Lisa Shay doesn’t even show up in “The Ballad Of Piggy Duckworth,” and my favorite moment is all about her. It comes at the end of a dating plot gone awry. While the women are out—Dalia abandoning her mother for the debatably déclassé destination of Turks And Caicos, Dallas taking Tessa to her ancestral homeland, Sheila at work—the men go on a grouper, which is not an orgy but a triple blind date. Only Fred hits it off with his date, but when it turns out he’s married, his date agrees to limit their interaction to recipe-trading. Unfortunately for Fred and very fortunately for Noah creeping on his laptop, her video recipe is short on details and long on moaning, and when Sheila finds out, she returns home bleeding. Fred nervously inquires. “I see your knuckles are bloody, my love.” She’s stone-faced. “Are they?” She’s not mad at Fred. She’s marking her territory. She’s intense, up in Fred’s face, backing him into a chair, and ultimately getting turned on. In that slow, creepy, quiet voice that Lisa nails, she says, “My sweets are the only treats you should be sampling, Fred Shay.” Lisa is clearly her mother’s daughter. It’s like Gasteyer’s been studying Allie Grant’s game tapes.
The main plot evokes a similar reaction: So that’s where she gets it. Everything about Dallas’ trip back to her family’s neck of the woods is hilarious. It takes the Dalia contrivance to get Tessa and Dallas in their own plot, but no complaints here. This is one of the three founding relationships of Suburgatory—this, Tessa and George, and Tessa and Lisa. George is Tessa’s blood, the man who raised her, her connection to her New York identity. Lisa is her best friend, an outcast who also rejects the premises of Suburgatory. But Dallas is the one who surprises Tessa. Dallas is the grown up Plastic, the epitome of gaudy indulgence, the incarnation of everything Tessa hates about Chatswin. So it’s all the more moving when Dallas gives Tessa a reason to look up to her, including just being there for her. The break-up has kept them mostly apart this season, and it only makes their occasional scenes together that much more exciting. They always leave me wanting more.
It all starts when Dallas kills her mother. Her sister tells her the story when she calls home out of the blue. “You know, her last words to me were, ‘Did your sister call?’ and all I could say was, ‘Nooope’…The doctor said she died of a broken heart.” (“Actually I said coronary artery disease,” says the passing EMT.) So Dallas, with Tessa for moral support, return home to wherever it is she’s from, a GCB/Chrisley Knows Best/August: Osage County pastiche that is to The South as Chatswin is to The Suburbs. There are lots of animal prints, syrupy accents (more Atlanta than Dallas if you ask me), and haystacks of hair. Dallas brought extra hair for Tessa, and it’s still not enough to please the kinfolk. Tessa’s baffled. “I’m, like, wearing 14 pounds of human hair.” An aunt shakes her head and mutters to herself, “Would have killed her again.” It’s big and cartoonish and outright hilarious from the writing to the performances to the art design. Every time we cut back to George and Noah I’m counting the seconds. The daughter’s names are Georgia, Savannah, and Sunset Laemmle for crying out loud. Dallas keeps trying to one-up her sister in their impromptu dinner tributes to their mother’s portrait. “You are my blood diamond, mama.” There’s no topping that.
When you get down to it, not a lot happens in “The Ballad Of Piggy Duckworth.” The guys go from a failed date to the recipe scene to Sheila marking her man. And Dallas and Tessa just fire off a bunch of Southern jokes before getting down to their quick resolution. Mostly it’s a funny half hour of comedy with this kernel of growth at the end: Dallas has some mommy issues, see, and despite the sitcom pace, they’re clearly strong enough to affect the woman Dallas is today. Mama’s the one that rushed Dallas into marriage. It’s implied by other family chatter that Dallas was also under pressure to stay married, and her divorce was not taken too kindly by her folks back home. Tessa gives her a shoulder and some advice, telling her she can still spill her guts to her mom’s open casket. She does, and she feels better for standing up to her. It’d be a stronger plot if there were any sense afterward of how this climax affects Dallas one way or the other. She probably still feels some of that resentment, but can she stand up for her choices and take pride in her independence, or does she still cave to the pressures of her family? Time may tell, but it’s not like Suburgatory leaves Chatswin very often. That’s part of what makes “The Ballad Of Piggy Duckworth” so enjoyable.
- Kitten heels kind of work for Fred. “Sheila asked me to break these in for her so she wouldn’t develop calluses.”
- It’s not an all-timer or anything, but the bit where Dallas is still quietly shrieking while eating a Mallomar is still making me chuckle.
- Dallas: “See, it’s sarcasm like that that’ll get you strung up. Pretty much anything will get you strung up where I come from.”
- Dallas’ sister, upon her arrival: “I hope you don’t blame yourself.” “You told me it was my fault.”
- Another great sight gag comes during dinner. “This whole family knows that you did not give a pickled rat’s ass about mama.” In the middle of a family feud, there’s a sudden insert of Tessa spitting out her food. “Is that what this is?”
- Several off-screen characters get thrown under the bus this week, including Nora, who was a dud in the sack apparently. At the end, George confirms it for Dallas. “Well, they can’t all be Dallas Royce.” She finally smiles and prepares to leave. It’s like George reanimated her. “No, sir, they cannot.”
- Dallas confesses, “My mama was a narcissistic, punishing, alienating sea-bitch.” Tessa’s confused. “She came from…the…” “Sea. I always felt so.”
- As usual, Sheila is the best part of the other story (although I enjoy Noah dryly praising Fred’s cool after his phone rings and he hammers it and hand-vacs the pieces). “What’s going on here? Why do you have a friend over. It’s a school night.”
- Victor Ha sighting! That is all.
- Oh, and as for Sheila’s bloody knuckles: “I just tripped and fell after pooping in her mail box. She’s been warned.”