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New fall season: ABC's teenage wasteland is otherwise called Suburgatory

A dad and his unhappy daughter are front and center in Suburgatory. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 28th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Jane Levy, Cheryl Hines, Carly Chaikin, Allie Grant, Alan Tudyk
Produced by: Emily Kapnek, Michael Fresco

Oh those kids.

They drive their parents crazy on The Middle and sorely vex them on Modern Family. Now ABC is copping more teen 'tudes with Suburgatory, which will be bridging its two established Wednesday night comedies.

Manhattan also is getting a full-blown workout in this new fall season. Innumerable characters are either living there or leaving against their will. Sixteen-year-old Tessa Altman (Jane Levy) is of the latter species. Single dad George (Jeremy Sisto) first finds an unopened box of condoms in her bedroom. Then he prematurely evacuates -- at least as far as she's concerned.

Safe, sound, sunlit surburbia is their destination. And the sitcom embellishments include an abundance of pink, ultra-immaculate lawns, boob jobs for all the moms, sugar-free Red Bulls for their kids and George as an incoming object of desire.

"Pretty ironic that a boxful of rubbers landed me in a town full of plastic," Tessa bitingly narrates. There's a lot of that going around, too, with voice-overs setting the table -- and re-setting it -- on a bunch of freshman comedies and dramas. It's easier than staging scenes and also saves on the time and money it takes to film them.

Suburgatory, which like its Wednesday night running mates is without a laugh track, has some nice touches in its passably amusing opening episode. It also joins the likes of 2 Broke Girls, Whitney and Free Agents in its zeal to be sexplicit.

A scene at a shopping mall includes a rather jarring exchange among Tessa, incumbent surburban mom Dallas Royce (Cheryl Hines) and her spoiled teen daughter, Dalia (Carly Chaikin).

Mom first marvels at a pair of skimpy "boyfriend shorts" before Dalia says they'll "show off my belly ring."

"You know what else that will show off," Tessa fires back. "Your vagina."

Meanwhile, this is the first comedy series for Sisto, who previously has played Jesus in a CBS miniseries and an oft-creepy schizophrenic on HBO's Six Feet Under. He gets through the opening episode in pretty good shape, walking a tightrope between being Tessa's punching bag and a would-be bedmate for Dallas and other married or single lonely hearts. Architect George apparently hasn't had much action since "my mom ducked out shortly after they cut the umbilical cord," as Tessa puts it in one of her narratives.

Dad and daughter almost succumb to a full-out shouting match after she keeps calling him "George" while insolently sipping a can of Red Bull at the dinner table instead of eating the meal he's prepared. She storms out and he's left agreeing that he's ruined his only kid's life. The next morning at the breakfast table, she's reading "How to Become An Emancipated Minor" while he opts for "Is Adoption for You?"

But Tessa of course thaws a bit before the closing credits roll. Maybe suburbia and its over-the-top moms aren't so bad after all. Maybe dad deserves the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I'm amazed that an olive branch comes in the form of a gaudy pink bra bought for Tessa by Dallas, a woman "who knows a thing or two about bras."

Let's see how it all develops. For now, Levy is an OK mix of insolence and vulnerability, Hines is her usual hoot and Sisto shows signs of being nimble on his feet in an arena where he's still learning the ropes.

GRADE: B-minus