ABC’s New TV Show “Suburgatory” Can Go to Hell for Playing Up Westchester Stereotypes, Critics Say
A new TV series, Suburgatory, labels Westchesterites as nosy, unfaithful, pink track suit-wearing snobs
By Marisa LaScala
Photographs by Karen Neal/ABC
The new TV season has been going strong for a couple of weeks, enough time for audiences to sample shows and separate the breakout hits from the crash-and-burn failures.
The results? Everything is okay! With some exceptions, most of the season’s new shows were received warmly, and that’s it. There are few huge bombs: NBC’s Free Agents and The Playboy Club have already been canceled, and it doesn’t look good for CBS’s How to Be a Gentleman, but it’s hardly a bloodbath. There are even fewer runaway hits (unless you count the relaunch of Two and a Half Men, but that’s not even a new show). Instead, debut series have been hovering around the 60- to 70-percent mark on Metacritic, meaning “generally favorable reviews.” Ratings pretty much reflect the same don’t-love-it, don’t-hate-it attitude.
Not much has broken away from the pack, but there is one show I want to focus on: ABC’s Suburgatory. Why? Because it’s about us, and not necessarily in a good way.
The premise of the show is that George (Jeremy Sisto) is a single dad raising his daughter, Tessa (Jane Levy), in the city. He finds a box of condoms — not hers, of course — in her bedroom, decides the city is no place for a single father to raise a daughter, and moves her to the northern suburbs. (Because, you know, teens out here never have sex.) The action takes place in the fictional town of Chatswin, but a little graphic at the beginning of the first episode shows that it’s somewhere on the Sound Shore in southern Westchester.
Then the problems for me begin: After the move, George and Tessa are confronted with one suburban stereotype after another. The neighbors are nosy. There’s rampant infidelity. The moms all sport dyed hair and plastic surgery. Everyone wants to go to the country club. Men are into their grills. Women wear nothing but pink and leopard, and they make fun of Tessa’s drab clothes and combat boots. (Maybe it was just the ’90s, but everyone in my high school wore drab clothes and combat boots.) George and Tessa, the fish out of water, sit back and talk about how weird it all is and how much better life would be if they stayed in the city.
I’m sure as the show goes on, Tessa and George will come to realize that we’re all basically the same underneath. I just wish that the show’s depiction of the suburbs wasn’t so... pink.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Slate’s TV critic, Troy Patterson, says that Tessa is full of “deft condescension,” and the show substantiates her prejudices. “George thought he was taking Tessa somewhere healthful and wholesome, which strikes me as slightly naïve,” he writes. “True, statistics show that there are lower rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen births in Westchester County than in New York County, but George must not have considered such factors the dangers posed by teen driving and teen parking.”
The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger also has our back: “The people behind this show don”t know any more about urban teenagers than they do about suburban ones. If they did, they’d realize that at least in the New York area, the differences among young people have far more to do with their economic status than with their residence. Where do suburban teenagers in these parts spend half their time? In New York, of course.”
Unfortunately, Patterson, Genzlinger, and I are in the minority about Suburgatory. More than 10 million people tuned in to its premiere. It has a 70 percent rating on Metacritic, putting it on the high end of this year’s premieres. “I love the suburban satire,” writes Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe.
So, I guess it’s up to us to set the record straight for Suburgatory. Let me just state for the record that I’m from Westchester, and I don’t own a single pink track suit.
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