Every year the new fall television offerings bring at least one quirky new series to the air. Last season it was ABC’s Work It, which saw the guy from Prison Break dress like a girl for money (that’s a quick summary), and this season it’s The Neighbors, also on ABC. The Neighbors swaps employed cross-dressers with a community of aliens, in hopes of creating television’s quirky new comedy. But are aliens too goofy for primetime television, even if the series itself is quite good?
Television’s new Martian comedy comes from the mind of Dan Fogelman, writer of Disney’s Tangled and Pixar’s Cars (& Cars 2), among other things, so The Neighbor’s creator, executive producer and writer certainly know how to craft a story, whether it be about long-haired princesses or anthropomorphic automobiles. For all intents and purposes, The Neighbors is a successful comedy, mixing silly alien jargon with what’s essentially a series about family, only from more than one world.
Lenny Venito is a familiar face from film and television who handles the lead role nicely. The series is rounded out by an impressive group of child actors and alien counterparts, helping to make some of the more otherworldly moments more comedicly palatable. However, the question has to be asked… Will funny on television be a big hit or flop for ABC?
In today’s age of television, niche comedies are always a difficult sell. While a quirky alien comedy might find a place on a cable network with a late-night timeslot, The Neighbors isn’t attempting to be a niche series. It’s attempting to be a generally accessible family comedy. While similar series 3rd Rock from the Sun may have rocketed to success in past years, the landscape of television is completely different now, making its genre return potentially difficult.
Television now is generally a grounded medium. Superhero series and other supernatural tales do exist, but most series still present a relatively-realistic representation of familiarity, even from those series driven by eccentricities. What makes The Neighbors different is that it’s attempting to combine a completely relatable family comedy with the “bleep-bloop” aspects of living in an alien community – which it does relatively well. Instead of the turkey being ruined, the “blarp-blarp” is “flarbind.”
In addition to whatever made-up words that will populate the series tales, audiences also have to come to grips with having much of the cast named after famous athletes. Even though conversations about the hilarities of Larry Bird and Reggie Jackson might make the workplace more fun, it’s going to be a bit difficult for some people to get to a point where they’re allowing themselves to be concerned about how Reggie Jackson will do on his first day of high school, or whether Larry Bird will get his promotion, in season 3.
In its favor, almost anything can happen on television – literally. What sounds goofy one day is part of pop culture the next, so Reggie Jackson and Larry Bird may have long career ahead of them. If there was going to be any series to bring back aliens to primetime comedy, The Neighbors is it.
The Neighbors airs on Wednesdays @ 9:30pm on ABC.