As a gay, suburban mid-twentysomething who still gets carded at R-rated movies, “Out in the Burbs” was aimed right at me. It addressed all my concerns about “Driving Miss Dalia” with a pointed take on suburban discontent, a nicely balanced cast, and a whole lot of funny. And Dan Byrd showed up to play 21 Jump Street in an Easy A-adjacent subplot and to make us all sad about Cougar Town. I don’t think you have to be me to see how solid “Out in the Burbs” is, but it had me at hello. I mean, when the main plot opens with a slow, casual push on Byrd as he wheels around in Mr. Wolfe’s office seriously straight-faced to some Casio-sounding score, it's obvious we're in for some fun.
That said, I don’t see the formal unity of last week’s outing. For every hilarious flourish, like the soul music and dolly zoom on Lisa as she falls in love at first sight with Josh, there was an unmotivated distraction, like the regular zoom on Lisa pointing out how gay their cafeteria meat-carver is. That was like something out of Spaced but without the motivating purpose. The one-two punch of locker shots, the sushi-tray-cam, all those overhead establishing shots . . . we’re way past establishing Chatswin’s weirdness. This is just excessive.
But like I said, it’s a distraction, not a dealbreaker, from Bob Kushell’s strong midseason script, which is basically two parallel whoopee cushions inflated by assumptions that wring every possible double-entendre out of the story and then fart their way into teaching our heroes humility—jokes AND morals! Most significantly “Out in the Burbs” proves Suburgatory is interested in suburban facades after all. Director Elliot Hegarty could hardly move the camera without accidentally bumping into some sight gag like the plastic surgery luncheon or a supermarket gossip or the tennis twins a married man is ogling. Maybe if I wasn’t so sick I’d have realized last week that the pilot is full of emasculation and repressed gay men and that none of the show’s marriages are especially fulfilling. Suburgatory is certainly about Tessa and George coming to appreciate the suburbs, but it’s also about the rot underneath causing geysers in extravagantly manicured lawns. As “Out in the Burbs” shows, Tessa may be falling for her community but she’s also going to influence it for the better. This is not a one-way street.
Cleverly, Kushell lets Tessa stumble—or more accurately fall ass-backwards—into her humanitarian role. This is still a coming-of-age, after all. She does help Mr. Wolfe come out, but to get there she plays busybody to a new gay friend, she assumes Mr. Wolfe’s gay and asks him about coming out, and accidentally tips off a narc to the steroid-using quarterback. Say what you will about the value of her actions, but she’s driving blind. It’s a nice antidote to the sometimes Mary Sue-ishness of our too-cool-for-school heroine. She still has plenty of growing up to do, and Jane Levy is knocking it out of the park. Kushell does hit the afterschool quality pretty hard with a whole scene dedicated to Tessa talking about the dangers of jumping to conclusions, but Suburgatory is still figuring itself out.
Somehow George spent all episode trading accidental sex jokes with Dallas and nothing was as steamy as the pair just sitting together in silence last week. But it was plenty funny—I loved when we walked in on Dallas giving her “Up against the wall” speech for the second time—and at the end, George had to face the idea that he may not be as averse to romancing Dallas as he protested, a strong moment for Sisto.
In fact, the whole cast get to shine here, not least Mr. Wolfe telling that story about his “gf” and Lisa going butch to win over presumably gay Josh (“I can turn him. I am ballsy enough to try”). Alan Tudyk—apparently his character is named Noah but I still think of him as Alan Tudyk—is in and out with this perfectly played monologue about his marriage: “Sounds like my wife, hahaha, just kidding, Jill looks great, for a woman in her 40s, hahaha just joking, I married too young, hahaha, stop me.” Dalia shows up sporadically 1) to illustrate how outwitting people like her doesn’t defeat them and 2) to publicly stand up for laxative use. Ryan returns just to film himself dancing shirtlessly in front of his locker, lined with a full-length upper body picture of himself, and later to howl and engage in more thematically consistent dancing rituals around the affirmation, “You’re the man!” And the Shays crop up periodically just to be funny and play nosy neighbors. I miss Malik and Yakult, but as long as we’re balancing this many people, “Out in the Burbs” is a terrific template.
- Loved Jane Levy’s delivery of “Fabulous!” and everything about Dan Byrd’s performance, from the straight-faced early stuff to the big, comic thumbs-up he throws her at the end as he’s straddling some dude, still unaware of her misperceptions.
- I’m still laughing about that picture of Mr. Wolf’s gf Heidi: she's on some guy’s arm, Rex lee's in the background, and it's cropped to just the two of them.
- Apparently, Suburgatory agrees with Happy Endings that V-neck T-shirts are gay. I had no idea.
- “Look at the way she’s eating that banana.” “That’s the way she eats everything.”
- I can’t believe Lisa went online to find computer-generated images of her future progeny with Josh, and they didn’t even namecheck Mommy What Will I Look Like?