The script for a half-hour network single-camera comedy is usually around thirty pages in length. If you time each page of dialogue to take a minute to show, then that makes the perfect half-hour...if there were no commercial breaks to be built in. So naturally the story gets shaved down a little bit in the editing process, often leaving a number of funny lines or memorable moments for those "deleted scene" extras fans love so much on DVD box sets. It's rare to have an opportunity to go script-to-screen with a series episode past its pilot stage, but just a few months ago, that is exactly what ABC and Warner Brothers Television allowed LA TV Insider Examiner to do with Suburgatory.
We attended a table read of a very special episode entitled "Black Thai", in which Ryan (Parker Young) finds himself living with Malik's family (including guest star Tim Meadows as Malik's dad), and Tessa (Jane Levy) and Dalia (Carly Chaikin) have a dance-off after Tessa is upset about Dalia's PSAT reward. Meanwhile, Mr. Wolfe (Rex Lee) is hired to get Otis ready to apply to a prestigious "gifted" school because the Werners feel he may just be-- gasp!-- of average development for a baby of six months.
We also had a chance to screen the episode in advance and are happy to share a few, not-too-spoilery episode moments we were thrilled to see did make the cut from script to screen!
- PUDDING! The most detail-oriented Suburgatory fans will remember early in season one when Sheila (Ana Gasteyer) was making lunches for Tessa in the morning because she worried about George's (Jeremy Sisto) parenting, Tessa enjoyed the extra attention...until Sheila skimped on the pudding in one particular brown bag. Well, in "Black Thai," Sheila's beloved chocolate pudding becomes much more integral to the story when it's the one thing Ryan really misses about living at home with the Shays. Not only does it bond him to his (newly realized) adopted family, but it may just prove how perfect he and Tessa are for each other-- even if she has been reluctant to admit it.
- PLAYING WITH WORD SIMILARITIES. The main conflict of "Black Thai" deals with Tessa being upset over Dalia getting a car after receiving, what she assumes to be, a below average PSAT score. Tessa stresses that she, on the other hand, only received a card for her 10th percentile score. "Card. With a D." It's a simple joke, but one that relies on the subtlety of delivery, not the extreme ends of the gift spectrum, to land.
- DALIA NOT JUST A VIRAL VIDEO STAR BUT A "DOPE" DANCER, TOO. Before the break, Suburgatory showed off a new side to Dalia when she delivered a heartfelt, though still deadpan, viral video plea for her nanny to come back to her at Christmastime, but "Black Thai" takes things farther with her by introducing the idea that she has been in hip-hop dance training for years and therefore has achieved a certain level of "dopeness." We have to admit, on the page, we were slightly worried that this might show a completely new side to Dalia-- one in which she gave into the freedom of dance, losing herself, and perhaps even smiling! But thankfully, we can report that the show keeps her true to the unique Dalia we know and love. Her level of dance expressionism matches her usual level of expressionism but shows she is better rounded than we first expected. She also has a particularly pointed line towards Tessa that is just magic when after a bout of Tessa complaining, Dalia looks dead at her and tells her mother she "isn't really in the mood for sound right now."
- MR. WOLFE "TUTORS" OTIS. On the page, a scene in which Mr. Wolfe sits in front of the Werners' baby and grades in him "baby challenges" like rolling over and stacking cups is pretty much all action description. The amount of how many tests Mr. Wolfe gives Otis depends on just how funny the response the baby offers may be, which is a tricky thing for any show. But in "Black Thai," it is Lee's commitment that what he's doing is not crazy that really sells this scene that otherwise could just read like a guy playing with a baby.
- "WHERE DID GEORGE GET THAT CARDBOARD?" When George and Dallas' (Cheryl Hines) debate over parenting styles gets heated in Dalia's dance class, they, too, take to working it out with movement. George ends up breakdancing on the floor, to which Tessa makes the above, slightly broader joke than we have come to expect from this show. It's a slightly meta observation, but it's own outrageousness fits the scene in which it is set. Similarly, Ryan has always misused words and shown off that he's not the brightest bulb in Sheila's meticulous house. Yet, in the pivotal dinner scene between his new parents and his old ones here, those moments seem almost drawn out of his newfound confusion over who he is and his uncertainty of what's even right in the world, especially when he stumbles over "emancipation." They're not just being used as big, broad, sitcom-style laughs but a way to be sentimental and get to the heart of the character and the situation.
With any smart show with a clear point of view, it is easy to visualize exactly how scenes will play out with the actors in the roles, even when simply reading the words on the page. Suburgatory is the perfect example of that kind of success. Sitting at the table read, the words came to life, eliciting deep laughs, even without the added punch of the scenery and physicality. Mixing in those other elements for air are the icing on the already very sweet cake, showcasing television as a collaborative medium at its best.
Suburgatory airs on Wednesday nights at 9:30 p.m. on ABC. "Black Thai" airs on January 9th 2013.
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