[07/16/12 - 08:20 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "The Neighbors" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Dan Fogelman; directed by Chris Koch; TRT: 22:51)

The network's description: "How well do you know your neighbors? Meet the Weavers, Debbie (Jami Gertz) and Marty (Lenny Venito). Marty, in hopes of providing a better life for his wife and three kids, recently bought a home in Hidden Hills, a gated New Jersey townhome community with its own golf course. Hidden Hills is so exclusive that a house hasn't come on the market in 10 years. But one finally did and the Weavers got it! It's clear from day one that the residents of Hidden Hills are a little different. For starters, their new neighbors all have pro-athlete names like Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), Dick Butkis (Ian Patrick) and Larry Bird (Simon Templeman).

Over dinner, Marty and his family discover that their neighbors receive nourishment through their eyes by reading books, rather than eating. The Weavers soon learn that the entire community is comprised of aliens from Zabvron, where the men bear children and everyone cries green goo from their ears. The Zabvronians have been stationed on Earth for the past 10 years, disguised as humans, awaiting instructions from home, and the Weavers are the first humans they've had the opportunity to know. As it turns out, the pressures of marriage and parenthood are not exclusive to planet Earth. Two worlds will collide with hilarious consequences as everyone discovers they can "totally relate" and learn a lot from each other."

What did they leave out? A lot of the aliens' names have changed from the original script, presumably for legal reasons: Reggie Jackson was Joe Montana, Larry Bird was Wilt Chamberlain and Dick Butkis was Lennox Lewis.

The plot in a nutshell: It's been 10 years since a group of quirky aliens called Zabvronians took human form and settled into a gated community in New Jersey. Frustrated with the lack of further orders, one of the families decides to take off, leaving a rare vacancy in their neighborhood. Enter the Weavers - hen-pecked dad Marty (Lenny Venito), exasperated mom Debbie (Jami Gertz), annoyed teenager Amber (Clara Mamet), middle child Max (Max Charles) and youngest Abby (Isabella Cramp) - the human family that fills said void, completely unaware of what they're moving next door to. Spearheading the welcome wagon is Larry Bird (Simon Templeman), the aliens' leader, his dutiful wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), their precocious son Dick Butkis (Ian Patrick) and a dozen or so other residents, all of whom wear matching clothes and walk in a triangle-based formation.

They're an odd bunch to say the least, from their English accents ("We chose them simply because they made your guttural dialect sound sophisticated," Larry notes), to their overzealous use of human customs (literally everyone brings over a pie) to just generally behaving like they're members of a cult. And it only gets stranger from there: a dinner invite from Larry reveals they only "eat" with their minds by reading books ("I heard about this, I think it's European," Marty notes), Jackie throws dirty dishes out the window and, most notably, Max and Abby are traumatized after seeing Dick's true form.

From here the Zabvronians have no choice but to come clean about their true origins, news which the Weavers actually take in stride, after of course the screams stop and the realization sets in - due to Marty's poor financial decisions - they can't move without taking a huge loss on their house. Meanwhile, the Zabvronians have their own problems - Jackie's experiences with Debbie have awakened the idea she doesn't have to follow Larry's orders, especially about when to recharge the Pupar to call home (don't ask). Ultimately, both clans realize - if only because this is a TV show - they may learn a thing or two from each other.

What works: Oh doctor...

What doesn't: ...what did I just watch? "I don't get it" may be the understatement of the year after watching this one as I literally needed a few minutes to compose my thoughts, not to mention find someone else who'd seen it to ask if I just imagined the last 22 minutes and change. A bouillabaisse of "The Stepford Wives," 1940s doo-wop, "Men in Black"-esque production design, the least funny parts of "3rd Rock from the Sun," technobabble that would make "Star Trek: Voyager" blush and a generally cringe-inducing tone, "The Neighbors" is either a curve ball so far out of my comfort zone I'm completely bewildered or a complete disaster in the making. Much like last season's "Work It," there's the prevailing sense it's the latter but it's not inconceivable others will feel differently.

For me though, its endlessly clumsy attempts at humor run the gamut of eye-rolling puns (Larry: "Oh dear, I fear our little Dick may have exposed himself again."); telegraphed silliness (Larry, as green ooze leaks from his ears: "This is how we cry, you should have seen me when I was pregnant."); lifeless quips (Marty: "I promise you he's not an alien, he's just a little strange that's all." Max: "Dad, I go to public school, I know strange. Dick Butkis is an alien!") and clunky double entendres (Larry: "I'm going to pleasure you all night." Jackie: "I thought we were out of asbestos?"). The most astonishing part is that this show comes from Dan Fogelman, the screenwriter behind the wonderful "Crazy, Stupid, Love.," not to mention "Lipshitz Saves the World," one of the best pilots never to reach the airwaves. I just can't stop asking...

The bottom line: ...what did I just watch again?

  [july 2012]  


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