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Series / Suburgatory

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Last night, I had a pleasant nightmare...

Suburgatory is an ABC dramedy from Emily Kapnek, formerly of As Told by Ginger (also created by Kapnek) and Parks and Recreation. The show premiered in September 2011, airing on E4 in the UK/Ireland alongside ABC in the US, and ran for three seasons before being cancelled in May 2014.

The show revolves around sixteen-year-old Tessa Altman (Jane Levy) and her father George, who have just moved from New York City to the affluent suburb of Chatswin. The series begins not long after Tessa's father searches her room, finds an unopened box of condoms (they weren't even hers!), and promptly has a seizure. He decides to get them both away from the city so he can give her a better life, and what better place to get away to than suburbia?

Tessa takes this as well as you might expect, believing deeply that she's now a Fish out of Water ripped away from her perfect NYC life and planted into a version of hell. Although the town boasts some strange characters immersed in the cookie-cutter white-picket-fence lifestyle, both her and George learn to navigate suburban life with the help of some of its residents.

The series took some inspiration (mostly the title) from a memoir by Linda Keenan, Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia.

Now has an incomplete character sheet.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Dalia Royce.
    • Sheila has Alpha Bitch tendencies towards other mothers.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "A siren could mean anything! Arson, murder..." "DOLLS!"
  • Artistic License – Geography: The show's map suggests Chatswin is either in south-western Connecticut or the adjacent areas of Westchester County. Yet many of the vehicles have New York plates and, culturally, it has far more in common with some parts of Long Island or New Jersey than it does with either Greenwich or Port Chester.
  • Berserk Button: Learning that he's adopted causes Ryan to go insane and attack his family in their car, followed up by him questioning the reality of everything around him (such as a light pole and a parking meter) punching them
    • Concerned about what anger management has done to him, George deliberately tries to trigger Noah's by taking him to a restaurant where the waiter is deliberately being terrible, which doesn't faze him. He finally breaks out of it when another kid calls his son a "fatass"
  • Beta Couple: Lisa and Malik. Their relationship goes much smoother than Ryan and Tessa's. They even get married in season 3.
  • Big Fancy House: The Royces' mansion. Their house is so big that apparently some of its area is already in another town, East Chatswin, which at one point, causes them to have their Chatswin privileges taken away, as they're considered the residents of East Chatswin.
  • Bilingual Bonus: While studying for a Spanish test, Tessa asks her dad a question in Spanish. He responds... in French. Neither line is translated.
    • Really bad French, too.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The show's last episode from Season 3 ends with Tessa and Ryan finally get back together and make out on the street across their houses, despite Ryan still hasn't broken up with his new girlfriend, June, while George and Dallas finally reconciled and hooked up on Malik and Lisa's wedding night, but they don't get back together as a couple.
  • Book Ends: Season 2's premiere and finale both end with an Altman singing a verse and chorus of the theme song.
  • Brainless Beauty: Ryan Shay.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Listing the types of sex... "...Pity Sex, Party Sex, Pity Party Sex..."
    • Dallas discussing places George isn't allowed to go includes "pageants, fashion shows or fashion show pageants"
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land: Chatswin.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: one not from Chatswin is Tessa's mom Alex, which, unusually for this trope, is not always played for comedy (for one thing, it is used to emphasize how irresponsible she is)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tessa. Lisa has her moments too, generally aimed either at Tessa or her mother.
    • Dalia has her moment, when Tessa introduces her to undercover narc Josh:
      Dalia: "Is Tessa showing you around Losertown?"
      Josh: "Well, if this is Losertown, wouldn't that make you a loser?"
      Dalia: "Oh, wow. Logic."
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: The show's theme is a snippet of a ballad written by Tessa's mother.
  • Cat Fight: Tessa vs Dalia. They have an epic fight with punches,kicks and even sticks.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: After giving up on seeking approval from her poetry teacher, Tessa ponders why she was so desperately seeking approval from a withholding older woman who obviously wanted nothing to do with her.
    • Lisa finds a Bionicle action figure hidden in Victors bag when her parents think he's actually a sports fan. He claims that he was holding it for a friend.
  • Dramedy: Although billed as a Sitcom, it covers far more serious and gritty topics, there's no Laugh Track and things don't always return to normal. Although it has a lot of Black Comedy, it's more a drama with sitcom elements. Less like other sitcoms that aired during the time period it was made, and a halfway house between drama and soap opera.
  • Dumb Blonde: Dallas, Dalia and the "KKK" are prime examples. Subverted with some characters like Lisa, Sheila, Noah, and Jill who aren't dumb, but sometimes show a lack of common sense.
  • Dull Surprise: Dalia reacts to everything with the same flat, emotionless tone, even when she's forced to switch schools after her house is rezoned.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Dalia Oprah Royce. It's also telling about her mother...
  • Erotic Eating: By Lisa and Malik in "Down Time".
    • George thinks Dallas is flirting with him using this trope but it turns out that it's just how she eats bananas.
    • Linda is definitely doing this with her cookies in a video she sends to Fred in The Ballad of Piggy Duckworth.
  • Girl Posse: The KKK (Kenzie, Kaitlin and Kimantha) for Dalia.
    • When Dalia switches schools, she meets the AAA, who treat her the same way her posse treat Tessa.
  • Give Geeks a Chance: Subverted and deconstructed. Evan is a nerd, so Malik and Lisa try to be friendly to him, but Tessa points out that Evan is an unrelenting pervert with no respect for women. When she hears that her comments hurt his feelings so much he's skipped school, she goes to his house to apologise, only for him to grope her as soon as she tries to be friendly, which ultimately proves Tessa's point that he shouldn't be given a free pass.
  • Granola Girl: Eden. Scott Strauss is a male version.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Mr Wolfe, before coming out as gay.
  • Hidden Depths : Dallas prefers relative poverty to remaining with a man who cheats on her.
    • During their Valentine's Day date, Ryan finds meaning in a bizarre art film Tessa thought was a snoozefest, even explaining it to her later.
    • Dalia experiments with Judaism in season 2.
  • Insufferable Genius : Tessa, sometimes. She's considerably smarter than the rest of Chatswin, and is pretty open about how idiotic she thinks the town is otherwise.
  • Kick the Dog: Just when Dalia and Tessa are beginning to warm up to one-another that Dallas and George moving in together might be feasible, Tessa learns that Dalia likes girls. Despite Tessa making it clear to her she has nothing to worry about, Dalia decides to ruin Tessa's life by engineering her premature break-up with Ryan, crushing Tessa, then having her Girl Posse repeatedly rub it in and make it hurt worse.
  • Lethal Chef: The "friendship fish" Lisa smoked in her closet with her dad's home smoker. It gives Tessa food poisoning so bad she needs to go to the hospital, as apparently "you're only supposed to smoke fish for four hours, not four weeks."
    • She also caught it at summer camp and brought it out in the fall.
  • Letter Motif: The KKK; Kaitlin, Kenzie and Kimantha.
  • Lovable Jock: Ryan "the Body" Shea, who is on the lacrosse, football and wrestling team.
  • Matchmaker Failure: In one episode, Tessa notices a new boy checking out the jocks at the school. She assumes he's gay and tries setting him up with a jock she believes is in the closet. It turns out the new boy was actually an undercover cop who was investigating steroid use by student athletes. He believed Tessa was helping him with the investigation and ended up arresting the jock she tried setting him up with.
  • Missing Mom: Tessa's mother left when she was very young. Lisa's mom Sheila is physically present (in fact, she's a bit of a My Beloved Smother to Tessa) but obviously doesn't give a crap about Lisa.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Everyone assumes Tessa is a lesbian due to her tomboyish demeanor.
    • Tessa and George make the same mistake with the two VERY campy but married guys at the barbecue.
    • Then Tessa does it again with an undercover narcotics officer. Though this is subverted with Mr Wolfe
  • Mommy Didn't Show: Subverted in Season 2's Thanksgiving episode. Alex doesn't show up to Tessa's grandma's apartment where she and Tessa are expecting her... because she showed up in Chatswin where she thought Tessa would be. It ends up working out in the end, though.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: From the Thanksgiving episode:
    Dallas: "Friends, family... Steven"
  • My Beloved Smother: Sheila attempts to be this for Tessa (and, when his back gives out, George). Ironically, she doesn't seem to give a crap about her own daughter.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Tessa encounters a bunch of them and joins their band. Turns out they're a violent cult
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Tessa, with Josh, the undercover narc investigating steroid use in the school. Tessa infers that the secret he's keeping is that he's still in the closet, while Josh think she knows he's a narc.
    Josh: Oh my God, you do know. You can't out me. Nobody's ever figured it out before.
    Tessa: Wouldn't it be better if everyone knew and it was out in the open?
    Josh: Are you kidding? That would ruin me. So Ryan is not my guy, is there anybody else worth checking out?
    Tessa: I do have the sneaky suspicion of Dave Donsky, school quarterback.
    Josh: Got it, I'll sniff around, see what he's into.
  • Only Sane Woman / Only Sane Man: Tessa. George also qualifies.
  • Parental Abandonment: Alex did this to Tessa as a child, though they reconnect when Tessa is 16. She then does it again when the two are briefly living together. Making matters worse, before they moved in together, Tessa had tried reaching out to her entire extended family for a place to stay, but none of them were willing to take her in.
  • Parental Neglect: Sheila always treats Lisa lower than Ryan.
    • Tessa's mom puts her wants ahead of being a mother, even running out on her daughter in the middle of the night.
  • Parental Substitute: Sheila attempts to be this to Tessa, much to George's annoyance. Dallas also tries, though while initially annoyed, Tessa grows rather close to Dallas and begins to accept her as one.
    • Carmen is one for both Dalia and Noah's son Opus.
    • George to Dalia, moreso when he starts dating Dallas. Noah to a lesser extent is something between this and Cool Uncle, getting her a pet Kangaroo to cheer her up during her parents' divorce.
  • Parlor Games: Ryan and Tessa first kiss when Ryan is dared to kiss her during a game of truth or dare.
  • Plastic Bitch: The people of Chatswin, who are shown to be very shallow, regularly get plastic surgery. In the pilot, a woman falls into the pool at the country club, but doesn't drown due to her breast implants making her buoyant. Of the main cast, Dallas is mentioned to have had numerous cosmetic procedures. However, she's shown to be kind, if a bit shallow and ditzy.
  • Popular Is Dumb: Dalia, Kaitlyn, Kenzie, Kimantha, Ryan; pretty much everyone popular in Chatswin is self-obsessed and shallow.
  • Product Placement: Tessa spends one episode practically in love with her Microsoft Surface tablet. Not as blatant as some, but the logo is very visible in some shots.
  • Psychologist Teacher: Subverted; the guidance counselor is as chirpy and clueless as everyone else in town.
  • Rich Bitch: Dalia, she's self-centered, materialistic and classist.
  • Running Gag: Tessa and her "lesbian boots" in the pilot episode.
    • Dalia attempting to become more Jewish throughout the second season.
  • Ship Tease: Fred reads his wife's diary, where she wrote down an erotic dream of hers involving "George".turns out she was referring to George Stephanopoulos
  • Shout-Out: While Dalia is showing Tessa around school they walk past the Glee club. One of the members is in a wheelchair.
    • The Tessa / Dalia interaction rings very similar to Mean Girls.
    • Tessa's narration in the third episode is also similar to Cady's narration, where the two of them compare the high school and suburbia to the Animal Kingdom.
    • Mr Wolfe's reference to undercover narc Josh's presence being "just like 'The Wire'!" is a twofer SO: first, to 21 Jump Street; second, Maestro Harrell (who plays Malik) is a real-life Wire alumnus.
      • Malik is a snitch. Chalk up one more Randy Wagstaff reference.
    • In one episode, George compares his and Dallas's relationship with Scully and Mulder's. At the end of the episode, Dallas is watching The X-Files, yelling at her TV for Mulder and Scully to kiss already.
    • In "Chinese Chicken," Tessa's speech to the football team's girlfriends includes the line "It is 9:30 on a Wednesday night, and there has got to be something good on (TV)!" No prizes for guessing what's on ABC in that slot...
    • One episode (the episode where Tessa runs a closed-circuit TV program at the high school) has a shout out to "The Cancellation Bear" from The website naturally had a whole article dedicated to the shout-out.
  • The Snark Knight: Tessa.
  • Snap Back: For some reason, Season 3 just reverted back to normal, ignoring the fact that there were Wham Episodes and this was discussed here by the AV Club who said that the season was simplified.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: Subverted in the episode "Thanksgiving":
    Tessa and Dallas: That son of a...
    (car horn as both pause)
    Both: BITCH!
  • Spiritual Successor: To Eerie, Indiana. Minus all the nightmarish surrealism.
  • Straw Feminist: Paula, aka "The Witch of East Chatswin," is not really an example, but is considered to be by the residents of Chatswin, who view her as a literal witch.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial:
    Dalia: "Laxatives are not illegal!"
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In universe. When Ryan comes home from college, his new girlfriend is another Hollywood Homely bookworm who enjoys classic literature and obscure art films. Tessa is almost offended his new girlfriend is so similar to her.
  • Take That!:
    Dalia: Tessa, you're reminding me of Tyler Perry right now. You're joking, but you're not funny.
    Tessa: I'm not joking! Although I don't disagree about Tyler Perry.
    • Another one is when Ryan proposes to Lisa that he defer college for a year so that he can go to whatever school Tessa ends up going to:
    Lisa: That's not going to work. Tessa's going to attend a school that values a curious mind, creativity, hard work, intellect...whereas you are most likely to attend the University of Florida
  • The Un Favourite: Lisa. In the third season her parents adopt a new child who has the same interests as Lisa and they still like him more than her.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Dalia gets an epic one while negotiating with Tessa about whose family gets to go to a particular Chinese restaurant on a particular day:
    Dalia: “We can alternate Mondays. However, if you breach this agreement and trespass on a Monday designated to us, we are entitled to damages including but not limited to one Szechuan Sunday per month. Plus we reserve the right to invoke cloture terminating your Mondays as designated here with....bitch."
  • Token Minority: Malik, referred to as the "diversity student".
  • Token White: Dallas was this in her college sorority (which was otherwise all black.)
  • Trademark Favorite Beverage: Sugar-free Red Bull.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: As an adaptation of Linda Keenan's book Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia, it takes big liberties with its source material.
  • Wham Line: "I'm in love with Carmen"
  • Will They or Won't They?: George and Dallas, Tessa and Ryan. They get together (both of them), though as of the season 2 finale both couples are broken up. For now
  • Your Mum: Dallas once responded to George saying "incorrect use of air quotes" with "Incorrect use of your mamma".