You have to feel a little bad for Suburgatory. I feel like fans of ABC’s Wednesday night comedies have written off the show as a cheap ratings ploy to keep Modern Family’s huge audience from changing the channel. Give it a chance people: the story of a Manhattan family trying to navigate suburban life is sweet, breezy and, most importantly, funny.
Ladies, there's one solid reason for you to check out the show: Parker Young. He plays Ryan Shay, Tessa Altman’s (Jane Levy) boyfriend and the dumb jock with a heart of gold. Think Finn from Glee if he had never found the joys of show choir. Luckily for Young, he has brains underneath the jock exterior.
The Star of Tucson
Young was born in Tucson, Arizona, aka “where dreams go to die” according to Hamlet 2.
“I loved it,” said the 24-year-old actor. “I spent a lot of time thinking I was an explorer in the desert. I remember suiting up in camo and spending time out in the desert climbing around on rocks and mountains. It’s f***ing miserably hot but it’s really nice. It was a great place to grow up.”
He spent his high school years playing running back on the football team and participating in theater. He only ever had a chance of sticking with one of those activities.
“I was never that big, just fast,” he said of his football skills. “I don’t think I ever had it in my heart to keep playing. I loved it but it was never what I really wanted to do. I also started getting a bunch of concussions toward the end of my high school career. I just knew it wasn’t safe for me at that point.”
Los Angeles has made him miss his short-lived football career.
“The thing I miss is being on a team with guys all pursuing the same thing and working together,” he admitted. “Out here [in Los Angeles] that’s a foreign concept. Everyone’s pursuing their own thing. It’s a very selfish town.”
Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard
California Or Bust
Young had every intention of going to college. His top choices were USC and UCLA.
“In high school I took school very seriously,” he said. “I did the whole college application process and all the SAT prep and I was really going to college. I really wanted to be in Southern California. I think subconsciously I was called to be near Hollywood.”
Unfortunately, Young didn’t get into either of those schools. He did get into Pepperdine in Mailbu but not until the second semester. With eight months to kill before school started, he decided to move to Los Angeles early. That’s when he started getting acting and modeling gigs. He eventually decided not to go to Pepperdine and stick with what was working.
“It was hard at first,” Young said. “I was jealous of all my friends in college experiencing fraternities and all that stuff. I still now feel like it would’ve been an amazing thing to experience. I just went down a slightly different path.”
Before landing a steady job on Suburgatory, Young guest starred on shows like Days of Our Lives, CSI: NY and Mad Men. As someone who just powered through all five seasons of Mad Men in a month, I had to ask him about that experience. He played a high school kid cock-blocking Pete Campbell at a driver’s education class in an episode directed by Roger Sterling himself, John Slattery.
“It was a great experience and very different from Suburgatory,” Young said. “I was struck by the detail that they’d really put into everything. Everything had to be of that time and look and feel right. They really take pride in that show.”
The Jock And The Rebel
It’s ironic that Young wound up playing a dumb jock on Suburgatory because he absolutely hates that stereotype. Considering he was one himself, it’s hard to blame him. He has done everything in his power to give Ryan Shay some complexity.
“I have so much fun with this dude,” he gushed about embodying his character. “ I think more people should aspire to be as loving as he is and as kind-hearted and generous and enthusiastic and all that stuff. He’s like a superhero. It’s been an interesting progression with this character. I tried to give him a lot of heart. Now he’s just like a f***ing Labrador.”
Ryan and Tessa are the definition of the odd couple. She’s the snarky, too-smart-for-own-good individualist. He represents everything she hates about the suburbs: entitlement, inherent douchiness and the mental aptitude of an advanced squirrel. But, like everyone else, she is eventually swayed by his sweetness and rock-hard abs.
“Ryan has always loved her,” said Young. “I felt really happy that it moved in this direction. Ultimately Ryan is going to college so there are going to be some issues. We’re finishing up season two so Ryan has some good and bad stuff happening to him in the last couple of episodes.”
Foreshadowing: nice touch. Another nice touch with Ryan’s character (spoiler alert!!!!) is the way it turned out he is actually the adopted son of yuppie neighbors Sheila (Ana Gasteyer) and Fred (Chris Parnell) Shay. Young couldn’t have been happier about that development:
“When I read the script and found out he was adopted I thought it was so perfect. It kind of opened him up. It’s like he was living in a bubble and finding out he was adopted was the perfect way to humanize him and make him reassess everything. To find out you’re adopted at 17 or 18 is f***ed up. It added depth to him.”
Young clearly loves everything about working on Suburgatory. He had some nice words for Emily Kapnek, the show’s creator.
“Emily’s a f***in’ genius,” he said. “I’m so impressed and inspired by this chick. She has a whole crazy world in her head.”
It must be something to work on the set of Suburgatory surrounded by comedy veterans like Gasteyer, Parnell, Cheryl Hines, and Rex Lee (Lloyd on Entourage).
“It’s so amazing,” Young said. “They’re such great people. I lucked out because this is the first show I’m on. These people are so nice and fun. This is the closest thing to a football team I’ve found.”
Awwwwww. Young found his team the old-fashioned way: hard work and paying his dues. His easy likability, comedic timing and clear comfort with dropping F-bombs should keep him employed for a while. Young had a lot of advice for all the aspiring actors and actresses trying to do something similar with their lives:
“The biggest thing is to just really go for it. Come out here and really make it your whole life. Get into acting classes and do things that scare you. Keep trying to grow and expand and get yourself more comfortable. And don’t give up if it’s what you want to do. If you keep working hard I believe the dots will start to connect.”
Photo: by Lesley Bryce