Episode 8: Black Thai
By: Carlos Uribe
Suburgatory is a show about a teenage girl who is stuck in her version of hell, the suburbs.
The main plot for “Black Thai” was very disjointed. There was an event of sequences that were tied together by the thinnest of threads. It basically felt like the Family Guy writers took over Suburgatory for one episode and this is the plot they came up with. This is to say that there is a plot but it doesn't really flow very well. It starts out with Tessa and Dalia getting into a fight over test scores and the prizes that they received. This could have stood on it's own but it was really an excuse to get the two girls to go to a hip-hop dance so that there could be a dance fight. Only at the dance class, Dallas and George have a completely random fight so that they too could have their own dance fight. You could tell how one point got from another but that's all they had in relation to each other. The Dallas and George fight came out of nowhere as the episode hadn't even tried to hint towards it at the beginning. The dance class itself was introduced randomly. The story might have been very funny but the main plot was missing something essential that is supposed to hold it up. It basically doesn't explore any main idea nor does it really have a core. Actually that's not really true. Every story has a core hidden deep inside somewhere. It's just that the story didn't revolve around it.
What could have been the core for “Black Thai”? Most of the episode suggests that it's the strenuous relationship between Tessa and Dalia. The fight is between them and their actions control where the plot goes. The problem is that the climax of the episode isn't between those two. It's between George and Dallas. That seems to suggest that the core is actually their relationship. It's possible that the writers could have picked one of the two and built the plot around that but they didn't. The problem with “Black Thai” isn't necessarily the premise of the plot but that the writers simply didn't execute it well because they couldn't settle on what it was ultimately about. If they had picked the most obvious core, Tessa and Dalia, then they could have written the entire main plot to cater to them. It didn't really need to have the SAT score feud as an excuse to get into the dance class and the role of the parents could have thus been marginalized. It could have picked George and Dallas and use the time to actually build up to their fight. What it instead got was a huge mess that lacked the heart that this series usually has.
The main plot might not hold up to it's emotional heart but the adoption sub-plot had it. It appears that it is coming to a close as the Shay family try to do their best to bring Ryan back home. This involves trying to kidnap Malik and using him as leverage. Their entire kidnapping scheme sort-of works because they are all invited over for dinner. At the dinner they learn that Ryan has changed his name and wants to emancipate himself. It seems like the Shay family has lost Ryan but they all made him realize one thing. They made food the way he liked it because they love him. This convinces Ryan to go back home and be a Shay again. This was a sub-plot that had it's core: Ryan and his issue of whether he's really a Shay or not. The episode seems to suggest that he has accepted that he is one of them but here's hoping he continues to have an identity crisis. It would be nice if this entire adoption sub-plot meant we actually did get some character growth from him. I'm not expecting him to get profound but simply have this experience actually mean something.
I don't expect the other sub-plot of the episode to actually mean something for anyone. Noah and his wife are concerned when their toddler doesn't get into a good pre-school. The idea of a highly competitive pre-school has been done to death already but Suburgatory manages to make the plot fit because it adapts it into the Chatswin universe. The Werner family turns into Mr. Wolfe so that he can try and tutor their toddler into being smart enough for pre-school. When this ends up failing, Noah and Jill try their best to convince themselves that their baby is actually a genius. It's a sub-plot that ultimately works because it explores the idea of parental expectations versus reality. We can't all have genius babies.
Black Thai is a consistently funny episode but the main plot had severe structural problems. It's a good thing that the episode had two sub-plots that helped distract the viewer from how thin the dance class plot really is. At the same time, having so many plots means that the series is juggling a lot of stories and that might have contributed to why the main plot didn't really work out. If the script had gone through just one more draft, I'm sure that the problems with the dance class plot could have been sorted out. As it is, Black Thai is funny but it has too many problems to be a great episode.
Maybe it's an outdated stereotype, but I felt like Tessa could have been a more confident and competent hip-hop dancer coming from the city.