The latest installment of Suburgatory inches everyone into place for what will hopefully be an actual episode next week, but who knows? Dallas and George are always and forever in a state of cold war. Tessa and Dalia take a small step forward, as do Dalia and Evan. Noah pursues Carmen once. Jill pursues pasta. Not much happens, and it’s light on the laughs and heavy on the sulking. Long story short: Bring back the Shays!
It’s clear by now that Dallas and George aren’t funny sitcom squabblers. What could be a Lucy-Ricky dynamic always overdoses on Robitussin. She shuts down, they end communication, and then we spend an episode waiting for one or both of them to realize whatever it is they did wrong. On their own. Pouting. In this case, it’s George’s birthday. Dallas got him a guitar signed by Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley, which he’s cautiously excited about. Tessa got him a framed blueprint she found at her grandma’s, which renders him speechless. When they get hurried out of the Chinese restaurant, which is a whole other ball of wax involving gags about dragon ladies, George forgets to grab the guitar. Dallas pouts because the blueprint makes her feel like she’ll never be the love of George’s life, just a love, and George thinks she’s pouting because he didn’t properly appreciate her gift. So we get to spend the rest of the episode wondering when the funny will arrive. Kudos for translating romantic passive-aggression to the audience.
On the bright side, Dallas isn’t behaving out of stereotype this time. In fact, the premise is sound. Dallas and George both have exes, they both have kids, and they both had lives before each other. Neither Steven nor Alex are active parts of their lives, but Steven’s married and across the planet, while Alex is suddenly (if infrequently) a topic at the Altman household. How interesting to explore the insecurities lying dormant as George and Dallas get more serious. But what a Sisyphean drag watching two funny people retreat for 20 minutes every other week.
Suburgatory never feels like there’s a strong hand on the wheel. Tessa’s already at season-eight levels of suburban seduction, wondering whether the “edgy” urban girl she was is an un-fun prude after just a year-and-a-half in Chatswin. Which is odd because it wasn’t that long ago that Tessa had it in her to rally an entire segment of the Chatswin High demographic around her as she liberated the football cheerleaders. Even just dating Ryan Shay seems to score Tessa some positive attention at school. A few weeks later, she’s babbling about her food-holders in a bathroom crowded with Dalia fans. It’s not unrealistic, Tessa being a teenager and being outnumbered and still thinking of herself as an outsider to a certain extent, and it is funny, at least by the standards of “Eat, Pray, Eat,” although cringe comedy has a lot of air in it, which isn’t helping the low joke density. But mostly it feels unmoored. I can’t even tell if Tessa dances around the trance-party, uh, victims because she doesn’t get it or she just wants to have fun without getting entranced by DJ Lance Trance from France.
The episode is named after Jill Werner’s new self-actualization regimen, which involves carbo-loading at the Ziti Zone with all the other Chatswin women who eat their feelings, but she’s barely here (in one sense; in another there’s a little more of Jill than usual). Noah’s story is being doled out in soap opera portions. This week he gets a little needy with his therapist and then discovers Dr. Bob is seeing Carmen. Mercifully, the Werners are hilarious. The look on Alan Tudyk’s face as he asks George to see if Dr. Bob is looking at them is magnificent. Without breaking eye contact with Dallas and without violating syntax, either, Jill interpolates that she doesn’t have enough pepper and keeps the waiter there until he meets her strict pepper standards. And Noah’s mariachi band finds some nice punchlines in an episode full of surprising stereotype comedy.
In addition, no episode with this much Dalia could be a complete bore. From the moment she reaches peak vocal fry singing, “Happy birthday, Daddy Altman,” to the smile she gives after hearing her new tattoo looks like Evan climbing out of her butt-crack, Carly Chaikin saves the day. To paraphrase Dalia, this is really thoughtful of her. Dalia’s present to George is a weekend getaway to a 5-star bed-and-breakfast. “Everyone who goes there gets super horny,” she insists, no matter how hard George tries to wriggle out of discussing that particular insinuation. The truth: She’s throwing a trance party, and when Dallas considers staying home, Dalia tells her, “I’m gonna need you to get the H out of our H.” Somehow Dalia might be Suburgatory’s anchor. She doesn’t stretch too far for stories, but she’s a bit of a type to begin with. Her batting average is one of the best. And while she seems narrow, her relationships are actually fairly complicated. This Evan romance might be the weirdest, most compelling hook on the show right now. Dalia keeps melodrama funny. That’s not a bad model for the rest of the show.
- After Dalia says Tessa isn’t fun, Tessa says, “Then how would you explain that three nights ago I had a waffle for dinner?” Claire Zulkey’s young Liz Lemon theory abides!
- Maybe I’m just grumpy, but that de rigueur joke about how characters with voice-overs look like they’re lost in thought to everyone else is becoming is as much of a trope as the voice-over itself.
- Dallas asks, “What should I do, Jill? Tell me. You’re the strongest white woman I know. Besides Pink.”
- Tessa holds up two lightly colored tops and asks her dad, “Which one of these tops says, ‘I’m enjoying my youth as much as you reckless teens?’”
- Out-of-character or not, Tessa’s step-mom-sounding lines had me dying: “Hiya, Dalia. Really looks your party is the cat’s pajizzles.” She was in trouble even before that unfortunate turn into feline fluids.
- I also appreciate the waitress rhythmically poking her head into the slow spots in George’s song to politely suggest he not sing about grinding in the middle of the restaurant.