Modern Family “The Butler’s Escape” & Suburgatory “Homecoming” Review

Suburgatory Season 2 Premiere Homecoming 2012 (8)

With quirky characters and a funny and heartfelt relationship at its core, Suburgatory quickly became one of last season’s freshman darlings. Not even the jokes about Tessa and George’s “relationship” could stop this charming little comedy. Jane Levy proved herself to be a star, and Jeremy Sisto showed the viewing public yet another side to his acting persona. While the Chatswin elite mostly played like one-note cartoon characters, there was some real humanity in the comic stylings of Cheryl Hines’ Dallas. As she circled into the orbit of the Altmans, a fun dynamic was created where Dallas played crazy surrogate mother and potential love interest to Tessa and George. They may not have been setting the world on fire, but the characters looked like they were having fun, and the show was really showing improvement as it neared the close of its first season.

And then came Alicia Silverstone. Though everyone was excited for the Clueless reunion tour, there was no games of Suck n’ Blow to be seen. Silverstone and showrunner Emily Kapnek decided it would be best if everyone stopped having fun for a little while. Her attempts to “improve” George were only slightly less grating than her interferences in Tessa’s life. It was an unequivocal disaster for a show that really seemed to have found its stride around midseason. As a result, Suburgatory left our airwaves in May with people wondering if Kapnek was going to respond to people’s complaints about the show. While it’s premiere wasn’t going to garner the greatest amount of intrigue, there was plenty of interested parties wondering how the show would premiere in its second season. Would it make The Leap or would the winding road to mediocrity continue?

Though The Leap isn’t readily apparent in tonight’s second season premiere, Suburgatory did have a nice return to form. The Eden disaster is mentioned briefly when Tessa and George meet at the train station upon her return from Manhattan. The quick dispatching of Eden allowed Suburgatory to get back to the old favorites: The George-Tessa relationship, Dalia’s monologues (“You’ll always be a housekeeper.”), and Dallas’ comedic skills. While so much of the episode worked, the episode’s extended stay with the Sheas was a bitter mix of cartoonish behaviors and toxic family dynamics. It’s not fun to watch this family go through their issues. Hopefully, this horrible exercise surrounding Ryan’s adoption can go up in smoke with the Shea’s potting shed.

The ridiculous nature of the Sheas serves as a stark contrast to the Altman household. Their relationship can be tough, but in a perfectly believable way. It can’t be easy for a single dad to raise a teenage girl. Still, those difficulties and their chemistry on the screen make the heartfelt moments feel earned and substantial. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what Tessa’s mother was like or when we get to meet her. All that matters is the ever changing dynamic between our two leads. While all of Chatswin remains stuck in their yuppie craziness, Tessa and George keep the show on the ground by showing growth in their relationship.

While balance was restored on Suburgatory, their 9:00 partner, Modern Family, showcased upheaval in the lives of our families. Whether your wife has a terrible snoring problem, your daughter is auditioning for Mean Girls 2: The Meaning, or you and your partner are operating in unfamiliar roles, a well done comedy usually can produce good things out of the world going sideways.

I say usually because Modern Family failed to fully come together this week. The show is always more effective when the different stories coalesce around a single event or person. However, when everybody is running around in different directions, it seems like no one gets the necessary amount of screen time to build comedic momentum There were a few good one-liners, but the whole equaled the sum of mediocre parts.

In addition, Modern Family‘s insistence on giving Lily several lines in any given episode really brings the quality down. At that age, it is rare to see a child that can add something to a show. Instead, all they will do is take things off of the table. I don’t mind using her as a prop, but the second she opens her mouth, my approval line starts to trend downwards. Lily certainly had to grow up, but couldn’t she have grown up to be a mute?

While Lily takes things off the table, Claire keeps adding things on to the table. At this point, she’s getting us set for a five course meal. It’s been discussed in this space, but the 180 of Claire’s character is quite remarkable. Last season, if Phil were to have talked magic, Claire would have insulted and belittled him for his interest. This year, she’s doing so much more by being comically restrained at the sight of her husband’s goofiness. Apparently Claire will continue to regain her sanity as her children leave the house. We’re all better off for it.

What did everyone else think of tonight’s 9 o’clock comedy block?