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Review: In ABC's mild comedy 'The Neighbors,' aliens are people too

In a twist on the alien sitcom, a human family makes its home in the midst of a community of extraterrestrials in ABC's placidly amiable 'The Neighbors.'

September 25, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • From left: Toks Olagundoye, Lenny Venito, Jamie Gertz and Simon Templeman find interplanetary common ground in ABC's "The Neighbors"
From left: Toks Olagundoye, Lenny Venito, Jamie Gertz and Simon Templeman… (ABC/Peter "Hopper" Stone )

Given that it concerns extraterrestrials living in a gated community in suburban New Jersey, "The Neighbors," which premieres Wednesday on ABC, is surprisingly mild and predictable.

That is not a criticism, exactly. Indeed, except for the odd fleeting pun too rude to print here (contact me privately) and alien lovemaking too abstract even to register as sex, it is just the sort of family-friendly sitcom for which disgruntled parents reportedly long. Created by Dan Fogelman ("Cars," "Tangled"), it is enjoyable if not impressive — not bad, and almost good. The jokes won't knock you off your feet, but the players do some nice things around them.

It also fits companionably into the current ABC programming profile, with its accent on domestic comedy. It takes no work to see it, in fact, as an interplanetary variation on the network's "Suburgatory," which is also about moving from the city to the suburbs and getting to understand the strange creatures that live there.

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The twist is that, where in most such comedies — and, yes, there is a tradition — the alien or aliens are strangers among humans, stranded or simply forgotten on Earth, here it is the people who are the odd beings out: The Weavers (Jamie Gertz, Lenny Venito, children Clara Mamet, Max Charles and Isabella Cramp) have moved, unwittingly and through the special physics of situation comedy, into a place where they are the only beings not from planet Zabvron.

Their alien neighbors take their names from earthly athletes: the family next door includes father Larry Bird (Simon Templeman), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) and their children Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) and Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick). Their true shape, when revealed, falls somewhere between Sea Monkeys, as advertised in comic books, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but cute.

They eat by reading, cry through their ears, speak in British accents "simply because they made your guttural dialect sound sophisticated." And they say things like, "Welcome to my rest room" instead of "bed room" because it's a room for resting and they sleep in pods, not beds.

TIMELINE: Fall TV premieres and trailers

The husbands and wives bond separately over what they see as a lack of appreciation and a lack of power. Everyone worries about the kids. ("We too bear the burden of an unhappy teenager.")

The real-world point of all this, apart from the metaphors of immigration and assimilation, which are there if you want them, is that despite our seemingly incompatible philosophies and practices — and notwithstanding mother Gertz's worries that her new alien friends might want to abduct her children or eat them all — we are all the same under the skin.

Whatever conflict the scripts hopefully mine for hilarity — and this being a sitcom, there is a lot of argument ("I live within 10 yards of the biggest schmucks on two different planets," a frustrated Gertz at one point declares") — "The Neighbors" is more about how we can all get along, even to the point of mawkishness at times. But those times are brief, and they pass.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'The Neighbors'

Where: ABC

When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-PG-D (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for suggestive dialogue)


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