Saturday, December 1, 2012

Suburgatory

Suburgatory
Episode 6: Friendship Fish
By: Carlos Uribe

Suburgatory is a show about a teenage girl who is stuck in her version of hell, the suburbs.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Friendship Fish is an episode that concentrated on the relationship between Lisa and Tessa. The two have been best friends since Tessa first moved into Chatswin. Lisa started to date Malik which meant that she spent less time with Tessa. Tessa adjusted to this new situation. Now that Lisa has broken up with Malik, she wants to spend every waking minute with Tessa. This involves various arts and crafts, annoying songs about friendship, and eating a fish that Lisa has been smoking for four weeks. Tessa doesn't really like any of these which leads her to get rid of Lisa by telling her on her mother. Tessa's happy to have some alone time until she has a nightmare where her guilt manifests itself into a tell-tale moment. Tessa is driven to eat the friendship fish with Lisa which unsurprisingly makes her sick. It ends with Tessa's grandmother coming to pick her up. There's a suggestion that the grandmother isn't going to go back to the city but to be a permanent presence in Tessa's life. It was hard to tell whether this was an actual plot point or whether it's just a joke. If it's a plot point, it all happened so quickly that it was difficult to really register. If it's a joke, then it was too much like a plot point for it to really be funny. Whether it was a joke or a plot point, it didn't really fit the core of the episode. That core being friendship.


Which is partly why this main plot has a significant narrative weakpoint. Tessa doesn't want to hang out with Lisa all the time because it's all a bit much but because Tessa just wants to spend time on her tablet. That's because the episode makes jokes that Tessa is having a “relationship” with her latest piece of technology. It does get a couple of good jokes in there but it mostly doesn't work. It's true that owning a tablet is pretty great but it's inclusion in the plot largely felt forced. It wouldn't surprise me if this was actually paid product placement that was forced on the writers rather than any actual creative decision. It's true that we don't actually get the name of the tablet but it's appearance is featured rather prominently throughout the episode. This product placement seems harmless but it played such a significant role in the plot that it seriously dragged down the episode. This is because Tessa's fake relationship with her tablet doesn't really fit with what the episode was about. It tried fitting it in with a voice-over narration that technology was causing her to spend less time with her friends but it didn't really stick. If the episode really wanted to make that point, then it should have actually made the episode about that. The theme was definably not about technology getting in the way of socializing but simply about friendship. The proof is with the sub-plot.

The sub-plot involves George. Dating Dallas has started to change his appearance. He starts to dress more like he's from Chatswin rather than being from the city. There are some jokes in the episode comparing his gardening outfit into making him look like Sheila. This transformation comes at a bad time as his old colleagues from the city come to visit. These used to be his friends and they can't recognize the man that they see. These friends are there to not only highlight the influence that living in Chatswin had on George but to also remind viewers on how everything in this small suburban town is fake. They are made to be jerks who aren't willing to see the good side of Chatswin. The best example is when they comment on how fake Dallas looks. She has a fake breasts and a fake tone. On the surface, she is completely shallow. That's all that they see and they can't take her seriously. George knows that Dallas might look fake on the outside but she's a friendly person who will do anything for the people she cares about. He has gotten to know the real Dallas. In many ways, it's Suburgatory's commenting that this might be a cartoon world but there is real human emotion that underlies it. The friends can't see this because they're ironically the ones who can't get past appearances.

It's a bit of a shock that the sub-plot doesn't conclude with the friends coming around and seeing that Chatswin isn't so bad or that George is still the same person inside. That's a course that most comedies in the past would have taken. George decides that instead of trying to win them over, he's going to try and get the contracting deal that they're in town for. He manages to present a solid project but he doesn't get it. That's okay because his friends lost the bid as well so he feels like it's a victory nonetheless. This show has always had a recurring theme about how the city is more real than the suburbs but this episode indicates a shift in that theme. The city might think it's more real but the suburbs have just as much heart. This shift in the theme comes not from a narrative purpose but from where the characters are now based on where they were in the pilot. That this is proven to George's friend is significance. It is the show stating that George isn't friends anymore from the people in the city. It keeps with the theme of friendship. The sub-plot didn't make me laugh as much as the main plot but it worked more effectively from a narrative stand-point. It helps that George wasn't promoting products throughout the episode.

Friendship Fish is an episode that is the weakest of the season. It's riddled with product placement that hurts what the episode is really about: friendship. It's right there in the title. The main plot didn't work as well as it should have due to this reason but the sub-plot worked rather well. Friendship Fish might be the weakest this season but it's still a funny way to spend half-an-hour and it provides a clear display of just how much George has changed.

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