'Suburgatory' and 'How to be a Gentleman' are comedies that aren't created equal

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TV comedy makes a comeback on the networks' fall schedules, but that doesn't mean the comedies will be better. This week's two premieres show the two extremes network development can turn out: Smart and funny or dumb and dull.


No question, ABC's "Suburgatory" (8:30 tonight, WTAE) is fall's most consistently funny comedy pilot. But as with many of the fall pilots, it's also surrounded by question marks.

Will the show fit in with ABC's other Wednesday night comedies? How will it develop once it moves beyond a plot-driven premiere story?

"Suburgatory" is told from the point of view of teenage Tessa (Jane Levy), which makes it feel like a CW show if the CW aired comedies anymore. But there also are teens in "The Middle," so maybe "Suburgatory" can serve as an effective bridge to the more adult "Modern Family."

Critics might have a better sense of the show if ABC made additional episodes available for review, but the network did not. So we have only the pilot to go on. And it's a strong, humorous half-hour.

It begins as Tessa's father, George (Jeremy Sisto, "Six Feet Under"), decides to move from Manhattan to the New York suburbs after he discovers condoms in her nightstand. She says they aren't hers, adding, "It's pretty ironic that a box full of rubbers landed me in a town full of plastic."

Tessa, whose mom bolted shortly after Tessa was born, savages what she sees as ridiculousness in the 'burbs, including moms toting omnipresent frozen coffee drinks, an astute, accurate observation.

Tessa is labeled a lesbian by a fellow student (Carly Chaikin), who's dressed in a skimpy outfit, prompting Tessa to respond, "You mean because I'm not dressed like I have a pole in my locker?"

Tessa's "picket fence nightmare" is full of funny spoofs of suburbia, largely at the expense of suburbanites, but Tessa's not always right and sometimes adjusts her view when a chic mom (Cheryl Hines, "Curb Your Enthusiasm") does something nice for her. That's a necessary ingredient. Cynicism has its place, but it's more effective when tempered with a little bit of heart.

'How to be a Gentleman'

The title may be a far cry from last season's "[Bleep] My Dad Says" but so is the show. Never thought a series would make me long for the mediocre William Shatner-starring "[Bleep]," but CBS's "How to be a Gentleman" (8:30 p.m. Thursday) does just that.

David Hornsby, a 1998 Carnegie Mellon University graduate, stars in, created and wrote this sitcom about a sophisticated writer who pens a column on men's manners. Andrew (Mr. Hornsby) suffers the indignities of his mean, shrewish sister (Mary Lynn Rajskub in perpetual sourpuss mode) alongside his upbeat, odd brother-in-law (Rhys Darby), whom she also treats terribly.

"You're fussy, you talk weird and you dress like a ship's captain," Janet tells Andrew during his birthday dinner. Her gift: A training session at a gym run by a high school bully, Bert (Kevin Dillon, "Entourage), who used to torment Andrew.

This turns out to be just what Andrew needs because his magazine has a new owner that wants to go in a new direction, "Expand the readership by targeting people who don't read," according to his boss (David Foley, "NewsRadio").

This plot device makes the show feel terribly dated. The rise of "lad mags," what Andrew's magazine is being changed into, happened a good 10 years ago with the arrival of Maxim in 1998.

Andrew learns How To Be a Man from his musclehead trainer, which makes "Gentleman" a sitcom in the "Odd Couple" mold but with one significant, unfortunate difference: It's not that funny.

"You were being you," Bert tells Andrew after hitting him on the arm for the umpteenth time in the premiere episode. "We'll fix that."

See, it's funny because being a gentleman is uncool and being a Neanderthal somehow is.

On "Entourage," Mr. Dillon played a character, Johnny Drama, who was frequently cast in recognizably terrible TV shows. "How to be a Gentleman" is exactly the kind of TV comedy Johnny Drama would be thrilled to star in.

Read a review of the season premiere of "Happy Endings" in Tuned in Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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