“No Me Gusta, Mami” could sell me a bridge to nowhere. Let’s hope that’s not a metaphor, because the point is the season three premiere of Suburgatory is a work of supreme confidence. No sweating to pack in the jokes. It’s funny, but this is a melancholy time for the main characters. The production has its share of obstacles as well. Not only was the show held until midseason, but Alan Tudyk and Rex Lee are out of the cast and Parker Young and Malin Akerman have their own very funny shows now, Enlisted and Trophy Wife respectively. You could almost take it personally if you were the Altmans, George losing his best friend and Tessa losing her mother and boyfriend. Then again, George and Tessa both ended season two single and separate. For all the chaos, now represented by the state of Jeremy Sisto’s facial hair, “No Me Gusta, Mami” ends with George and Tessa moving back into their old house and vowing to do things right this time, Chatswin-wise: “Walk amongst them, but don’t become them.” They aren’t restoring the status quo. They’re setting a new one. And it has me revved.
That’s exactly what this episode needed to do, take us from the tumult of season two’s final arc into the stripped-down season three. For Tessa and George, it’s a pretty smooth transition after the leap of Alex’s voice-mail. The biggest stumbling block is unsurprisingly Dalia, who spent most of last spring torturing Tessa in ways that would make Regina George jealous. Now she’s upset about all her daddies being gone. She lies in bed all day, she yells at her mother, she adopts Dallas’ middle-aged accountants (Lansky, Lansky, and Schulman) to twerk for her entertainment. (It’s not as funny as it sounds, all half-hearted and awkward. What I’d give to return to a comedy of commitment.) It’s not impossible to feel sympathy for this person, who is, allegedly, a human teenager who just wants her father, but it’s difficult. Take any of the problems facing the main characters and they can almost all be traced back to Dalia. Dallas does try to put a foot down (“You may not want to talk to me tonight, and you may not want to talk to me tomorrow, and you may not want to talk to me the day after tomorrow or the day after that…), which reads to those who remember season two’s parenting battles as character growth. But nothing quite lands with Dalia here, not the comedy of her acting out and certainly not the pathos of her abandonment. She might make a fun villain if she would at least get out of bed.
Because everyone else is facing loneliness, the Shays are almost pure comic relief. Actually they’re suffering, too, facing empty-nest syndrome now that their golden child is off at school, but he’ll at least be back. Lisa protests that the nest ain’t empty, but they’re too depressed to address her complaints. What’s more, the renter in the old Altman house is leaving Chatswin, one more abandonment. In response, Sheila pours all her energies into tracking down and eliminating (with a tranq-dart in a blowgun) a murderous stray dog that might destroy property values in Chatswin, which is on its way to becoming a hamlet. The dog is George’s, but since he and Tessa are on their way out, they try to hide him for a few days at a doggy day care whose intake is handled by Natasha Leggero. Tessa guesses that there would be a dog named Buckles somewhere in the system. George thinks Fido would be more likely; it’s like he’s fresh off the bus. There are thousands of Buckleses registered at the day care, including Buckles Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Buckles Stuart Masterson. Sheila finds the dog anyway, but she’s an easier break than Dalia. After a short speech in which Tessa admits fault for running away, Sheila breaks down about Ryan. The speech is awfully tidy, but Ana Gasteyer’s cry is just perfect.
It’s true. You feel the losses in “No Me Gusta, Mami.” Alex is just a voice-mail message. Ryan doesn’t even get that. Dallas is totally on her own with her stubborn daughter, with neither George nor Steven for help. George wallows alone in the leather-walled house he bought but still hasn’t moved into. Even Lisa feels alone, and her life has changed the least. She’s mostly with her parents, but it’s not the same, in part because they largely ignore her. Malik isn’t around. Her scenes with Tessa have a sense of denouement, like they won’t see each other again. I know Tessa isn’t really leaving Chatswin, but seeing her walk down the street with Lisa gets me anyway. Only when Carmen’s on-screen does a loss (Noah) feel like a morale booster.
Which brings us to George and Tessa. It isn’t a journey of reconciliation. All it takes is the production-necessitated inciting incident: Alex leaves again, with just a note for Tessa. So father and daughter reunite. They realize what’s been happening the past two seasons: Chatswin has changed them. Now that’s self-awareness. And what a story opportunity, not just waking up from the spell of their cushioned, sheltered homogenous pre-hamlet but recognizing their complicity in its artificial way of life. They plan to leave, but Lisa cuts through the noise: The instinct to run hasn’t been very beneficial to Tessa in the past. Besides, Tessa would have to transfer schools for her senior year. “I’m the dean of admissions at SUNY Purchase, and I’m thinking meth mom with a dumpster baby.”
Instead, Tessa makes a bunch of grown-up decisions that George should really be making, but this is a sort-of sitcom. She decides they should stay, which entails renting their old house from Sheila for even more money than they were paying the first time. But that doesn’t mean Tessa’s over her problems with that community. George either. They pour all their Chatswin stuff, country club memberships, pictures with Ryan, everything into a pile on the driveway. Tessa pours the gasoline and George lights the match. They rededicate themselves to resisting the pull of Chatswin, which ought to be easier with so many fewer connections to people in town now. But then Tessa spares Ryan’s jersey from the cleansing fire. This might not be so easy.
- Love the new hand-drawn version of the credits.
- I’m not overly interested in throwing up comedy or drama borders, but Suburgatory is awfully serious nowadays when you get down to it. On the other hand its sense of humor is a lot goofier than that of most sitcoms. “No Me Gusta, Mami” isn’t the funniest episode, but its self-awareness, organic plot contortions, and thematic unity are astounding. At this rate I wouldn’t mind if season three were pure drama (whatever that means).
- Noah’s gone, but what of Jill Werner? Since they divorced, there’s a chance she could resurface, right?
- As for Ryan, you’d think he’d have some online presence at least.
- Lisa has a lying smell, an odor she exudes when she’s lying that smells like tartar sauce in a kiln.
- Lisa to Tessa, George, and the dog: “You can’t lay low. You’re not Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch, and River Phoenix, are you?”