Sci-fi comedies aren't exactly a common trend on television right now. These days, it's all about families or twenty/thirty-somethings. Then again, that's been the trend for years. The last time we saw a really successful alien-focused comedy on television was probably 3rd Rock from the Sun. By comparison to Bonnie and Terry Turner's 1996 comedy, ABC's new series The Neighbors doesn't measure up.
Created by Dan Fogelman, The Neighbors stars Lenny Venito and Jami Gertz as Marty and Debbie Weaver, a couple who move their kids to a gated New Jersey community called Hidden Hills. Little do they know, the place is fully inhabited by aliens in hiding. And so begins the Weaver family's whacky adventure in their new neighborhood.
Simon Templeman plays Larry Bird, the leader of the aliens. Toks Olagundoye's character Jackie Joyner Kersee is his wife. And their two sons are named Dick Butkus and Reggie Jackson. Starting to see the theme among the names? Obviously, they've named themselves after famous athletes, which adds its own layer of weird to the already weird neighborhood. While the aliens have lived on earth for a decade and figured out how to appear as humans, behaviorally, they fall short. But with their new human neighbors around, we see them taking steps to adapt even further while they await instructions from their home planet.
From the trailer, The Neighbors looked like a goofy sitcom, and I wondered if it would be a good fit for ABC's fantastic, family-focused comedy block on Wednesday nights. While it does fit the family theme, I'm thinking the tone is a bit too silly and offbeat to follow Modern Family. Watching the first couple of episodes, I wondered if the show might have done better to take a more subtle approach to exploring the concept of alien's trying to adapt to suburban family life. There's definitely something to the idea. Part of what made 3rd Rock so funny was watching how the aliens reacted to aspects of human life that we don't even think twice about. And there is some of that in The Neighbors, but it's hard to get around the theatrics of the situation to take it all that "seriously." Then again, some viewers may not want to take their comedy seriously, so who knows?
The Neighbors has some redeeming qualities. There are definitely some funny moments, and as I've been a fan of Jami Gertz' screaming since Twister, I was glad to see fresh demonstrations of her terror in the first two episodes of The Neighbors. The former Still Standing star is as funny as ever in this new series, and I've been hoping to see her in another starring role in a comedy, but I'm just not sure about this one.
It's been more than a decade since 3rd Rock from the Sun aired, and in that time, a lot has changed in our society. Enough so that we're definitely due for another series that explores human life from an outside and humorous perspective. Maybe this idea is an all-or-nothing approach where it's impossible to shy away from the absurdity of aliens-on-earth in a sitcom setting, but I think - considering the tone of a lot of today's popular sitcoms - they could have taken a smarter approach to the comedy and not tried so hard to point out how weird the aliens are by comparison to the humans (or how weird the humans seem to the aliens). Following Modern Family, I'm not sure this is going to work. But then again, it's following Modern Family (and later The Middle), so I'll probably stick it out for at least a few episodes to see how the show settles in. At the very least, the series should benefit from its lead-in. Whether or not people stick around for it remains to be seen.
The Neighbors premieres tonight (Wednesday, Sept 26) at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
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