Episode 18: Brown Tumbler
By: Carlos Uribe
Suburgatory is a show about a teenage girl who is stuck in her version of hell, the suburbs.
Money is rarely a problem on Suburgatory. The people in Chatswin live in a community where most people have enough money to afford extravagant lifestyles. The economy isn't doing very in real life so it makes sense that television comedies will want to offer an escape for half-and-hour. It makes even more sense since Suburgatory is a show that can only function if money isn't constantly over the head of the characters. The community of Chatswin is extremely material-obsessed and it places such an importance on image that it makes perfect sense for the show to rarely bring up money. There is nothing wrong with this. It's not like the show isn't aware of this problem. In fact it's actually part of the world it's satirizing and accepting at the same time. Money may rarely be a problem for our characters but this episode is an exception. Brown Tumbler is basically all about the financial well-being of the characters. Noah's divorce has hurt his financial standing but he refuses to downsize, Dalia has become a hoarder of expensive items, and the Shays are going to have to find a way to keep their standard of living. These all make sense and they work to create a hilarious episode as we see characters who aren't used to it having to deal with a problem that most people find normal. Does it remove the escapism aspect of Suburgatory? Not really because things work out in the end. Dalia gets rid of her stuff and the Shays find a new breadwinner. As for Noah? He's going to have to learn how to live on his own without anyone pampering him. It might not be the happiest endings but it's one that makes sense within the universe and doesn't significantly upset the status quo. Nobody has to move out of Chatswin. Noah might be getting a new place but it's still in the community. Dalia might have gotten rid of her stuff but she still lives in abundance. The Shays might have swapped their roles but their standard of living is maintained.
The episode Junior's Secretary Day had revealed that Fred had gone from the top salesman in his company to a junior secretary. He now makes half of the money that he's used to. It's a bit odd that they've been able to maintain their lifestyle despite this financial setback but I guess we're going to have to assume they've been living off their savings. In an episode that points to money problems, it's a bit odd that the writers didn't bother to explain how they hadn't had to cut back even a tiny bit. It certainly would have made sense if Sheila was pushing Fred to earn back the salesman position not because there was an opening but because they needed expensive repairs or their bank account was close to empty. If it had, it might have betrayed the feeling that everything appears to be perfect in Chatswin but it would have given the plot stakes you could relate to. It goes from Fred trying to be a salesman because his wife wants it to him having to win his job back because they need to pay their mortgage or something. Suddenly he has a reason to want to impress the young boss and we can see why he would be so desperate to go to Tessa for advice. It still worked because the jokes were strong but the narrative doesn't really make sense when you take the comedy out of the equation. In the end, Sheila enters the workforce while Fred becomes a stay-at-home dad. He doesn't seem to happy with this outcome but he's willing to live with it. It is a bit difficult to share his frustration when he didn't seem to want the job because he wanted a career but it's because his wife wanted him to. It was a funny idea and the humor worked but the stakes, logic, and motivation in this plot were severely lacking and hurt it from really kicking off.
The Noah plot works a lot better because it doesn't happen nine episodes after his divorce. The divorce was a recent plot event that occurred within the last few episodes. Noah thought he was in love with Carmen but he was really in love with the idea of someone taking care of him. The writers make this perfectly clear when he gets kicked out of his hotel because he kept proclaiming his love to the entire staff. It doesn't help that he's paying for an extravagant lifestyle despite not being completely liquid. The divorce didn't just cost him his place to live but his money as well. He moves in with George but instantly expects to be pampered like he was in the hotel. When George gets sick of this, he realizes that he can't enable Noah by giving him everything he wants. He forces Noah to move out on his own and start taking care of him and his son. It's a good plot that follows the natural narrative momentum. A large problem with the Fred story is how long it waited-nine episodes-so that the logic behind it unraveled from the very beginning. The Noah story doesn't have this problem because it was the next natural step following his divorce. He might not be as rich as he used to be but considering how he can afford a sublet and a playhouse to temporarily live in and you get the feeling that he's going to be just fine.
The third plot allowed Dallas to finally have her own agency that doesn't rely on George to solve her problems for her. She notices that her daughter hasn't thrown away a single valuable possession and that she has way too many. There's a great joke when Dalia's walk-in closet, the space under her bed, and her chest are all packed to the rim with material possessions. Dallas decides to deny greed for the first time in her life. She forces her daughter to either give away what she doesn't need anymore or she'll do it for her. It's an ultimatum that she backs up by actually giving away some of her stuff. Dalia complies and her room has a lot more space. A defining characteristic is how material-obsessed this community can be and Dalia has always been a representative of that. To have the show actually rebuke her for it is a big step. This isn't necessarily a show that has promoted materialism and the consumer culture but this is the first time where it's made an actual stand against it beyond Tessa's snark. It did it without betraying any one of the characters nor without rejecting consumer culture outright. Overall, the plot was good and Dalia was the VIP character tonight.
I stated that this episode doesn't significantly upset the status quo. This is true but it still changed it. Sheila will now be working and that might impact the Shay household in ways they aren't expecting. It's a pity we don't find out what she'll be doing in this episode but I'm sure the writers will eventually reveal her new job soon. Noah will now be living in a sublet to be a single parent and having to figure out how to take care of himself. The final plot might not have technically changed things as Dalia gets rid of objects we've never really seen before but it does mark a small, even if temporary, shift in tone towards one of the show's themes. Overall, Brown Tumbler was a pretty great episode-but it did have problems with it came to Fred's story.