I stopped writing about Suburgatory for a variety of reasons when the show went on hiatus in December, but none of them involved no longer liking the show. Brandon’s been doing a great job in the ensuing months, and while I’ve never stopped watching the show, it stopped being appointment television around the time I stopped writing about it on a weekly basis. Too much TV, too little time, too much Lisa/Malik fanfic to write. You know the drill. But I’ve definitely kept up all the same. In any case, I was happy to take a chance to revisit the show while Brandon went mattress shopping.
As Brandon correctly noted, last week’s episode was a high point for the show’s run, fulfilling the promise of the pilot in ways that I kept wishing for in the fall. Some shows hit the ground running. Some stumble straight out of the blocks. Suburgatory jogged in place for half a season before starting to make some solid progress. Whereas early installments were “The Semi-Creepy George and Tessa Show,” Emily Kapnek has since developed third dimensions for many of the show’s supporting cast. Suburgatory had a killer ensemble from day one, but didn’t seem to know exactly how to use it to maximum effect. The episodes that have aired this calendar year have done a great job at giving depth to many secondary characters while also firmly establishing rhythms for both the adult and the teenager worlds of the show. While Allie Grant has been the strongest part of this program for some time, I tend to find myself more interested in what happens with George, Dallas, and Noah over recent weeks. I could never have predicted that in October, and I’m thrilled to be wrong. That’s not to say Jane Levy, Carly Chaikin, and Maestro Harrell haven’t been doing good work. But by giving Alan Tudyk and Cheryl Hines shades to their outlandish characters, Suburgatory has grounded Chatswin in a recognizable reality that has bolstered both its comedy and its pathos.
“Entering Eden” marks the long-awaited Clueless reunion between Jeremy Sisto and Alicia Silverstone. Silverstone plays Eden, a woman George meets at a farmer’s market. Whereas most of the citizens of Chatswin are painted in hypercolors, Eden is more muted, which befits her earthy nature. There’s instant chemistry between the pair, which doesn’t end even when George has an allergic reaction while trying to share a healthy frozen beverage with her. “I’m sorry, George,” Eden declares in the hospital. “I should never have pushed you into that smoothie.” It’s a great meet-cute sequence, punctuated by a quick and powerful kiss between the pair. All this unfurled before the opening credits, and all of it was great.
Afterward… things got a bit dicey. If “Down Time” brought things down to a human scale last week, the plot involving Eden as a surrogate mother to Noah and Jill threatened to push the show back into the realm of untethered silliness. Having an obstacle to place between George and Eden was inevitable, to be sure. And Jill wanting to have someone else go through nine months of labor so she can finish her new book (Making Time For What Matters) fits in perfectly with her character. But while the plot itself was slightly problematic, the reactions everyone had to the revelation of Eden’s identity felt more labored. (See what I did there?)
Sure, Noah is self-centered. But he reacted less as a man afraid for the health of his child as much someone who had no clue about medicine or biology when it came to George potentially having sexual relations with Eden. His reactions served the barriers that the show wanted to erect versus the character Noah is. I’d say Eden overreacted to George’s confusion, but Eden was largely a cipher in this episode. That’s not really anyone’s fault, in that we only just met her tonight. We know she’s spunky, cute, and very Silverstone-y. And those are all great things! I’m not trying to give George a pass here, but of the four involved in that double date, he seems like he has the most legitimate concerns in this soapy plotline. By promising Noah he wouldn’t try to sleep with Eden during her pregnancy, George buys the show some time for these two people to get to know each other. And maybe that’s a good thing. I wondered if they might have just gone ahead and had sex in the hospital had that sleep-deprived nurse killed their mood. I have optimism in this storyline, and where it can take George as a character. But this was a rough start for it all the same.
With all that going on, Suburgatory also followed up on Dalia’s sadness over her parents’ divorce, her anger towards Tessa, and her hatred of Yakult by having Dalia literally sweep the dog out of her house and into the street. Dallas learns of her daughter’s actions after employing Tessa to help locate Yakult. (They have a joystick-based security system, which is kitsch. Also? Cheryl Hines saying kitsch is just about the greatest thing ever.) Tessa soon deduces that Mr. Wolfe has taken the dog under his care. Why? To help seal the deal on his nascent relationship with Chef Alan. Turns out Alan isn’t exactly keen on commitment, and Wolfe uses Yakult/Hanson in order to foster a sense of family between them. There’s nothing a set of matching outfits and “MMMBop” can’t do to foster a healthy relationship.
It’s all truly silly, and culminates in what can only be described as a slow-motion, low-stakes restaging of The Beastie Boys’ video for “Sabotage.” But it also works because each part of the plot is grounded in some relatable emotional stakes. Dalia still speaks in the hilarious deadpan monotone she always has, but somehow, Chaikin has found ways to modulate that one note in ways that show the pain Dalia feels in the wake of her parents splitting up. And while Wolfe dodging Tessa’s accusations in school is Sitcom 101, it also stems from a deep-seated fear that Alan could bolt at any moment. So while it wasn’t always clear why people were acting the way they were in this week’s A story, the B story featured plenty of clarity that helped the episode muck through some of its clunkier plot points.
- Almost no Lisa. No Malik. Bad week to come back. I will just assume they are doing ordinary things in sexy ways in slow motion off-screen somewhere.
- Clueless fans: I am hoping you will point out any and all movie references that I missed tonight. I looked for them, but not particularly hard.
- Eden’s line “It was nice almost knowing you” felt like an homage to Aimee Mann’s song “Deathly.”
- I really want Dalia and the KKK to start up a business as psychics after watching their groupthink.
- “I’m inverted!” “Yakult was living as a gay male dog in East Chatswin.” “I’m sorry I swept, Mommy.” Someday there will be a YouTube clip called “Dalia’s Best Lines,” and it will be glorious.
- In all of television this year, there still hasn't been a line funnier than, “Scarlett Johansson. Dead.” I feel like that's worth noting in my week back.
- On that note, thanks again to Brandon for letting me stop by for a week. I hope he didn't get murdered in East Chatswin while away.