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Recycling Bin: An Advance Review of ABC's "Surviving Suburbia"

I've always loved Cynthia Stevenson.

Her Joy Lass on Showtime's short-lived Dead Like Me remains an enduring example of a suburban mother in the throes of a perpetual crisis: snarky, unsympathetic at times, and filled with a terrible sense of loss after the death of her daughter.

So what is the fantastic actor doing in the Bob Saget comedy vehicle Surviving Suburbia, premiering tonight on ABC? I'm not entirely sure but her considerable charm and comedic flair are wasted on this recycled family sitcom format.

The premise: Stevenson plays Anne Patterson, a likable wife and mother of two who's a fixture in the neighborhood, always willing to perform little errands for her neighbors, like taking in their mail or feeding their goldfish. She's married to Steve (Bob Saget), a grumpy misanthrope of a man who hates his neighbors, is selfish to a fault, and is, well, pretty damn dull. They have two kids: precocious sprite Courtney (G. Hannelius) and sullen teenager Henry (Jared Kusnitz), a nice house, a seemingly okay marriage that's long on nagging and short on passion. As Steve likes to remind us of every five minutes or so.

The result feels especially warmed over, the TV equivalent of a microwave meal that been defrosted and reheated one too many times. Sure, ABC didn't originally develop Surviving Suburbia (it was originally meant to air on Media Rights Capital's Sunday night programming block on the CW) and the network has a long history of multi-camera family sitcoms (hell, According to Jim is still clinging on for dear life), but one can't shake the feeling that we've seen all of this way too many times before.

Surviving Suburbia's pilot episode, written by Don Beck, finds Saget's grumpy Steve reluctantly agreeing to feed the goldfish of his strip club-owner neighbor Onno (Dan Cortese) while he's out of town. While snooping around in Onno's house with his fey neighbor Dr. Jim (Jere Burns), Steve accidentally starts a fire when he and Jim argue about whether they should use Onno's address book to call some strippers... and Steve later takes credit for being a hero and saving Onno's house from burning down (luckily there are no arson investigators about) and becomes the toast of the neighborhood. He uses his newfound hero status to dethrone Zak Efron as his daughter's favorite man, beds his wife, and accepts the gratitude of Onno by agreeing to use his Cabo timeshare.

Once again, Stevenson brings an appropriate flintiness to Anne that's both attractive and world-weary (you would be too living with a grouch like Steve) while Saget seems to be playing a shadow of his provocative stand-up persona. There's nothing innovative or envelope-pushing about Steve or this sitcom as a whole.

Surviving Suburbia does feel recycled from the late 1980s or 1990s and if you told me that I was watching a vintage series that had aired on ABC from twenty years ago or so, I would definitely believe you. There's nothing modern about this comedy or anything that speaks directly to us in this day and age. Some might believe that's a feat in and of itself but comedy should hold some mirror up to our society. As it is, Surviving Suburbia feels like the sort of neighbors that you might half-wave to as you pass them in the street, but there's no way you're having them over for a weekly dinner party.

Surviving Suburbia airs tonight at 9:30 pm ET/PT on ABC.


AskRachel said…
I'm not a fan of traditional sitcoms but I do like Cynthia Stevenson (I'm also a Dead Like Me fan). And Bob Saget, while grating on Full House, is actually a decent comedian. I was hoping this show might have an Old Christine, snarky quality but it sounds pretty dull. Too bad they couldn't have given their talented leads better material.
Anonymous said…
This sounds...painful.

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