Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Suburgatory: “The Body”

Illustration for article titled Suburgatory: “The Body”

Well, that was a perfectly fine episode of Suburgatory, the kind that’s mostly about luxuriating in this well-established world of vivid colors and dulled senses, spending a half-hour with these fine-tuned cartoons, lapping up the absurdist parody. I suppose everyone’s decompressing after the Zambia arc, but the only evidence showing “The Body” takes place after “Sex and the Suburbs” is Dallas discussing her divorce. Despite the episode being named after Ryan Shay’s wrestling alias, there is nary a hint of his renewed feelings for Tessa. And George doesn’t spend a single moment with Dallas. As much as I wanted to grab Suburgatory by its shoulders and shout, “Don’t you know it’s sweeps?” it’s hard to blame the show for taking a breather.

“The Body” could have been a bolder vacation—Tessa’s story is so half-hearted that you can see how it could manage to fail gym—but the episode had its fair share of personality. For starters, there are the opening P.O.V. wrestling shots, which drop us gracefully into this very earnest, very ridiculous world. The episode is nominally about sports fever in the suburbs (and how Tessa projects her own feelings about sports and being outside and how much smarter she is than everyone else onto every other New Yorker), but it’s the barest of excuses to let Ryan Shay do some heavy lifting. Like Carly Chaikin before him, Parker Young rises to the occasion of his own outsized subplot. Okay, so it’s not like he’s asked to do much more than play dumb and look depressed, but he nailed that scene of Ryan crying in his wheelchair at the top of the stairs. Mouthing “poop” is just icing on the cake or some other, more tastefully juxtaposed metaphor.

The other touch I love is the funeral scene where everyone gathers at the Shays’ dressed in black and bringing food because Ryan lost a match (and tore his ACL, but I like to think they’re mourning primarily because of the match). Noah asking, “Can I see The Body?” alone justifies the nickname. We actually spend a lot of time with the Shays this week, learning about the extent of Fred’s love for his son’s body (this show, huh?) and the victory dinners they have for all of Ryan’s achievements. Allie Grant is typically heroic, turning a handful of lines into gold through sheer pressure, especially in the final shot as she’s torn between dignity and “accepting the compliment” that her brother requested her favorite meal for dinner because he’s temporarily experienced what it’s like to be as pathetic as she is every day.

Meanwhile, Tessa’s running for student body president because Kaitlin and Kenzie, running together, promise to double the gym requirement, and Tessa’s failing gym and hates sunlight? Whatever. The point is Kaitlin and Kenzie get more screentime. They would have had even more if this subplot had any meat on its bones, but it did all start with a case of sudden, unexpected fatness, so I understand the hesitance. I was just really looking forward to all 12 debates. But instead of embracing a campaign subplot or even exploring the idea of sports vs. academics to the degree that even Glee, of all shows, has, “The Body” settles for new versions of the same jokes, mostly that the twins and most everyone else at Chatswin High are dumb. It still makes me laugh when Suburgatory pulls out something as bizarre as Tessa being racist against jocks, but it might be time to start stretching the characterizations of the KKK if they’re going to be more than an entourage (fingers crossed!).

Then there’s Dallas and a bit of her rediscovered take-no-prisoners attitude butting up against Noah in an allegorical subplot about teeth whitening that is as perfect as a two-scene plot can be. Or maybe that’s just Cheryl Hines’ inescapable awesomeness talking. Finally, there’s George, who tries to grow a flower, sings America on the porch, and takes Ryan to paint by the river with a paralyzed firefighter, in case you were wondering how broad that subplot gets. Both of these new character pairings are so promising I dreaded the ending. It’s hard to define things like “best cast,” especially on what I consider the strongest night of any network’s programming right now, but the Suburgatory cast always leave me wanting more. You could argue that’s because there are so many characters that nobody gets enough screentime, but I think it’s because the writers and actors have such a firm handle on the characters and their heightened personalities. So firm that even a filler episode is a pretty good experience.

Stray observations:

  • I love that Kaitlin and Kenzie needed a new campaign manager because Dalia got bored. By the way, where was Kimantha?
  • Speaking of absences, the episode was named after Ryan Shay but there wasn’t a single scene of shirtless dancing?
  • Dallas wants to be Supremacy White. “Let’s just say I want to be the whitest white you can legally make me.”