Season finale review: ‘Suburgatory’ – ‘Apocalypse Meow/Stray Dog’

A review of the two-part “Suburgatory” season finale coming up just as soon as my troubles melt away like so much provolone…

Much as I keep wishing for “Suburgatory” to find a new level – or, at least, to hit its current best level more consistently – I think the design of the show means it’s always going to be uneven. The mix of the utterly sincere and the absolutely cartoonish is just very volatile, even with actors like Jane Levy and Allie Grant who can go easily to both places. Some weeks, all the elements are going to come together perfectly; in others, the absurd parts of Chatswin are going to grate when placed next to whatever Tessa’s going through.

These final two episodes closed season 2 on a strong note after I’d become fairly disenchanted earlier in 2013 (a couple of episodes last month fell of my DVR unwatched). They featured some absolutely wild comedy in Tessa and Dalia’s brawl (Tessa leaping off the top rung of the ladder, WWE-style, was a thing of beauty) and some very genuine emotion in the George/Tessa split, which Jeremy Sisto and Levy both played so very well. Once again, the show went to a dark place to end the season, and it worked because the core relationship feels real and the performances are so good.

That being said, even these two episodes felt uneven in spots, in part because of what they were trying to do within each half-hour, in part because of how they built on what had come before.

Independently, for instance, I would have been amused by both Lisa’s meow mix tape (including her meow version of “Eye of the Tiger” building up to the Tessa/Dalia brawl) and her devotion to the idea of a long con where they become notary publics. (Though the notary idea seemed a bit weird even for Lisa.) Giving her both of those running gags in “Apocalypse Meow,” though, was too much. Lisa’s frustration over the purity ball in “Stray Dog” was a more focused gag, and a more effective one. (Even if it presented Sheila at her most toxic.)

Or take the George/Dallas break-up scene. I thought Sisto and Cheryl Hines were excellent, and George’s rant about how Dallas made him jump through so many hoops sounds like a very apt description of what we saw over the course of this season. But at the same time, it was such a toxic relationship (whether it was intended as one, or just recognized as such late in the process) that it’s hard to feel bad for either party now that it’s over.

As usual, the show remains much stronger at depicting the lives of the kids than the adults. (Noah’s aborted plan to re-enact the famous scene from “Marathon Man” with his therapist was probably the most disposable part of either episode.) The show genuinely built to the Dalia/Tessa feud – and the Tessa/Ryan split that was a huge part of it – and also managed to successfully hit both comic and emotional beats without the one undermining the other. And the idea that Dalia has genuine feelings for Daddy Altman felt earned, and led to the marvelous final scene of George playing the “Suburgatory” theme (just as Tessa did in the season premiere) as we cut between the three lonely people in the empty leather house and images of Tessa and Alex happily building a life together in another part of Chatswin. That Tessa has again run away from George could feel like formula, but theirs is a complicated relationship – albeit one that got shunted aside too much this season while George was dating Dallas. My hope (and assumption, based on how this season ended) is that we’ll get a lot more of the two of them together in season 3, as George tries to reconnect with his daughter and deal with the idea that she’s living with the runaway mother who damaged both their lives for so long.

Up-and-down season, but a mostly strong finish. “Suburgatory” may never be perfect, but the parts that work are ultimately strong enough for me to accept the parts that don’t.

What did everybody else think?