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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Suburgatory: “Body Talk”

Illustration for article titled iSuburgatory/i: “Body Talk”
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Okay, seriously, what’s it going to take for Dallas to get some personal agency? Every week this grown woman runs into a problem and surrenders to it until George rescues her. One of the many great things about “Chinese Chicken” is the subtle subversion. Dallas alone is in the C-plot, if that, playing off-screen with the new printer she bought off-screen and wrestling with buyer’s remorse mostly off-screen. George completely misunderstands the message she’s sending by printing off a billion posters for him, and in the end Dallas alone resolves a storyline that nobody else knows is happening by confessing that she spent a lot of money on a printer. That’s all. Dallas gets herself (and George) into a silly mess, figures out what she’s done, and solves the problem on her own. It’s filler, but it’s essential. It’s the most self-sufficient Dallas has been in ages.

Dallas hasn’t always been the woman who brings a life coach on a much-anticipated first date, although she did suffer Steven well past their relationship’s expiration date. Dallas used to be a go-getter, fearlessly pursuing George (or Carmen). She’s a business owner who instills some discipline in Tessa. She used to be hilarious. Now she moves into George’s SUV when her house gets rezoned.


Flaws are essential, and even before she was a business owner, Dallas was the queen of the plastics. The most important thing on a comedy, especially one this cartoonish, is that the characters all get to be funny, and Cheryl Hines is certainly that. “The water . . . is unfruited!” It’s just that too often lately Dallas is the indirect object in stories about her own life. When George discovers that her house is 58% in East Dillon, er, East Chatswin, Dallas and Yakult get excommunicated from the Chatswin Country Club with a complimentary You’re Not One Of Us gift basket and Dalia gets yanked out of school. So Dallas responds to her family’s misfortune by deciding that she can’t sleep in that East Chatswin craphole anymore and setting up camp in George’s car. She crawls into the backseat and lies that it’s like the Four Seasons, putting that Chatswin-white smile on the decline of a great character.

Then George discovers that he can’t get Dallas’ house rezoned as sitcom-easily as he thought, and “Body Talk” actually flirts with keeping the Royces in East Chatswin for a while. Psych! As the end credits play him off like Oscar music, Noah rescues George, and thereby the Royces, from the East Chatswin Country Club by playing hardball with Marty the obnoxious old power broker and his beloved steam room. So not only does Dallas do nothing to help herself, but as soon as she starts to try out life in East Chatswin, she gets spared the indignity of learning her lifestyle is offensively extravagant. So much opportunity wasted.


The East Chatswin interlude, then, relies on the Dalia scenes, which comprise a typically weird, typically funny spin on racial segregation. “Everyone at my new school is tanner than me,” Dalia says of her predominantly black school. Dalia meets her black counterpart Daisy, flanked by the AAA (Ashley, Amber, and Amanda), which is as close as “Body Talk” gets to acknowledging the Chatswin High KKK. They don’t let Dalia use the water fountain, which she takes for low-tan discrimination. “I just wish they could look beyond the color of my tan and see the content of my closet.” Ever aloof, Dalia calls some other black kid Malik, some female Asian student Mr. Wolfe, some bearded ginger janitor Tessa, the gag that keeps on giving. At the end Dalia gets rescued, swept along by Noah’s intervention, and she’s surrounded by protesting East Chatswin students. Basically, Dalia’s East Chatswin scenes are the payoff on the zoning drama investment, and she almost gets the subplot in the black.

The title plot engages with, well, talks about the challenges of producing an entertaining and thoughtful television series when Tessa winds up producing a school broadcast called Teen Talk that Ryan accidentally usurps by talking about his body. The results are exactly what you expect. Ryan can sit in a chair next to a phone in front of an Abercrombie-style banner and people will tune in to watch the beauty. But when Tessa tries to address something interesting like how to produce a TV show, nobody could care less. She even loses Chef Alan. The metaphor gets lost to narrative concerns when Mr. Wolfe reminds Tessa that Ryan has a really big heart, which doesn't really apply to vapid television shows. It’s not like Keeping Up With The Kardashians is redeemed by its peaceful spirit. Quite the contrary: It’s desiccated by soullessness. That's part of why East Chatswin might have been good for the Royces.


Stray observations:

  • Among Ryan’s after-school activities are modeling, nude modeling, and boy-band practice.
  • The reason Ryan takes over Teen Talk is because the original host Evan pulled a Lindsay with a doctor’s note for his exhaustion.
  • Parker Young can’t lose. When Mr. Wolfe says he’s perfect [for the role of anchor], Ryan lets him down gently. “I’m sorry. I’m seeing someone already.”
  • A taste of the genius that is Body Talk: “When I wanna get hydrated, I like to drink stuff through my mouth.”
  • At the East Chatswin Y, Dallas spots a familiar face. “Javier, thank goodness! I didn’t know you worked here, too!’
  • On her way out of East Chatswin, Dalia remembers to ask: “Does this school validate?”

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