The Sublimety of Suburgatory

by thethreepennyguignol

Suburgatory, much like Happy Endings, seemed to be a victim of just being marketed the wrong way at the wrong time. All the adverts for it that I saw were just dullish teen-comedy nonsense about a young girl (Jane Levy) who was Way Cooler than All of You moved from the city to the suburbs after her uptight dad (Jeremy Sisto) caught her – gasp – with condoms. I didn’t bother with till a few years after it came out, when I went down an Alan Tudyk rabbit hole, spotted this Emily Kapnek-helmed sitcom on the list, and thought, hey, why not? I tried to put that cheesy title to the back of my mind, and, somewhat nobly, I feel, pushed on.

I mean, first and foremost, it’s worth re-iterating just how fucking funny this show is. Chatswin, the odd alt-universe where this story takes place, is a golden-era-Burton-esque surrealist suburban nightmare vision of real life. The best fun the show has is when it’s just leaning full-force into the utter madness of everything this world has to offer; Ana Gatseyer and Chris Parnell(who you’ve seen in so many other things and loved so much) soar as the neighbourhood royalty Shay family, and frankly, you haven’t lived until you’ve seem Carly Chaikin dry-crying to avoid ruining her make-up. Maniacal dentist Alan Tudyk gives someone metal fangs as revenge, for fuck’s sake. This show is unhinged, but somehow it makes perfect sense within the batshit crazy world that it exists within.

But beyond the gloriously surrealist humour – beyond the majesty of the Shays – Suburgatory finds a surprising amount of heart in its ridiculous premise. I think the hugeness of the storytelling and characters makes space for these small, surprising little character moments that just kill when they’re done right. Jeremy Sisto and Cheryl Hines somehow manage to ground their relationship in something that feels almost uncomfortably real at times, and Jane Levy finds a solid emotional throughline in her relationship with her mother and search for identity into adulthood. Suburgatory approaches everything with a full-hearted earnestness, and that includes those moments of emotional depth, too.

And it’s that perfect mixture of those two things that makes Suburgatory such an enduring favourite for me. Despite the fact it only got three seasons – and damn, does it feel bluntly cut off at the end there – it’s one of the most singularly unique, endlessly funny, and utterly warm sitcoms I’ve ever come across. For me, it’s up there with classics like Frasier or The Simpsons, that balanced the wit and the wisdom with such grace and perfection, except with an aggressive ratcheting-up of the surrealist side of things, along with the actors to match up with the madness and the more grounded emotion. And, if that has failed to sell you on this thing, here’s Ana Gatseyer kicking the utter shit out of a cover of Barracuda. If that won’t convince you, then nothing will.

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(header image via Spoiler TV)