Although I really liked Suburgatory‘s pilot and consider it to be the best new network comedy by a country mile, the past few episodes had been underwhelming. Not bad, per se; it was just freshman series growing pains that come with trying to figure out how to tell your story and when exactly to pivot. The show has so many good pieces to it that learning how (and when) to properly utilize them seems to be the biggest obstacle it faces in becoming a truly great comedy.
“Thanksgiving” was the first episode in a while that I can say that I loved without any qualification, thanks in part to the fact that it shook up the show’s typical episode structure. Usually, an episode of Suburgatory features Tessa and George with their own separate plots, with Tessa’s A-plot relating to her exasperation at her living situation and George’s B-plot going a little broader and more single dad sitcom-y. “Thanksgiving”, however, shifts George to the background a little, gives Tessa another dueling partner in Dallas, and allows the first extended look at the Shay family in a very cute side plot, all of which noticeably freshened up the show. I understand focusing on George and Tessa at the beginning of the series, considering that it’s their journey we’re following, but like all formulas, that would get incredibly stale after a while. As I’ve mentioned before, Suburgatory has such a deep supporting bench that throwing around different combinations can only help the writers figure out where the show’s strengths lie and it keeps with the almost frantic energy that has been displayed in the first eight episodes.
You could argue that the Dallas/Tessa plot was sort of an inside out version of Suburgatory, since Dallas was the fish out of water in Tessa’s Manhattan stomping grounds, a move that will certainly bond them even more and allow Ms. Royce to understand where Tessa’s coming from more often. The show has made a point to bring out Dallas’s maternal instincts with Tessa and this could be a way to cement their respect for one another, since one of the best ways to really get inside someone’s head and learn about them is to visit the town they grew up in. Dallas and Tessa are also my favorite combination of Suburgatory players, for both personality juxtaposition and the necessity of their bond to one another (Dallas doesn’t really mother Dalia, Tessa doesn’t have a mother).
That leads me to bring up the increased character work of “Thanksgiving”, an episode where we actually spent time with the supporting cast and were rewarded with some great stuff. Aside from the aforementioned Tessa/Dallas goodness and all-but confirmation that Dallas likes George, we got a look at the Shay family in all their glory; there’ve been hints of the insanity that resided across the street from the Altmans, with Doll-gate, “Misery starring Sheila Shay“, and the showdown over the PTA presidency, but “Thanksgiving” was a whole other level. Sheila decided to play wardrobe stylist for the family’s holiday dinner, forcing Lisa into a dress that Laura Ingalls would have found too modest and eventually turning the heat up in the house to “smoke her out”. Ryan and Fred, two characters that have been absent for way too long, return to be their clueless and put-upon selves, respectively. Additionally, there was the briefest of glimpses at Fun Sheila, which helped make for a fun B-plot that gave time to other members of the neighborhood and allowed for a little more understanding as to why they are the way they are.
Poor, poor Lisa.
All of this isn’t even mentioning the fact that we finally met Noah’s family, including his sour wife Jill and know-it-all daughter Jenna, so if there’s one thing that “Thanksgiving” did well, it’s give shade and depth to characters that needed a little more rounding. Here’s hoping they keep fleshing out these characters because I like everybody that we’ve met thus far and now that George and Tessa seem to have accepted their suburban fates, it’s time to see who else resides in the little boxes of Chatswin.
But mostly, I liked how grounded “Thanksgiving” was. Sure, it featured a doggy doodle, a teenage girl streaking, and shirtless pilgrims, but the episode felt more at ease and willing to take its time with its storytelling. The tone issues that the show has had, wherein they tend to go too big too often and lose a lot of humanity, were non-existent, as the episode stayed in a sweet spot of wry one-liners peppered with sweetness in all the right places. A holiday episode like this is where Suburgatory can really shine because the show can bring the heartfelt notions of togetherness and home without being too saccharine, thanks to how sarcastic the dialogue can be at times. “Thanksgiving” didn’t feature the hyperactive atmosphere or the kitchen sink approach to storytelling that Suburgatory has utilized for much of its run, but it was a simple, effective way to bring a lot of good characters together and let them interact without having to fight over one another’s eccentricities.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-“She might cut off your cul-de-sac?”
-“Like my mother would ever let me move to Europe. She’s convinced all Belgians are sex offenders.”
-“If you want to be a party pooper, you can go poop in your room.”
-“She looked downright Puerto Rican.”
“Oh my God, Yakult, drop dead! I wish you were never born!”
-“We get it, Jenna. You go to Brown.”
-Tessa looked really good with straight hair, no?
-Dalia’s now a “professional party planner”. Perfect.
–Suburgatory is off next week and will be reliving the traumatic doll-napping that Sheila went through instead of airing a new episode. The week after that, which is the show’s fall finale, George is looking for some sexy suburban love and there’s a tree-trimming party that doesn’t go quite as planned.