TV Review: ‘Surviving Suburbia’

04.05.09 9 years ago

Ian White/Comedy Central

The generic family sitcom made Bob Saget a lot of money, as did celebrating the infinite comic possibilities of pets getting drunk and people getting hit in the nads with wiffle ball bats. Then, Saget spent over a decade trying to bury his “Full House” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” Good Guy persona.

Assuming that you’ve forgotten the short-lived WB comedy “Raising Dad” (and Kat Dennings probably hopes you have), dating back to his memorable cameo in 1998’s “Half-Baked,” Saget has mostly cultivated a raunchy and rude, distinctly R-rated image. And you know what? It’s worked. I don’t think about Danny Tanner anymore when I think of Saget. Instead, I think about “The Aristocrats” and his comedy special “That Ain’t Right” and his Comedy Central roast.

That’s why I can hardly imagine that Saget was all that miserable when The CW and MRC’s Sunday night programming pact tanked and his sitcom “Surviving Suburbia” was sent off into limbo. Even if the comedy had aired on The CW as planned, it probably wouldn’t have been watched by more than a few hundred thousand people. Instead ABC snagged “Surviving Suburbia” and it’s been given a time slot immediately after “Dancing with the Stars” on Monday nights (starting on April 6), meaning that 20+ million viewers are likely to find themselves watching the opening seconds before turning away.

[Review after the break…]

Created by Kevin Abbott, “Surviving Suburbia” isn’t some sort of unholy disaster, as I feared it would be based on early clips. It’s just a generic, broad, generic, dull and generic multi-camera family comedy, unlikely to offend anybody, but equally unlikely to amuse. 

Saget plays Steve Patterson, the sort of suburban schlub who’s constantly embarrassing his wife (Cynthia Stevenson) and kids (Jared Kusnitz and G. Hannelius) with his inability to understand the most basic of neighborhood niceties. In the pilot, for example, he doesn’t get why people in the suburbs give each other extra keys so that they can feed the neighbors’ pets and water their plants when they go on vacation. Crazy, right? When the strip club magnate next door (Dan Cortese) asks him to look in on his goldfish, Steve and his nosy best bud (Jere Burns) cause problems. Hilarious problems? No, though Stevenson and Burns are pros and manage to generate a smile or two, if nary a laugh.

Following an increasingly odd ABC trend, “Surviving Suburbia” appears not to be premiering with its pilot episode. Rather, it would appear, ABC just opted to launch the series with an episode that starts with a “Dancing with the Stars” joke and repeatedly plugs Zac Efron, who made the Disney family a lot of money on those “High School Musical” things. As a result, I still don’t really know where these characters live (other than on two or three sets on a studio lot), what they do for a living or anything else. Those kinds of specifics just get in the way and their absence hasn’t deterred the very vocal 

“Surviving Suburbia” is unlikely to survive the spring, so it will only count as a minor step backwards for Saget, who must have thought his days of getting upstaged by mugging child actors (the laff-track finds Hannelius particularly adorable) were through. Why not enlist some “Family Guy” veterans or the “Bad Santa” scribes to develop an HBO or Showtime comedy built around his new image? A “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-style look at what it’s like being Bob Saget? I’d watch that. At least for a few episodes. Here, he’s all smug smiles and ironic detachment, even if the writing of the character seems to invite neither attribute.

[Quick question: Why does Dan Cortese keep getting sitcom roles? He wasn’t funny on “The Single Guy,” “Veronica’s Closet” “What I Like About You” or “Rock Me, Baby.” Why is he suddenly going to start being funny now? Just curious.]

The character and the sitcom around them are seemingly remnants from a comedy trend that’s five or six or seven years old, the boor and family man with the heart of good and the patient woman and kids who love him. “Everybody Loves Raymond” was probably the best of the type, with “King of Queens” a respectable second. ABC’s still got one of the last of its kind on air occasionally in “According to Jim,” but even ABC has gone away from that sitcom model.

“Surviving Suburbia” cost ABC next to nothing financially, but I wonder what the cost is in so blatantly unbranding your network. The ABC that developed “Samantha Who?” and “Better Off Ted,” rescued “Scrubs” from the NBC scrapheap and has basically turned “According to Jim” into the television equivalent of caulk shouldn’t be wasting a piece of prime weeknight reality on something this uninspired and frequently lame. If ABC had wanted to acquire “Surviving Suburbia” and paired it with the remaining gasps of “According to Jim” in a Saturday night comedy block, that might have made sense. Instead, “Surviving Suburbia” breaks up ABC’s comedy flow and also provides a potentially deadly buffer between “Dancing with the Stars” and “Castle.” I don’t love “Castle,” but if the choice is between its salvation and the return of Bob Saget, I’m rooting for Nathan Fillion any day.

[It’s a big week for new shows. Stay tuned in the days to come for reviews of CBS’ “Harper’s Island,” ABC’s “The Unusuals,” plus “Parks & Recreation” and “Southland” on NBC.]

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