October 4, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “The Neighbors”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

THE NEIGHBORS:  Wednesday 8:30PM on ABC

Previously… on THE NEIGHBORS:  The Weaver family, consisting of dad Marty (Lenny Venito), mom Debbie (Jami Gertz), teen Amber (Clara Mamet) and kids Abby and Max (Isabella Cramp and Max Charles) move into a gated suburban community in New Jersey… only to discover that everyone else in town is actually an alien (the outer space kind, not the undocumented kind) in disguise.  These creatures cry out of their ears, revert to their lizard-like otherworldly selves when they clap their hands, and have odd names, evidenced by the Weaver’s new next-door neighbors, Larry Bird (Simon Templeman), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), and their children Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) and Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick).

Episode 2:  At least for the foreseeable future, every episode of The Neighbors is likely to be a variation on the original high-concept premise.  In the first regular season episode, written by series creator Dan Fogelman and directed by Chris Koch, the aliens next door decided to begin sending Reggie and Dick to human school, and as a consequence accompanied the Weavers to a shopping mall for the first time.

The Neighbors really only has two notes to play, and in both its episodes to date, it’s played them over and over.  Either one party or the other is gaping with shock over what it sees as the weirdness of its counterpart (this week it was mostly the aliens reacting to mall masseurs and “the Republic of Bananas”), or the two are bonding over their underlying shared similarities (this week emphasizing a mother’s concerns for her children).

Since the show is mostly devoid of laughs, there’s far too much time to consider what utter nonsense it is even on its own terms.  It’s clear that the aliens have ingested huge amounts of human pop culture, able to quote commercials and TV shows at will.  Yet somehow, despite this intensive exposure over years, they’ve managed never to glimpse the inside of a shopping mall?  Or to know that fast food Kids Meals aren’t manufactured out of children?  Or to understand that walking around in public stark naked except for a sports coat isn’t commonly accepted behavior?  Obviously it’s all meant to be silly, but the lack of any grounded honesty to the premise kills what are supposed to be the jokes.  (Also:  Pi isn’t the same thing as infinity.)

The performers are all perfectly skillful (this week Olagundoye had a showcase moment trying out different accents), but unavoidably find themselves repeating variations of the same gags in the same way.  What’s meant to be a distinctive premise plays as predictable and tired.

The Neighbors had its first real ratings test tonight, after a stunt run following the season premiere of Modern Family (where it lost 40% of its lead-in).  It’s a well-intentioned, good-humored show, but unfortunately a very bad one.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Catch Up With “3rd Rock From the Sun” on Netflix


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."