Jonathan Storm: Misfit family, perfect-fit slot

"Suburgatory," about a dad and his teen daughter who move from the city to wacky suburbia, airs between "The Middle" and "Modern Family" for 90 minutes of family hilarity on ABC.
"Suburgatory," about a dad and his teen daughter who move from the city to wacky suburbia, airs between "The Middle" and "Modern Family" for 90 minutes of family hilarity on ABC.
Posted: September 27, 2011

Suburgatory's version of suburbia might be somewhat unfamiliar.

"It's like the Million Mom March," says 16-year-old Tessa Altman. "They're shuffling out of the tanning salons in their mani-pedi flip-flops, with their ever-present daughters and enormous frozen coffee drinks."

Realism is not the issue. Just as Desperate Housewives (before it got desperate) made up a place and stuck with it consistently and believably, so does the sublime Suburgatory. It transplants Tessa and her father to a funny fantasyland in a hilarious family fish-out-of-water tale that fits seamlessly Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on 6ABC between The Middle and Modern Family.

Three years ago, there wasn't one decent family comedy in all of television. Now, there are three winners in a row that provide the best 90 minutes of sitcom entertainment since 1987, when NBC broke up the Cosby-Family Ties-Cheers triumvirate.

It's a geographically diverse three-bagger, going from The Middle's Indiana, to the nonexistent suburb of Suburgatory (executive producer Emily Kapnek says it's not really based on the Westchester County suburb where she lived), to Modern Family's Los Angeles.

Yet another talented female newcomer rises to the challenge of carrying a show on her shoulders. Passing easily for 16, 21-year-old Jane Levy, whose only other professional role was as gay Ian Gallagher's gal pal, Mandy, in Showtime's Shameless, is a breakout sensation as Tessa, uprooted from her Manhattan apartment after dad Jeremy Sisto finds condoms in her bedside drawer.

"Unauthorized search and seizure," says Tessa in a voice-over. "First he searched. Then, he had a total seizure."

Dad figures his daughter will have a better chance at success in the green pastures of suburbia. But the zombie moms and crazy neighbors and cookie-cutter classmates make her feel like she's in purgatory. Hence, the jarring title, which is the show's only wrong note.

Sisto is unremarkable as George the Dad, but Levy does get some load-lightening assistance from Carly Chaikin and Curb Your Enthusiasm's Cheryl Hines as a mother-and-daughter team from fashion hell.

Chaikin plays Dalia, one of those high-school mean girls, and Hines plays her mom, Dallas, as misguided as that bus-size space station that crashed to Earth this weekend. But there are signs Dallas' heart may be in the right place, just beneath her surgically augmented breast.

Ana Gasteyer from Saturday Night Live plays the nosy neighbor with the doofus son and sensitive daughter, who seems poised to be friends with Tessa, perhaps the only two people in the mythical town of Chatswin who see the place and its residents for what they are.

People in the audience will have no problem doing that, unless they're laughing so hard that tears cloud their vision.


Jonathan Storm:

Television

Suburgatory

8:30 p.m. Wednesday on 6ABC


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/jonathan

storm.

 

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