TV Shines a Light on the Dark Underbelly of Suburbia

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Two vastly different television series have premiered this fall with a common theme.  Both Suburgatory (ABC comedy, Wednesday nights at 8:30pm) and American Horror Story (fX drama, Wednesday nights at 10pm) give us a peek at the weirdness lurking on the other side of those manicured suburban lawns.  Suburgatory has more bullies, vamps and psychotics than you can shake a stick at. American Horror Story also throws in a few murders and ghosts.  Both programs also include the latest prime time TV fixture which is now required by law; a morose, ironic teenage daughter.

Courtesy of ABC

Neither of these programs are the first to point out that something smells a little funny in suburbia and it’s not the septic tank.  David Lynch was the grand master of the theme with both Twin Peaks and the movie Blue Velvet.  It can be a little dull growing up in a small town or tract housing development, so it’s always rather gratifying to learn that the next door neighbor lady is as crazy as a bag full of squirrels.

 I love “Suburgatory” so far because it’s fast paced, well cast, and it gives me something to do while I’m waiting for Modern Family to come on.  Jeremy Sisto (Brenda’s crazy brother from Six Feet Under!)  is featured as single Dad and architect George Altman. He moves his daughter (Jane Levy) out of NYC after he discovers (avert your eyes) condoms in her room.  Cheryl Hines is hilarious as a desperate housewife and uber  Mom. Rex Lee (The Entourage) is great as a fussy school official.  For my money, the funniest guy on the show is Dr. Noah Werner, played by Alan Tudyk.  He’s the neighborhood bon vivant and purveyor of fine Dental Arts.  No tanning booth will ever go out of business as long as Dr. Werner is around.

American Horror Story kicks it up a few notches in the creepy department. As a matter of fact, it is currently the front runner on an Entertainment Weekly poll for the creepiest TV show of all time.  It even beats the X-Files. You’ll want to start watching it soon if you haven’t already, because Halloween is coming. 

Technically AHS doesn’t take place in suburbia, because it would be super hard to find a big old haunted house in the San Fernando Valley. Although one could argue that all of L.A. is a suburban sprawl, even the downtown area where this series is located.  AHS is about the Harmon family and their extreme real estate woes.  They’ve moved from Boston to Los Angeles to escape family misfortune that includes infidelity and miscarriage.  Dad is a psychiatrist (Dylan McDermott) and mom is played by Emmy nominated actress (24/Friday Night Lights) Connie Britton.  There is also the obligatory teenager (Taissa Farmiga), who is smart and terribly unhappy. The Harmons bought a haunted house with a sordid past involving murder and mayhem.  It is chock full of ghosts, and (since this is L.A.), one of them likes to wear a black leather jumpsuit.  Kind of hard to explain, you’ll just have to watch the first episode.  The most amazing thing about “AHS” is that they managed to snag Academy Award winning actress Jessica Lange to play Constance, the crazy next door neighbor.  Constance has the thickest Southern drawl this side of Paula Deen.  She came to Los Angeles to be an actress but things didn’t quite work out, y’all. Lange is absolutely fascinating in this series and I can’t take my eyes off the screen when she’s there.  Rounding out the cast is the superb Francis Conroy (Six Feet Under), who plays a mysterious maid with a damaged eye and an annoying habit of morphing into a sexy young ghost whenever Mr. Harmon is around.

That’s another thing these two series about suburbia have in common.  They both star actors from Six Feet Under the cult show from HBO and my favorite TV series ever.  That’s the best reason of all to give them both a try.   

Warning: AHS is definitely not for kids (language/violence/scary), so if you have some in the house this one is for late night viewing only.

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