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

Suburgatory: “The Great Compromise”

Image for article titled Suburgatory: “The Great Compromise”

The Eden arc hasn’t exactly brought out the best in Chatswin, but it finally clicks at the end of “Hear No Evil,” if just for a moment. Until then, Alicia Silverstone’s earthy surrogate mother doesn’t feel like a subject so much as an object. Her one moment of independent action—deciding to go back to Montana—is quickly parlayed into a new housing arrangement that’s more about disrupting Tessa and George’s life than her own, even though this woman is in her final trimester of pregnancy and far away from home. But at the end of “Hear No Evil,” after foisting wheat-loaf and baby-speak on the Altmans, she finds a groove.

George and Tessa are arguing, as they do, about Tessa’s independence, brought about by the prospect of Tessa interning at the Village Voice this summer. But Eden sees the middle ground and not only asserts herself but makes it funny. “I know we’re still technically trying to determine if I’m allowed to weigh in on this, but I have an idea.” The meekness with which she offers the only calm, rational viewpoint in the room says it all about Chatswin. Silverstone looks so hilariously bewildered when George keeps yelling, “Shut up!” in the middle of her suggestion like it’s cover fire. Then it’s Tessa’s turn, and when she cuts Eden off, Eden responds in kind. Not only does she save George and Tessa from themselves, but she takes another step toward fitting in. She’s not letting the Chatswinites scare her off. She’s dishing it right back. It’s hard to see Silverstone joining the cast full-time, but at last, just in time for the big finale, Eden is a subject.

From a narrative perspective, “The Great Compromise” is basic, but coming-of-age stories need those obvious lessons every once in a while. It’s the classic sitcom story of a fight or two—in this case, three—finding solution in compromise (or not). It’s a well-worn subject, but the message is positive, and Suburgatory was born because George couldn’t see outside of himself. Compromise is hardly a tired topic when it comes to the Altmans.

What “The Great Compromise” doesn’t do is catch the pass thrown in “Hear No Evil.” If that was part one, this is some other episode thrown in to pad out the final arc. Lisa’s questionable maternity does at least offer the great joke of Lisa putting air-quotes around “mother” while talking to Sheila, a pleasure one-upped when Sheila puts air-quotes around “Lisa” in her response. Alas, no sign of the more likely adopted Shay.

Part of the reason the Eden arc hasn’t been so focused on developing the guest star is that each of its episodes are otherwise stuffed with the magnificent but endless cast. So maybe Eden’s been a bit of a bust until now, but at least “The Great Compromise” and its predecessors have room for a creepy sequence of Sheila watching Noah from the street or Mr. Wolfe discussing Nancy Meyers with the kids. “The thing I love most about her movies is how sexually active the older women are,” he says with maximum ebullience.

The second fight plays out over which summer camp Lisa and Malik will go to together. After Lisa’s failed experiment with a lacrosse stick and Malik’s very successful stint in macramé, one of the best sight gags, they actually don’t compromise, exactly. Instead of finding a summer camp that could be common ground for both of them, Malik agrees to attend macramé camp with Lisa. And she doesn’t even have to get creepily intense on him, either.


And in the final ring are Dallas and Dalia, whose pet kangaroo Panuch has been wreaking havoc on their home. Dallas locks him up in the guest house after a bunch of kangaroo wordplay, so Dalia refuses to leave her bedroom. Then George comes over, and the two have another of those great scenes. Not because of any sparks whatsoever, but rather flow. The writing and the performances are just so organic as the characters vent and offer advice, wandering around the wreckage of Dallas’ living room. Nothing like a little grounded conversation to keep a kangaroo subplot from going too crazy. And the X-Files reference makes for the perfect button.

So after all that, only George and Tessa are classically compromising, and she isn’t happy about it. Malik gives in to Lisa, but not resentfully. And Dallas lets Panuch back into the main house at whatever cost, because Dalia is still hurting from the divorce. Macramé camp and kangaroos help liven up a potentially tired topic, but so do the solutions. Relationships aren’t defined by quid pro quo. Sometimes, you sacrifice to make someone happy. And sometimes you find yourself fantasizing about making a macramé bikini.


Stray observations:

  • Another strong episode for Jane Levy, especially in her scenes with Eden. Noah, on the other hand, could always use more funny to temper the overbearing.
  • “The Great Compromise” is written by Charlie Carlisle and Aimee Jones and directed by Randy Zisk.
  • George barely helps Dallas get her place back together before she sends him back to Eden, but that’s okay. “Carmen loves to clean up after us.”
  • Dallas explains what happened to George: “That rude roo ruined my room. I rue the day I agreed to a kangaroo.”