The end of the season stretch can be pretty influential on the path of a freshman show like Suburgatory. By the time you get to the final few installments of your debut season, you tend to know what works, what doesn’t work, and what seeds need to be planted before next season. It’s a lot of information to have to sort through, but if you fumble badly enough, it can leave a sour taste in the mouth of your audience, a taste that could take an entire summer hiatus to get over.
“Hear No Evil” wasn’t exactly a fumble, stumble, or bumble, but it felt like a step back from the show’s recent creative hot streak. A typical episode of Suburgatory has a whole lot going on, all bright colors and loud noises, but there was just a bit too much here, too many plots and not enough attention paid to, well, any of them. That lack of narrative focus, which can be overwhelming if you’re not expecting it, made the episode feel cluttered and in need of a good edit or two. That’s not to say that the plots here weren’t good; there’s just no way to make a determination, since everything is crammed together and painted in neon green spray paint, all flash and no breathing room. For example, the “Lisa thinks she may be adopted” plot has a hell of a lot of potential, as it’d utilize the entire Shay family and allow Allie Grant the chance to play off of Ana Gasteyer, two of the actresses that have the most innate chemistry and intriguing dynamic. There wasn’t any time for it, minus a brief pocket here or there, and it could have benefited by being shifted back an episode; there’s so much material to mine from this, a fairly familiar sitcom set-up, that it being smothered by all the Altman drama was a little disappointing. The only positive about the lack of time tonight is that they didn’t give it a false ending, so Lisa’s search for the truth (and her “real mom”, Edie Brickell) will get its moment in the sun.
And to be honest, I’d rather spend time with Lisa and Malik than have another plot like the random “Tessa becomes obsessed with money” thing. That came out of pretty much nowhere, right? Even though I like that they came back to her job with Dallas (and used it to connect Dallas back to George for a pretty heartbreaking scene), it was strange to see Tessa go from aloof tomboy to Paris Hilton within the span of one episode. Nothing we’ve been shown about her in the past 19 episodes has given an inkling that this was who Tessa is and I don’t buy her being blinded by a chiffon wristlet and a made up title. Maybe it could be fan-wiped away as a side effect of her mother issues, as Dallas is her mother figure and she finally got the approval she had been wanting from her “mother”, but still, the transformation was a little too quick and out of character to be believable. Suburgatory can do big, silly plots and make them accessible, but Imelda-Gate gave me the vibe that they knew they had to do something with Tessa this week and they didn’t know what.
I did like, though, how “Hear No Evil” showed the distance that had developed between Tessa and George, only because that’s a realistic growing pain of a teenager getting out into the working world for the first time. The relationship between the two has been one of my favorite parts of Suburgatory, so giving them a bit of a lull period in their connection puts their father-daughter bond to the test, particularly with the inclusion of Eden. Even though I could watch Jeremy Sisto and Alicia Silverstone all day together, as their natural timing together has made the rapid progression of the George/Eden relationship feel realistic, I don’t know how I feel about their story tonight, which featured pregnancy portraits, a wacky ultrasound, and a last minute plot point that’s a touch worrisome. It felt too broad and a little hack-y, like something that could have been solved if people used their mouths and, y’know, talked to one another. I get that this isn’t a particularly plot-heavy show and that this had a very old school comedy vibe, but to me, it was more rehash and less homage. Having one big event that ties a lot of the supporting characters together is one thing, but Noah making a contract about George’s sex life and Sheila getting Jill more paranoid both didn’t work for me. The latter, especially, didn’t have much motivation and read more like the character getting tacked on instead of having a real purpose in the story. I know she implied having problems with a surrogate of her own, but it didn’t give me enough understanding of why it was so pivotal for Jill to keep an eye on Eden.
Though Suburgatory has had a great past 6-8 episodes, “Hear No Evil” fell back a bit. The cast is still one of my favorites on TV, but even they couldn’t bring limp plots like these to life, thanks to a reliance on capital-s Sitcom writing that was both obvious and off-putting. Did anybody doubt that Eden would be moving in with George and Tessa? Or that Sheila would revert to the archetypal pesky neighbor? Or that Tessa would come to her senses by the end of the episode? I don’t need super complex plotting on my comedies, but if you’re building a character-based world, you have to give them interesting things to do that are in character and entertaining. “Hear No Evil” was a bloated, tired episode that is hopefully a part of late-season malaise and not an indication of the direction of Suburgatory.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-“George! Come…pee with me.”
-“She’s probably fantasizing about pushing you down a flight of stairs right now.”
-“I briefly take my eye off the ball and she turns into Imelda Marcos.”
-“Those lesbian clogs look comfortable, if nothing else.”
-“There was a dernk? You dernked her?”
-Here are recent interviews with Jeremy Sisto, Ana Gasteyer, and Jane Levy, as well as Alicia Silverstone talking about her time on the show.
-The Sioux City Journal did a profile on Suburgatory and its quirky sense-of-humor.
-Next week on Suburgatory: In the penultimate episode of the season, George, Eden, and Tessa have to adjust to living with one another, Sheila can’t mind her own business, and Lisa and Malik have an important choice to make.
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