The Bottom Line
- Stars Lenny Venito, Jami Gertz, Simon Templeman, Toks Olagundoye, Clara Mamet, Tim Jo, Ian Patrick, Max Charles, Isabella Cramp
- Created by Dan Fogelman
- Premiere airs Wednesday, September 26, 2012, at 9:30 p.m. EST on ABC; subsequent episodes air Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.
To be clear, The Neighbors is not a good show. There have been popular sitcoms in the past that have dealt with aliens in human society (Alf, 3rd Rock From the Sun), so it’s not inconceivable that The Neighbors could follow in those footsteps. But it’s certainly difficult to build an engaging show from such a silly premise: The Weaver family moves from New York City to a gated community in suburban New Jersey, only to discover that all of their neighbors are aliens from the planet Zabvron. They’re disguised as humans after being stranded on Earth many years ago, and they’ve all inexplicably named themselves after popular athletes.
The joke that the Weavers’ next-door neighbors, the couple that leads the Zabvronians, are named Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), gets old quickly, and it’s not any funnier when the show trots out more and more Zabvronian characters, all named after athletes (including Larry and Jackie’s kids, Dick Butkus and Reggie Jackson). That’s emblematic of the kind of humor that’s prevalent on The Neighbors: a rather silly joke that gets repeated over and over again, rapidly going from groan-worthy to irritating.
With a premise this absurd, The Neighbors could have turned into some sort of surrealist piece of avant-garde comedy, like a show on Adult Swim. But instead the creators play things completely straight, offering up heartwarming little lessons and lame jokes about how the Zabvronians don’t understand human civilization (there’s an incredibly labored bit in the second episode about Jackie thinking that food products like kids’ meals and Manwiches are made from actual people).
There’s a certain fascination to watching The Neighbors totally botch the execution of its premise, introducing weird Zabvronian traits and then using them for stock sitcom hijinks. The Weavers are a standard sitcom family, led by a bumbling dad (Lenny Venito) and an overprotective mom, and their interactions with the Zabvronians often involve them teaching the aliens about embodying gender stereotypes. It’s a pathetic, lazy way to approach the premise, and none of the actors seem to know quite how to handle their performances, so the show becomes a mix of low-key emoting and over-the-top shouting, neither of which works. The Neighbors may not be the worst new fall comedy of 2012, but it’s certainly the most frustrating.