Comedy and science fiction is something that rarely works on television. Not since 3rd Rock from the Sun has the family sitcom formula featured aliens, but The Neighbors is up to the task, this time pairing a human family with a group of aliens (disguised as human beings) stranded in a gated golf community called Hidden Hills.
The pilot begins as an alien group politely moves in to a gated community to wait for contact from their home planet Zabvron. Why they were traveling to Earth to begin with isn’t revealed, but that will likely come into play as the series progresses. After 10 years of waiting, two of the aliens get sick of their life and leave the community. Enter the Weavers – led by mother and father Marty and Debbie (played by Lenny Venito and Jami Gertz respectively) – who move into the proverbial hornet’s nest.
Thankfully these hornets are merely quirky aliens who, for some reason, have not yet become acclimated to many aspects of human life after being on the planet for 10 years. But the Weavers, including teenage daughter Amber (Clara Mamet) and youngsters Max (Max Charles) and Abby (Isabella Cramp), still have a lot to get used to with their new otherworldly neighbors: The men have the babies, they all nourish their bodies with reading instead of food, and they leak green liquid out of their ears when crying. It’s a lot of silliness, but the writing packs some wit along with the goofball nature of the aliens being simply weird. A lot of this works thanks to solid comedic performances from the parental leads on both sides.
The Weavers and the aliens – who have taken the names of famous athletes like Larry Bird (Simon Templeman), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) and their children Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) and Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick) – soon become cautiously friendly, realizing that at their core, being from different planets doesn’t make them all that different from each other. It’s a simple concept, but again the writing and acting work together to make The Neighbors surprisingly enjoyable.
Though the series is light thematically (it’s also not too dissimilar from ABC’s Suburgatory), it’s not hard to dig in and find metaphors for immigration and naturalization. Of course, it’s easy to gloss over those aspects because of the broad comedy on display. If the series establishes itself quickly though, there may be more opportunity to present the ever-changing face of the nuclear family in the same way that Modern Family and now The New Normal have done on network television.
Created by Cars, Tangled and Crazy Stupid Love writer Dan Fogelman, The Neighbors feels like it came from the ’90s, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a certain charm to the sometimes cheesy family dynamic that blossoms between the Weavers and our alien invaders. However, the witty comedy never quite reaches the quality of 3rd Rock from the Sun or even other quirky series from ABC’s recent past like Pushing Daisies. Coneheads comes to mind as a good comparison, and it’s clear that this series definitely drew some inspiration from the Saturday Night Live sketches turned feature film. Thankfully though,The Neighbors has the chance to find a larger audience as it’s easily meant for the whole family, without sacrificing comedic quality (in most cases).
The Neighbors is a surprisingly funny comedy series, reminiscent of the kind of laughs families received with Dinosaurs on ABC back in the 90s, but with a contemporary edge from a proven writer. Fans of Fogelman’s work on Crazy Stupid Love – which handled the trials and tribulations of a broken family and and romance with some charismatic and genuine writing – may find themselves enjoying this sitcom despite its sci-fi elements.
The Neighbors airs Wednesdays at 9:30 on ABC.