“Suburgatory” and the Limbo of Contemporary Adulthood

I don’t watch a lot of TV. I hate the obligation of having to follow story lines or emotionally invest in character who will eventually disappoint me. With my eccentric viewing habits in mind, it is surprising to me that I’ve actually put some effort into watching the new show “Suburgatory.” I like much of its cast and find its over the top antics amusing. However, as much as I want this show to win my favour, I believe it falls short. I labour over the hows and whys – poor writing? Too exaggerated? Characters have no depth? Although, those are all problems for me, they don’t bother me too much. Ultimately, what bothers me is that the show is navigating the hilarious pitfalls of suburbia with the wrong demographic. Instead of wry urban teens, and their hunky overwhelmed city slicker dads, I think Surburgatory should be about twenty-somethings.


The premise of Surburgatory goes as follows: Tessa (Jane Levy), savy ingénue mahattanite, is relocated to the suburbs after her working-joe, single father, George (Jeremy Sisko) discover that she is in the possession of condoms (as if teenagers never have sex in the suburbs). Tessa and her father move from the wonderful city only to discover a shallow, pretentious, mean and absurd society in the suburbs (as if only nice, humble and down to earth people live in New York). The teenage and suburban fish-out-of-water stories are tried and true recipes for hilarity. Mean Girls, certainly comes to my mind, and Surburgatory shares some familiarities with the hit movie (both maintain narrative metaphor of suburbs as animal kingdom, and feature in a supporting role Ana Gasteyer). Even though I feel like I’ve been there and done that as Surburgatory throws television tropes at me, I still want it to like it. I find Tessa charming and amusing with her unpretentious narrations, and George’s gruff discomfort in the societal trappings of the suburbs in endearing. Yet as much as I try to like it, I still think it really should be about twenty-somethings.


This belief stems from the Tessa character who takes us with her on her strange journey is this foreign land. Depicted as mature beyond her years due to her upbringing, Tessa’s self-awareness and dry sarcasm read more as a recent college grad, than an educated young woman trying to survive highschool. She even dresses like she just got out of a Liberal arts college! Her relationship with George, who is supposed to be a young parent, feels more like that of a couple than a father/daughter duo. When they affectionately bicker about how to get out dinner with the neighbours it reads more like a pair newly-weds than parent and child. With all this in Tessa’s growing pains just aren’t all that convincing, and the pithy story-lines about the pitfalls of highschool seem old and tried.


Suburb as purgatory is how the show got its name, and we all know that purgatory is the timeless limbo between heaven and hell. Yet as a space where a sinner goes to expiate their sins before starting their afterlife, the shows premise reads more as the condition of a partied-out college grad who just can’t seem to jumpstart his or her adult life than the impatient highschool who knows they will be leaving eventually (hopefully).


20-somethings seem to be the in things these days with shows like “the New Girl,” “Two Broke Girls,” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Yet, as a member of this demographic myself, I know for a fact that not all twenty-somethings live in the city and scrape by at diners, hang out at coffee shops, and go to bars to observe the antics of their womanizing friends. Some of us have to move back home after university, some of us can’t get awesome, well paying jobs, especially in this climate. We’re taught about and lived in a bigger world only to return to where we began. Yet where are we in Suburgatory? Rather than always talked about teen, I would love Tessa to represent that feeling of limbo that so many us pseudo-adults are facing.



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