Emily Kapnek, responsible for the Nickelodeon’s “As Told By Ginger,” and part of the “Parks and Recreation” lifeblood last season, brings the smart, acerbic and winning “Suburgatory” to ABC, finally filling that hole in the schedule between “The Middle” and “Modern Family.” In fact, combined with NBC’s “Up All Night,” the Wednesday ABC comedy block that also includes “Modern Family” and “Happy Endings” now runs at least even with Thursday’s NBC line-up as the best two hours of comedy on the network schedule.
Jane Levy (Showtime’s “Shameless”) stars as Tessa, a lifelong New Yorker whose Dad (Jeremy Sisto) drags her to the suburbs after he discovers a box of condoms in her drawer. “Suburgatory’s” version of suburbia is a cross between a Mean Girls and a Tim Burton nightmare. Like in MTV’s “Awkward,” the Heathers run amok, but Tessa is more removed from the Juno mold: She’s an updated, sardonic version of “Saved by the Bell’s” Tori Scott trapped in a teeth-whitening commercial. Sisto is perfect as her father, George, who is struggling himself with the transition, a reluctant object of affection to the bored suburban moms looking for anything different from their husbands, who — like Alan Tudyk’s character, Noah — have been tanned and shellacked to look like Ken dolls. The scene-stealer here is Cheryl Hines, who plays Dallas, a neighborhood Mom who mixes a Southern drawl with Snoop Dogg-isms. Plastic on the outside, Dallas and her daughter, a frigid, gum-chewing princess, befriend George and Tessa and act as the show’s portal to suburban life.
“Suburgatory” is a fish-out-of-water sitcom, but Kapner is not interested in simply mining the comedy inherent to that situation. She wants to humanize the suburban robots watering their lawns in unison, dig into their psyches and pull out the miseries they’ve been hiding under the bleached hair and fake tits. The Mean Girls piece provides ample comedic opportunities for humiliations and insulting one-liners, and the Burton-esque suburban set pieces could provide seasons of humor, but Kapner’s approach is more multi-dimensional. She wants to use George and Tessa to incrementally flesh out the personalities beneath the suburban stereotypes, find the hearts beneath the tin women. There’s something novel in that, and combined with sharp writing, great actressin’, Sisto in the most likable role of his career, and “Suburgatory” is not just a show with great potential, it’s the best new comedy of the season right out of the gate.