To say the introduction of Tessa's mom on Suburgatory has been a long time coming is a little bit of an understatement.
"This was much later than we originally planned," creator and showrunner Emily Kapnek tells TVGuide.com of the debut of Tessa's long-gone mom Alex (played by Couples Retreat actress Malin Akerman). "We thought that we would get there by the [Season 1] finale and, at the same time, none of us were willing to rush that character in the door if we hadn't found the right person. It was really, really difficult, but Malin is the total package."
Wednesday's Thanksgiving episode of Suburgatory (9:30/8:30c on ABC) serves up a big helping of family drama when Alex, who left town when Tessa (Jane Levy) was just a baby, comes to Chatswin and tries to connect with her daughter. "In comes this estranged parent that George thought was out of the picture. He's dealing with all of the complicated feelings that come up with having to talk a good game and be supportive of something that he is highly skeptical about. He is really concerned about his kid getting hurt," Kapnek says of the episode. "[George is] saying all the right things to Tessa. He's doing all the right things, but you can just see right beneath the surface is all of this concern and doubt and anxiety."
George (Jeremy Sisto) may be wary of his former flame coming back into the picture, but Tessa is preparedfor Alex's entrance — or at least as much as she can be — after doing some major digging on her mom over the summer. After Tessa came face-to-face with her mom's mother in the Season 1 finale, Tessa clocked many hours back in New York City bonding with her grandmother and learning about Alex, including that she used to sing and play guitar. Tessa has even been sporting a vintage coat Alex used to wear.
Season 2 may seem early in a show's run to introduce such a pivotal character, but Kapnek insists it was an inevitable plot development. "In a town that is made to revolve around its mothers — it is the land of moms — to move into this community and not have a mom around, to not have that presence in your household, it is almost impossible to ignore," Kapnek says. "This is a community that doesn't have as many families that look like the Altmans, so Mother's Day was a natural breaking point for her. It was just a really painful realization that she had a mom that wasn't thinking about her much or so it would seem. It was just an organic thing."
The original plan was to introduce — or at least show a glimpse of — the mother in the finale, but Tessa instead came face-to-face with her grandmother when the show couldn't cast the part. "This is a very difficult role to step into and we needed this actor to be able to do everything. We needed her to be endearing, somehow relatable — we certainly didn't want her to be a villain," Kapnek says. "And we wanted Tessa to be enamored by her but at the same time, know that she's a far cry from the kind of parent George is. We knew coming into the season that when we found her, that's when we would do it and that's how it worked out."
Enter Akerman, who will appear on the Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes this season. "She is someone who is so strong comedically and also is such a strong actor. She has the chops to play the deeper stuff, the heart," Kapnek says. "It was so complicated and I think for Malin that's part of what appealed to her about the role. It was just an enormous challenge to try and bring this woman to life and she did an amazing job."
Despite the heavy storyline — this is a half-hour comedy after all — Kapnek assures Suburgatory fans there's still plenty of lighter moments to be found in Chatswin on Thanksgiving. "We balance those stories with pretty silly stuff. There is a really funny story going on at the Shays alongside that same episode. It's a really difficult thing to make those two stories mesh and not to feel like you're getting whiplash, but really we think of it as being a little bit of something for everyone because there's always a little bit of darkness to a comedy," Kapnek says. "I'm really super happy with the holiday episodes."
Suburgatory airs Wednesdays at 9:30/8:30c on ABC. Are you excited to meet Tessa's mom?