‘Suburgatory’ – ‘Thanksgiving’: If you get lost between the mall and New York City

Senior Television Writer
11.23.11 28 Comments


I got to see tonight’s “Suburgatory” in advance, which means you get a review of that tonight, while I’ll likely skip over “Modern Family,” “Happy Endings,” et al and try to enjoy a Thanksgiving weekend away from the computer. (The Sunday cable drama posts are already written and ready to go.) A review of “Suburgatory” coming up just as soon as I think all Belgians are sex offenders…

“Thanksgiving” was one of the strongest post-pilot episodes of the series for a few reasons. First, its central conflict was about the George/Tessa relationship, which has been the heart of the show and the one thing that hasn’t stopped working. I thought George was overdoing the whole “we can’t go into the city ever, ever again” thing, but the episode was largely about him recognizing this and belatedly bringing Tessa (and naked Lisa) into Manhattan(*) to enjoy at least part of their annual Thanksgiving tradition.

Second, it pulled Dallas back into more human territory. She’s never been as cartoonish as some of the other characters on this show, but there are definitely times where she seems oblivious about how an outsider – not to mention someone who isn’t ridiculously wealthy like she and her Chatswin neighbors are – might react to her and this place. Here, she got to make a genuine effort with Tessa, and to enjoy some time in Manhattan(*), and even an affectation like the new dog was revealed to be – like her flirtation with George – a response to her husband’s adultery. She can be strange and justify her decisions oddly – like her hilarious explanation that Dahlia’s IUD is to improve her cell reception – but she’s a person. This is a version of the character that works much better, just as I enjoyed Dahlia being mad at the dog much more than I ever enjoy watching her be mean to Tessa.

(*) Two thoughts on their impromptu trip: first, I enjoyed hearing that Digable Planets song for the first time in forever when Tessa and Dallas were in the city together. There are more quintessential New York hip-hop groups, but “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” just sounds like the city to me. Second, even if Dallas is a transplanted Southerner, there’s no way she hasn’t been to Manhattan enough to be aware of the ubiquity of counterfeit purses, sunglasses, DVDs, etc. Even the ritzier parts of town aren’t that far away from the blocks that would be filled with those kinds of street vendors. It’s not like George moved Tessa to the Midwest; he moved her to the kind of Westchester suburb where a woman like Dallas would be in Manhattan on a semi-regular basis. 

Third, it made great use of Allie Grant and Ana Gasteyer (who spoke with Fienberg about this episode). Though both are now regular castmembers, there’s been precious little Lisa/Sheila interaction in a while, as Lisa has mostly hung around with Tessa and Sheila has inserted herself in between George and Dallas. But Lisa being in the center of her otherwise ridiculous family (now including Gasteyer’s old “SNL” castmate Chris Parnell as Sheila’s husband) manages to humanize everyone. Her brother is a dumb himbo(**), but Lisa’s glee at getting his approval (and not getting his vitamin water) was enough to make him believable.

(**) Loved his description of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” as “Ace Ventura in that super confusing Spotless Sunshine movie that had the ‘Titanic’ lady with the mid-sized naturals.”

The other thing I should note about this one is that I’m no longer able to ignore the “alt-narrative” – in which the chemistry between Sisto and Levy comes across as more romantic than father-daughter – that Fienberg, Ryan McGee and even many of you keep talking about. Tessa’s reaction to seeing George in the city felt exactly like that of a spurned wife or lover, and even if the show made it clear that she was jealous of him being in the city, and not being with his secret girlfriend, their interactions for the rest of the episode kept continuing along that vibe. I don’t know if this is a case of Emily Kapnek (who wrote this episode) and company just acknowledging what’s been obvious to many people for a while and trying to have fun with it, or if they (like Gasteyer in the Fienberg interview) weren’t aware of how people were responding to those characters at the time this episode was made. It’s a sitcom trope to have two characters who aren’t married – usually, but not always, same-sex friends – begin acting like an old married couple, but in this case, the trope is kinda creepy.

I know that George acknowledges at episode’s end that it’s probably not smart for him to treat Tessa like an equal all of the time, and maybe their relationship will become less awkwardly familiar going forward, but I think something needs to be done for the show’s long-term future. And given both the ratings and the quality (even if it’s been uneven at times), it has a long-term future that the producers need to start worrying about now.

What did everybody else think?

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