Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Neighbors'
[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show: "The Neighbors" (ABC) [I want to add a "u" to the title, British-style.]
The Pitch: "You know what would be weird?" "What?" "If you moved into a gated community made up entirely of aliens." "I'm with you so far. Give me more." "Well, that's about it." "Sold."
Quick Response: If you're doing what is effectively a one-joke premise, it's an absolute imperative that every subjoke within that single joke lands before fatigue sets in. In "The Neighbors," a one-joke premise if ever there was one, every joke is delivered with an obviousness so thudding it's like you're being beaten about the head with a baseball bat by Reggie Jackson. Reggie Jackson is the name of one of the aliens. Because they take their Earth names from sports figures. But he's Asian. So it's funny. And an Asian kid named Reggie Jackson is as inherently hilarious as a British woman named Jackie Joyner Kersee. Because the actual Jackie Joyner Kersee isn't British. There are actually only four or five jokes in the "Neighbors" pilot, but they get repeated in five or six permutations apiece until you get it. Aliens are chauvinistic. Aliens cry green goo from their ears. Etc. The new humans in the neighborhood think that because the aliens are weird, they must be European. Oy, the hilarity. And every time somebody does something strange, one of the humans have to point at the strange thing they're doing and say, "You're doing something strange, with that strange thing you're doing" and the response is always, "Oh, this is the way we...something-or-other on our planet" Whatever. And somewhere somebody made the mistake of thinking that because the alien-stars are all dead-pan and laconic, the humans got to all be broad and grating. I'd tell Jami Gertz to turn her performance down by two or three notches and Lenny Venito to turn his performance down by as many notches as he has available. It's a single-cam show, but the human family is stuck doing multi-cam mugging. The biggest problem, one that's at least theoretically fixable, is that none of it means anything. The aliens aren't satirizing anything. The humans aren't satirizing anything. The depiction of the suburbs is too broad and amorphous to satirize anything. It's an alien-suburban comedy that has nothing to say about life in 2012. Or 1984. Or any time. Give me a failed satire that has targets any day. It's one thing to want to be timeless and to not want your show to be stuck with any specific point of view or temporal framework. I don't believe that's effective, since I believe that specificity always makes things better and, in fact, more universal. But being timelessly unfunny is just about the worst thing you can be. Heck, even "Work It" tried to be about the human condition in 2011 [or 2008, or whenever somebody read that "mancession" article].
Desire To Watch Again: Desire? None. This is a disconcertingly and sadly unfunny show that really gives no indication of approaches it could take that would be improvements. But I have a willingness to watch it again. ABC has given "The Neighbors" an undeserved gift time slot and I'm sure to stick around after "Modern Family" to watch at least a couple more episodes.