In the US: Wednesdays, 8.30c/7.30c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired by anyone in the world except Canada
What’s the funniest thing in the world? In the whole wide world? Go on. You know the answer. No?
It’s foreigners, of course. Foreign people who don’t know our ways and customs. Maybe they have an accent or don’t know how to use a hosepipe correctly.
That’s comedy gold, right there, that is.
Now, there’s a theory that when the economy is bad, people like escapist TV. And with networks currently trying to capture in a bottle the magic that made some of their – and other networks’ – previous hits so popular so they can pour it into a whole new set of shows, what better plan for ABC, home of Modern Family, Suburgatory and The Middle, than to create yet another show set in suburbia, except with some escapist foreigners to laugh at instead of Americans: in this case, aliens with English accents who own an entire street in the middle of suburbia, until two of them move out and a human couple from New Jersey move in.
Yes, aliens. The ultimate foreigners. Comedy platinum, right?
Ignore the fact that “aliens live next door to us in suburbia” was The Coneheads. Ignore the fact that “normal person moves into a strange neighbourhood and discovers it’s full of sci-fi weirdos” is both Eureka and ABC’s own The Gates. Ignore the fact that these aliens and everything about them are basically the same, bar the accents, as the ones from Galaxy Quest.
Ignore those facts and focus on this: The Neighbors is comedy gold that you bought from a pawn shop, only to discover it was really electroplated nickel.
That bottle of magic? Floating down a river towards Fox, right now.
Here’s a trailer.
Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito) just wants the best for his wife Debbie (Jami Gertz) and their three kids. That’s why he’s moving them to Hidden Hills, New Jersey, a gated community complete with its own golf course. Marty is certain that their new home will be a dream come true. And then, they meet the neighbors.
The residents of Hidden Hills are a little… different. Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) introduces himself as the “leader” of the community. Then, he presents his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) and their two sons (yes, they’re named after famous athletes — Dick Butkus and Reggie Jackson).
After Debbie and Marty frantically try to make sense of the weird neighbors — very European? A cult? Amish athletes? — they discover that the entire Hidden Hills community is comprised of aliens from the planet Zabvron. Turns out the Zabvronians have been holed up in Hidden Hills for the past 10 years, awaiting instructions from back home. And the Weavers are the first humans who have ever lived amongst them.
At first, the Weavers are ready to cut and run. But the aliens seem harmless enough. And there is a lot of closet space… So, they decide to stay and help their new neighbors adapt to life on this confusing planet we call home.
As the Weavers and the aliens face the struggles of everyday life together, they discover that some things — the ups and downs of marriage, the desire to be a good parent and raise a happy family — are universal. Intergalactic, even. And the Weavers realize they’ve found an ally in the family next door… even if they do cry out of their ears.
The Neighbors stars Jami Gertz as Debbie Weaver, Lenny Venito as Marty Weaver, Simon Templeman as Larry Bird, Toks Olagundoye as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Clara Mamet as Amber Weaver, Tim Jo as Reggie Jackson, Ian Patrick as Dick Butkus, Max Charles as Max Weaver and Isabella Cramp as Abby Weaver.
The Neighbors was created by Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled, and Crazy, Stupid, Love), who is also an executive producer with Aaron Kaplan (GCB, Terra Nova), Jeff Morton (Modern Family) and Chris Koch (Workaholics, Modern Family), who also directed the pilot. The Neighbors is from ABC Studios.
Is it any good?
It’s not without the occasional funny, but at best, this is ‘broad’ comedy, stupid, unoriginal, poorly acted, joke-free piffle at worst.
The basic problem, apart from most of its jokes being situational one-offs – all the aliens are named after famous American athletes (well, famous to Americans anyway), which is kind of funny the first time, but doesn’t exactly have much mileage to it – is that there are no proper characters, just stereotypes and punchlines waiting for their set-ups. The men try to do the ‘man of the house’ routine and fail, the women don’t try the ‘woman of the house’ routine and don’t like it, human wife encouraging revolution by the alien wife. The human kids are just walking bags of rudeness, while the alien kids are meek and subservient, until encouraged to be otherwise by the human kids.
Insert whatever nationality you want instead of ‘alien’ and you have standard 1970s US comedy gold, reheated for the 2010s with better special effects.
Where there is comedy, it’s in the deadpan performances by Simon Templeman and Toks Olagundoye, the more imaginative attempts at alien culture (the aliens sleep in Invasion of the Bodysnatcher pods), the allowance of the aliens to transgress cultural norms (the two adult aliens literally fight to decide who’s won an argument) and the juxtaposition of standard science-fiction tropes with suburban normality, such as the idea of keeping the Terribly Important Alien Communication Device in the hall cupboard.
But there’s only slim pickings to be had. You have to wade through an awful lot of rubbish to get those few jokes. The human characters are actually surprisingly nasty and stupid, particularly the kids, so you’re not laughing with them or at even them and their small-mindedness, just disliking them. And you just know that every week, the aliens are going to be having trouble with escalators, cars, laundry, et al, because different is funny. That’s all you need. Different.
Not jokes. Not well written characters.