Suburgatory stakes a claim in the ABC lineup; “Up All Night” and “Free Agents” struggle

Suburgatory slipped seamlessly into ABC’s Wednesday night comedy line-up, while, across the dial, Up All Night and Free Agents continued to struggle

It took me a few minutes to really “get” Suburgatory. On the surface it seems like a cynical, biting condemnation of suburban culture, and that certainly exists. Vanity is the keyword as George and his daughter, Tessa, relocate to the pop culture graveyard and moral vacuum of suburbia. Thankfully, there’s a bit more going on here.

It’s easy to forget that the show is being told from a point of view. We’re no strangers to voice overs, but it’s been awhile since we’ve enjoyed an unreliable narrator. Suburgatory is told through the eyes of a teenaged girl who’s part Juno and part E.T. She has plenty of quick wit and confidence, but she’s also in an environment completely alien to her.

What makes the show interesting is that it uses the cultural juxtaposition to mine humor from both sides. When George visits a client’s house he is surprised that she opens the door and invites him in without worrying that he might be a murderous psychopath. The contrast of worldview and expectation speaks volumes about both geographical cultures.

The only thing that seems odd about the show is the ages of George and Tessa. Did George father Tessa when he was 12? And Tessa looks like she should be entering college not high school.

Alan Tudyk was also a bright spot. I hope he features prominently as the series continues.

Things weren’t quite so promising on NBC.

“Up All Night” and “Free Agents” were so unfunny that I stopped watching both midway through.

Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have good chemistry. When they’re together and have even a little to work with the show is worth watching. These family segments are far and away the strength of each episode.

Yet, I still can’t figure out why Maya Rudolph is on the show. It’s almost as if there are two half-sitcoms sandwiched together. Sometime a few months ago an intern was heading to the shredder with an arm full of old Mad About You Scripts when BAM! another guy with 30 Rock scripts smashed into him. Rather than sort the scripts, they just sent them all to Up All Night and told everyone Tina Fey was pregnant so 30 Rock could be rewritten.

Unfortunately, Rudolph’s segments just don’t fit. The core of the show is supposed to be the family coping with a new baby, not a work comedy. As it is the baby has been little more than a prop since the pilot. And that’s not a criticism of Rudolph. She gets what she can out of the little she has to work with.

Hank Azaria also struggled on “Free Agents.”

It feels like I’m watching a sitcom in its fifth season when the writers are out of ideas and all of the main emotional plot lines have been played out. It feels like their stalling while they think of something for the characters to do. I could live with that if there were jokes to occupy the time. Most of the opening of the show was exposition however with the only real set ups being pictures that looked like The Village People and a doctor named Who.

Maybe the show got really awesome in the second half, but my policy is to quit watching shows that aren’t working.

I like Hank Azaria, but this isn’t working for him. What happened to the guy in the pilot who was trying to piece his life back together? Where are his kids? Where’s his ex? etc. etc. etc.

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