Any show that mocks suburbia warrants at least one viewing. “Suburgatory” (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC; 2.5 stars) wrings so many laughs from the oft-maligned wasteland you’re likely to come back for more.
“It’s like the Million Mom March,” 16-year-old Tessa Altman says. “They’re shuffling out of the tanning salons in their mani-pedi flip-flops, with their ever-present daughters and enormous frozen coffee drinks.”
Tessa (Jane Levy) has no one to blame but herself. After finding condoms in her drawer, Tessa’s dad George (Jeremy Sisto) upends her life by uprooting her from Manhattan and moving to the mythical town of Chatswin. There she meets her worst nightmare, pretty high school mean girl Dalia Royce (Carly Chaikin), who likes to wear girly, skimpy clothes that her too-perky (in attitude and breast augmentation) mom, Dallas (Cheryl Hines from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), helps her pick out.
She also loathes her dad’s pal, Noah Werner (Alan Tudyk) and her nosy neighbor Sheila Shay (Ana Gasteyer), but has a soft spot for Sheila’s daughter, Lisa (Allie Grant from “Weeds”), an unpopular fellow student who is the main target of Dalia and her pals.
Jane Levy shines as a teenager trapped in the suburbs in one of the biggest surprises of the fall. It’s not often that a comedy pilot that aims for various forms of tone — nuance, snark, sweetness — hits everything just about right. Mostly, that takes some tinkering, into the third or fourth episode. But ABC’s Suburgatory comes out of the gate as one of the biggest surprises of the fall, if mostly because ABC’s development slate was all over the map and creating very little buzz among critics.
But Suburgatory is an interesting little sitcom in that all on its own the show deserves your attention for the merits mentioned above. But it also quite cleverly evokes bits of the shows that come before and after it — The Middle and Modern Family.
That certainly gives it more than a fighting chance this fall. And maybe it was planned that way from the beginning. But so few series created precisely to be companion pieces to existing hits ever get the vibe just right. Not only does Suburgatory click on a number of different levels, it even has a Juno-esque element to it, plus a breakout-worthy star in Jane Levy (Shameless).
The series is essentially a fish-out-of-Manhattan story that quickly transpires when 16-year-old Tessa (Levy) can’t convince her single-parent father George (Jeremy Sisto) that the condoms in her drawer were not actually hers. (They weren’t). George, an architect, seems to have done a pretty remarkable job raising a level-headed if snarky daughter without his wife (who left after the baby was born), but he freaks over the condoms and the notion that Tessa is growing up all too fast in the big city.