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Archive for Wednesday, September 28, 2011

‘Suburgatory’ hard to love, or even like

September 28, 2011

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Scant days after sweeping the Emmy comedy category, “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC) did the unexpected and attracted a larger audience than the much-hyped “The X Factor” (7 p.m., Fox). Who knew people could live without Simon Cowell?

Smart yet often endearing, well scripted yet seemingly improvised, “Modern Family” has become the measure against which all other comedies must be judged. So any judgment of its new lead-in, “Suburgatory” (7:30 p.m., ABC), is going to be harsh.

The “comedy” stars Jane Levy as Tessa, a petulant teen whose father, George (Jeremy Sisto), moves them both to the suburbs because he thinks she’s running with too fast a crowd in New York City. Tessa’s mother left the scene when she was a child, so her bond with her architect/contractor dad is very close. So close, that she calls him by his first name.

The makers of “Suburgatory” depict the suburbs as an art director’s confection, peopled by plastic moms and mean girls. Male classmates and fathers are in short supply. It’s a satire of suburbia written by people who seem to have only watched Bravo’s “Real Housewives” series as research.

The beauty of “Modern Family” is that it begins with near-stereotypes (Latina bombshell, finicky gay man, controlling mother, empty-headed teen) and allows those characters to emerge as human beings. “Suburgatory” begins with stereotypes and just stays there.

And satires tend to work better when the narrator/protagonist is remotely likable. Tessa approaches her new surroundings with the disdain of a condescending anthropologist. At the same time, we have no idea why we should believe her, sympathize with her or agree with her. She may not wear pink, but she’s just as entitled a brat as the kids she disdains.

• Scientists at NASA’s Huntsville, Ala., facility spend their free time doing quirky experiments on “Rocket City Rednecks” (9 p.m., National Geographic). Host Travis has several advanced degrees, but the show concentrates on his penchant for blowin’ stuff up and his good-old-boy pals. “Rednecks” combines a condescending look at Southern culture with the assumption that nobody can appreciate science and engineering without sugarcoating things with hillbilly hijinks.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Charges against Harry are dropped on “Harry’s Law” (8 p.m., NBC).

• “NOVA” (8 p.m., PBS) looks at Japan’s recent tsunami.

• Penny is house proud on the series premiere of “Happy Endings” (8:30 p.m., ABC).

• Three separate confessions don’t add up on “CSI” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A basketball coach faces grim charges on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9 p.m., NBC).

• Emily targets a hedge-fund wizard on “Revenge” (9 p.m., ABC).

• “Dark Matters” (9 p.m., Science) recalls tales of missing cosmonauts.

• A new episode of “Extreme Couponing” (9:30 p.m., TLC).

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