TV executives have been searching for the newest high school sitcom for quite some time now. Long gone are the days of Saved by the Bell or similar shows from the 90′s, and we’ve known this since Freaks and Geeks met an early demise. Now our high schools dramas are best represented by strong female roles such as the titular Veronica Mars Emma Stone in Easy A, replacing groups of friends or average individuals with the extra self-aware guy or girl. And now ABC seems to be capitalizing on this popular style of comedy by banking on the new High School dramedy Suburgatory.
You’ll get the feeling right away that very little ground here hasn’t be tread on before. The premise involves a Manhattan single father George finding condoms in his daughter Tessa’s possession, and their subsequent permanent removal from the bustling city to quiet suburbia. Be prepared for the same over-done suburbia jokes seen frequently in the first three seasons of Weeds and throughout countless other sitcoms and spoofs. One gets the feeling that all writers are unaware of what suburban life entails and are so scared of vague rumors that they have no choice but to mock. Add to that the cliché high school “in-crowd” and Tessa’s befriendment of a group of self-proclaimed losers, and it’s starting to become understandable why ABC has a tough time selling this show to others. It’s obviously a satire on modern culture, but is it really worth sitting through the same jokes we’ve heard before? What’s the catch?
Luckily, there is a bit of a catch. Actors Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto are perfect as their roles of Tessa and George respectively. Levy’s dry wit and her hater-with-a-good-heart attitude may come of feeling like an Emma Stone rip-off, but she’s a fresh face with enough comedic talent to make each joke land well. Sisto is probably the series’ best character though, playing the unsure father who has an on-off relationship with his daughter. The two play off each other just as if they were father and daughter, and Sisto as George interacts with all characters in the community with a hesitant but genuine manner. He produces the most laughs on the whole, and will most likely bring more people to continue watching than the rest of the cast.
Besides these two however, there’s not much to say of that’s memorable. The annoying popular girl here is Dalia, whose mother (played by Cheryl Hines) is much more interesting though quite overwhelming at first. The inclusion of Alan Tudyk first got me excited as he’s such a fantastic comedian, but his abilities are squandered here as he merely plays an average dentist who enjoys the suburban perks.
Add in a few minor characters with some real charm but little pizzazz and you just get Veronica Mars without all the mystery. Suburgatory is still young though, with a lot of story potential behind it. Episodes where George tries to invade the all-female PTA or where a community crisis involving stolen dolls prove that the writing team may be hitting the stereotypes a bit hard but they’re finding clever and funny ways to get around that problem. Try this show out if high school dramas still find your funny bone, otherwise you’d be better off just tuning in half an hour later for Modern Family.