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Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto in Suburgatory. (Karen Neal / ABC)
Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto in Suburgatory. (Karen Neal / ABC)

John Doyle: Television

What's funny? The 'burbs. Funny and frightening Add to ...

Back in the day, in the era of clanging guitars played by agitated young men with short, badly-cut hair who laboured under the impression that they were punks, there was a song, Sound of the Suburbs. The lyrics stuck in my head: “Same old boring Sunday morning, old man’s out washing the car/ Mum’s in the kitchen cooking Sunday dinner her best meal moaning while it lasts/ Johnny’s upstairs in his bedroom sitting in the dark/ Annoying the neighbours with his punk rock electric guitar/ This is the Sound/ This is the Sound of the Suburbs!”

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Right on, sunshine. In the present day I live in downtown Toronna, where people speak of the suburbs with unmitigated fear and loathing. The Mayor, Lord save us, wants to turn Toronna into one vast suburban wasteland. On weekend nights, the streets are filled with tipsy young women in tight skirts and high heels, who arrive from the suburbs – “the 905” in the local parlance – in stretch Hummer SUVs and giant vans. Their male equivalents ride around in cars, shout at young women on the sidewalk, get drunk in clubs and then evacuate the contents of their insides onto the sidewalks, before returning to some godforsaken stretch of street when there are giant garages to park the giant cars.

To have fun, they need to come downtown, apparently. One doesn’t engage with these people. And to do so would be a pointless endeavour. Their language is comprised entirely of “Yo”, “Hey,” and “Dude.” Apart from that, they only know how to swear at you. The sound of effing this and effing that ring through the streets at 2 a.m. and for some hours after, especially if one or two have been separated from the pack. That, my friends, is the sound of the suburbs.

Now, along comes a new comedy, Suburgatory (ABC, CITY-TV, 8:30 p.m.) which premieres tonight and sets out to mock the suburbs from the perspective of a teenage girl raised in Manhattan by her single dad. She is Tessa (Jane Levy) a 16-year-old whose father George (Jeremy Sisto) panicked when he found condoms in her room at home in Manhattan and promptly moved them lock, stock and barrel to somewhere in the badlands of Long Island malls and country clubs.

We get a sarcastic, woe-is-me voiceover from Tessa – “I’ve only been here a few days. But so far, I can tell you, the teeth are whiter, the teachers are fools and the boys are tools. It’s not quite hell, it’s suburgatory.” Of particular terror-struck interest to her is the mom phenomenon. “It’s like the million-mom march,” she notes. The moms, clad in pink like their teenage daughters, are everywhere.

Suburgatory is very funny for a while. It has great sport with big-haired, fake-boobed mothers and their daughters, all dressed like strutting Jezebels, chugging sugar-free Red Bull and giving Tessa the evil eye. (It’s not just me, Tessa thinks they look like strutting Jezebels.) At school Tessa is told that a pink-clad zombie named Dalia will be her “buddy” to introduce her to the school. Dalia gazes dolefully at Tessa, who is clad in jeans and a sweater. “Are you a lesbian?” she asks first. As scary as Dalia might be, her mom Dallas (Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm) is terrifying. A shopping trip to the mall with Dalia, Dallas and Tessa is a gem of savage mockery of the ’burbs.

All good, until Tessa suddenly starts telling us, in her voice-over, that, you know, the incredibly annoying, shallow and seriously weird creatures in the suburbs are people too. Yes, unfortunately things go awry when the dreaded moment of sentimentality arrives. It turns it that Tessa kinda likes the suburbs and some of the people there like her.

Ooooh. Ick. The bite of satire is gone and the show subsides into a ludicrous kind of mushiness. A shrewd and jaunty attack on what are obviously American suburban stereotypes evaporates. You laugh and then your heartstrings are tugged. What is particularly weird is that there is no logic in the storyline – Tessa loathes the suburbs and then, out of the blue, she needs a mother figure and falls into conformity.

Somebody from the ’burbs made this show. The sort of person who comes downtown for a raucous good time and then stumbles back, relieved to be in the bosom of all that bourgeois conformity. Too bad.

ALSO AIRING TONIGHT

Picnicface (Comedy, 10 p.m.) is the TV show from the online-famous Halifax comedy troupe of the same name. Their spoofs of TV commercials have a huge following online, and deservedly so – the work is excellent spoofery. On TV, so far, the sketches aren’t so cynical or tight. Nailing down the style is difficult, but there’s an early Kids in the Hall quality to the absurdity. And comedy bits about office life, especially in the advertising racket, are the best material. The originality is occasional and the laughs too. Mind you, there’s obviously real talent here. Maybe these people need to relax a bit about doing their thing for TV.

Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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