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Fall 2012 Review: The Neighbors

9 Oct

The Neighbors is about a classic sitcom family (you know the type – largely functional and loving but having about one major disagreement per episode) which moves to a suburban development that turns out to be filled with friendly but super weird aliens.  It’s important to note first, that it’s not a very good show, but second that it’s uniquely unlike any other bad show that has debuted in the past few years.  It’s a show out of it’s decade; it feels much more like something from the ‘90s or ‘80s, and I don’t mean because of a laugh track or a multi-camera format, both of which it doesn’t have.  Rather, it’s just incredibly silly and wacky, like several old alien comedies, and relies on a lot of sight gags.

Most bad sitcoms largely consist of attempts to mix and match a combination of the classic multi-camera family/workplace sitcoms from the ‘90s and ‘80s (The Cosby Show), the edge, bawdiness and pop culture references of hipper successful comedies (The Office), and the youngish-friends-hanging-out boom that started from Friends (Friends).

The Neighbors doesn’t really take much from any of these, except from the classic family sitcom, with the family dynamics (men want to be men, unruly petulant teenager, woman are tired of not being listened to and respected).  It’s not edgy.  It’s not absurdist.  It’s silly.  It’s men are like men, alien or human, while woman are like woman, alien or human.  There’s a crazy amount of physical comedy and sight gags just based on the aliens being weird and not human like.  It’s an heir to the long but largely dormant tradition of silly aliens-in-suburbia comedy, including 3rd Rock from the Sun, Coneheads, Mork and Mindy, Alf.

They’ve got lots of kooky alien quirks.  Basically, a segment of an alien civilization is trapped on earth and all collectively moved into a New Jersey housing development.  The primary alien family has humorously named themselves after American sports stars (Larry Bird, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Reggie Jackson, Dick Butkus), and speak in all sorts of different accents.  They actually look like slimy green creatures, which they turn into when they clap their hands a certain way.  They travel around in weird colored clothing on golf carts, and like most classic humorous aliens, try to imitate humans, without entirely getting it right – they all bring the new family pies to welcome them in, leaving dozens of pies.  They read instead of eating, and have sex by staring at each other and raising their hands up.  They throw dishes out the window instead of cleaning them.  Aliens are super weird, guys.

It’s not subversive.   It’s not even relevant.  There are different ways to take on aliens humorously.  Darker absurbism and biting social commentary seem like they would be obvious possibilities, but silly is tried and true.  The humor is old-timey (or timeless, if you want to take that view) – the main plot of the first episode involves the human husband being jealous that the alien husband orders around his wife, while the human wife encourages the alien wife to stand up for herself.

Note:  Though I’ve barely talked about the cast here, the human father is Zeljko Ivanek honoree Lenny Venito.

Will I watch it again?  Nah, but I’m glad I did once; it’s not a success or good but it’s a breath of different air, which, well, it’s the kind of show that’s I’ll explain the pilot to someone humorously in a couple of years, whereas there will never be any reason to remember Partners.

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