously, get Joan a recurring role pronto. “Let’s go, Derek! Way to dial that phone, baby!” “Good phone answer, Joan.” Amber can stick around, too.
- Tessa’s awfully self-aware this week. “Okay you know how sometimes I can be a little negative or smug?” Lisa knows exactly what she's talking about: “Preachy at times, soapbox-y.”
- Buzzkill: How could it possibly take more than an hour, say, for all those football girlfriends to paint the week’s banner? Most of them could stay home and it could get done in an hour.
- Ryan impresses upon Tessa the importance of the paper banner. “That’s everyone’s favorite part of football, Tessa. That’s why half of us started playing in the first place. How can we beat a team that got to run through paper when we haven’t had the advantage of running through paper ourselves?”