Opinion Brief

Suburgatory: Fall's most divisive new comedy?

ABC's new family sitcom sends up life in the cul de sac, and critics can't agree if it's among the best shows of the new season — or the worst

Suburgatory, the new ABC sitcom about a New York City dad who moves to the dreaded suburbs with his jaded teenager daughter, debuts Wednesday night in the coveted time slot between ABC's hit family comedies The Middle and Modern Family. Critics are scrutinizing Suburgatory with a particularly keen eye and voicing widely varying reactions. Reviews for the show are markedly — and evenly — split between rapturous praise and dismissive derision. A sampling:

Suburgatory is a "smart, edgy suburban satire": It's "a small miracle" how much hilarious dialogue is packed into the first episode of Suburgatory, says David Wiegand at The San Francisco Chronicle. Even better, the show manages to be both "satiric and emotionally engaging" — comedic styles that typically mix like oil and water. The satire targets suburban cliches such as mean girls and control-freak moms, while the "credibly loving" relationship between the dad and his daughter, Tessa, helps Suburgatory fit snugly in ABC's family comedy lineup.
"Suburgatory review: Smart, edgy suburban satire"

And it's the perfect complement to The Middle and Modern FamilyA "hilarious family fish-out-of-water tale," says Jonathan Storm at The Philadelphia InquirerSuburgatory is a great addition to ABC's lineup. As Tessa, Jane Levy is a breakout star, and it's through her eyes that the audience sees the "funny fantasyland" of zombie moms and cookie-cutter classmates. Three years ago, there wasn't one decent family comedy on TV; now, The Middle, Suburgatory, and Modern Family make up the "best 90 minutes of sitcom entertainment" since NBC's Cosby-Family Ties-Cheers "triumvirate" in 1987.
"Misfit family, perfect-fit slot"

I found its satire too obvious: Suburgatory's time-slot placement only spotlights its flaws, says Verne Gay at Newsday. Its send-ups of suburban archetypes are "so broadly drawn" that they aren't even funny. "The outsized denizens of [Desperate Housewives'] Wisteria Lane are even more believable." As a satire and as a family comedy, Suburgatory falls flat — "a flatness that will be accentuated by the smart suburban comedies that bookend it."
"Suburgatory falls flat in good slot"

And who is this show targeting? It's exactly those "tired, unfunny stereotypes" that make Suburgatory "unpalatable," agrees Neil Genzlinger at The New York Times. The suburbanites that Tessa and her father encounter are "caricatures lifted from The Real Housewives of New Jersey." I'm left wondering: "Who is the audience for this show?" The "single parent-cheeky daughter" concept is Disney-ish, but the jokes too are crass for kids. It's too phony for older teens to enjoy, while parents will find it annoying.
"A worried father seeks wholesomeness"

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