A Visit to the Set of ABC’s Suburgatory

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Jane Levy plays new girl Tessa in “Suburgatory.”

Why not say yes to a visit to the set of Suburgatory? It’s a funny ABC show I enjoy, and any opportunity to stroll around Warner Bros. Studios gives me a feeling that I might be on the same footpaths of the master filmmakers long ago or the dazzling stars of days-gone-by. You really get a sense of history when you look at the medallions hung on the soundstages, noting the great productions that were created inside.

But Suburgatory is a contemporary TV comedy, and so instead of getting champagne that would have satisfied the great Bette Davis, there was a Yakult probiotic drink waiting for me at the stage set up for the high school scenes. It was near the ethereal artsy school mural of Mother Teresa, Jackie O, Eleanor Roosevelt, and singer Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. I could not make that up, but that plays to the strength of the show, contrasting the absurdities that are all around in the suburbs.

The show follows Tessa Altman, played by hot newcomer Jane Levy. She’s an acerbic street-wise girl from New York City, who becomes a fish out of waster as she struggles to navigate the “perfect” suburbs with her single father George, played by Jeremy Sisto.

Jane said, “I never thought the weight of the show was on my shoulders. We have an outstanding ensemble cast. It’s all good.” What does the young actress really think of the suburbs? Jane said, “I grew up in the suburbs of Ryan County in California. It’s a little different from these suburbs — but kind of not. There are a lot of similarities in that you spend your money on country club memberships and remodeling your shower.”

Carly Chaikin is mean girl Dalia in “Suburgatory.”

Jeremy Sisto, of Law & Order fame, is now doing those remodels in the suburbs. He said there’s not a lot of comedy in his past credits, because no one gave him a chance to be funny before. “I was hoping for years, but at auditions they’d say, ‘Oh, is he funny enough? Can he come in and show us he’s funny?’ I would go in and get nervous and not be, so I wasn’t able to get any of that. I tried for a few of them, like Law & Order; I tested for one and was wrong. I probably wouldn’t have gotten this had I auditioned because I get nervous, but then they just offer this to me so I got to go in and that was great. I love the fact that I get to do this. I feel really lucky.” And he does show his knack for ironic comedy.

Providing the contrast to Jane’s character is Dalia, played by Carly Chaikin. “She’s Malibu Barbie with more mascara and less emotion. It’s such a fun character to play,” described Carly.

Because she plays such an odd person, Carly mentioned that a lot of people expect her to be like her character. “What’s funny is Ken, one of our producers who directs, saw me play my character and thought I was going to be like that. He was scared of me. People are surprised I’m not like Dalia. I look different going to the mall and out on the street, so I am kind of incognito off the set because I’m not in a tight pink mini-skirt.”

A veteran funny lady lending her talent to the show is Cheryl Hines. She has had years of doing improv on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and now she praises the scripts she gets for Suburgatory. Cheryl said, “I really loved doing improv and working with Larry David: Curb was amazing. And I love working on a scripted show. It’s really fun to know there are very talented writers in a room writing clever things for me to say and it’s nice too because producer-creator Emily Kapnek and her team, they really push my boundaries. If I was making up my own dialogue I may not be pushing myself.”

So what turned the show into a hit? Cheryl said, “Well, I think it fit in to the ABC comedy block very nicely. I think our show is fun to watch, which sounds silly, but I think that’s what attracted people initially because it looks beautiful, the cars are beautiful, and then you watch it and you are looking at these characters and people that get invested in that world. It’s kind hearted. It’s hilarious and ironic and the central relationships are very loving.” Not an old-fashioned comedy, but a good comedy, indeed.

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