Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ABC Fall Pilot Review: The Neighbors - Premieres September 26; The Beverly Hillbillies 50th Anniversary Marathon on MeTV Network

The Neighbors

The Neighbors - Wednesdays 8:30PM ET/PT on ABC
Premieres Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 9:30PM ET/PT


Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito) just wants the best for his wife Debbie (Jami Gertz) and their three kids. That's why he's moving them to Hidden Hills, New Jersey, a gated community complete with its own golf course. Marty is certain that their new home will be a dream come true. And then, they meet the neighbors.

The residents of Hidden Hills are a little… different. Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) introduces himself as the "leader" of the community. Then, he presents his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) and their two sons (yes, they're named after famous athletes -- Dick Butkus and Reggie Jackson).

After Debbie and Marty frantically try to make sense of the weird neighbors -- very European? A cult? Amish athletes? -- they discover that the entire Hidden Hills community is comprised of aliens from the planet Zabvron. Turns out the Zabvronians have been holed up in Hidden Hills for the past 10 years, awaiting instructions from back home. And the Weavers are the first humans who have ever lived amongst them.

At first, the Weavers are ready to cut and run. But the aliens seem harmless enough. And there is a lot of closet space… So, they decide to stay and help their new neighbors adapt to life on this confusing planet we call home.

As the Weavers and the aliens face the struggles of everyday life together, they discover that some things -- the ups and downs of marriage, the desire to be a good parent and raise a happy family -- are universal. Intergalactic, even. And the Weavers realize they’ve found an ally in the family next door... even if they do cry out of their ears.

Cast Details:

Jami Gertz as Debbie Weaver
* Lenny Venito as Marty Weaver
* Simon Templeman as Larry Bird
* Toks Olagundoye as Jackie Joyner-Kersee
* Clara Mamet as Amber Weaver
* Tim Jo as Reggie Jackson
* Ian Patrick as Dick Butkus
* Max Charles as Max Weaver
* Isabella Cramp as Abby Weaver

Jami Gertz (Debbie Weaver) has crafted a distinguished reputation in film, television and theater. In addition to her role in The Neighbors, she will next be seen in Jeff Garlan's feature Dealin' with Idiots. Most recently Gertz appeared on ABC's Emmy Award-winning comedy Modern Family and the hit cable series Entourage, opposite Jeremy Piven. She starred with Piven again in Scott Marshall's Keeping Up With the Steins, as well as Gary Marshall, Darryl Hannah and Doris Roberts.

Gertz was discovered at age 16 in a nationwide talent search for the sitcom Square Pegs, with Sarah Jessica Parker. Since then she has appeared on a number of hit television shows, including Seinfeld, ER and Dream On. For four seasons Gertz starred on the hit comedy Still Standing, opposite Mark Addy. In addition she portrayed title role on ABC's Gilda Radner: It's Always Something, based on Radner's autobiography. In 2002 Gertz received an Emmy nomination for her role on the critically acclaimed television series Ally McBeal, where she guest starred in a four-episode arc. She is also widely recognized for her role as a sex therapist in Twister, opposite Bill Paxton, and for her roles with Dylan McDermott in the romantic comedy Jersey Girl, in Less Than Zero (based on the best selling novel by Bret Easton Ellis), with James Spader and Robert Downey, Jr., and in The Lost Boys, with Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric.

Lenny Venito (Marty Weaver) is a native New Yorker who studied acting at the prestigious LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. His television credits include roles on Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO), Unforgettable (CBS), The Sopranos (HBO), Rescue Me (F/X), Flight of the Conchords (HBO), Lights Out (F/X), Bored to Death (HBO), NYC 22 (CBS) and The Knights of Prosperity (ABC). His film credits include War of the Worlds (Paramount), Rounders (Miramax), Gigli (Columbia), Solitary Man (Millenium), The Brave One (Warner Bros), How Do You Know (Sony) and Men in Black III (Sony).

Simon Templeman (Larry Bird) started his career in the theater in England. A long-time member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he played many roles, including Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. He came to America twice with the company, in All's Well That Ends Well and Nicholas Nickleby, both on Broadway. Other notable theater credits include performing at the National Theatre in David Hare's A Secret Rapture. Templeman's feature film work includes roles in The Russia House and Live Nude Girls. His many television credits include Northern Exposure, Just Shoot Me!, Don King: Only in America, Monk and The Event.

Toks (pronounced "tokes") Olagundoye (Jackie Joyner-Kersee) is a newcomer to the Los Angeles entertainment world, and in her short time here has added several credits to those she had already achieved in film, television and theatre in New York. During the past year Olagundoye has guest-starred on NCIS, Prime Suspect and ABC Family's Switched at Birth. Other film and television appearances include CSI: NY, Law & Order, Ugly Betty, Brown Sugar and The Salon among others.

Only a teenager, Clara Mamet (Amber Weaver) -- the 17-year-old daughter of playwright and director David Mamet -- is a dynamic actress and writer in her own right. Most recently she appeared in and wrote two one-act, two-character plays, Paris and The Solvit Kids, at the Ruskin Group Theater in Santa Monica. In addition to appearing in The Neighbors, Mamet will appear in the upcoming Barry Levinson HBO biopic about Phil Spector which stars Al Pacino.

Tim Jo (Reggie Jackson), a native Texan, made his acting debut in the film Bandslam, followed by guest appearances on the television series Greek and Castle. He was also a series regular on the TBS comedy Glory Daze.

Ian Patrick (Dick Butkus) is a young actor on the rise who will make his television debut as Dick Butkus on ABC'S new fall comedy, The Neighbors. Most recently Ian appeared in the feature film Wanderlust, starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. Before working in TV and film, Ian appeared in a number of commercials and did local print work.

In a very short period of time since signing to one of Hollywood's top children agencies, Isabella Cramp (Abby Weaver) has garnered an impressive list of credits that include ABC's Happy Endings, In Plain Sight, Mike and Molly and CSI: Miami, as well as numerous commercials. In addition to appearing in The Neighbors, Isabella will be seen in the upcoming TV movie Piper Rose.

Pilot Episode:

The first two episodes were available for review.

"Pilot" (September 25, 9:30PM) - Marty Weaver just wants the best for his wife, Debbie, and their three kids. That's why he's moving them to Hidden Hills, New Jersey, a gated community complete with its own golf course. Marty is certain that their new home will be a dream come true. And then, they meet the neighbors.... aliens from the planet Zabvron -- and the Weavers are the first humans they've ever met.
Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Chris Koch
Guest Stars: Mitch Rouse as the real estate agent, Bruce Green as the angry man, Mary K. Devault as the angry woman and Doug Jones as the alien

"Journey to the Mall" (October 3, 8:30PM) - After convincing the Bird-Kersees to let their kids try "human" school, the Weavers take them on their first excursion outside Hidden Hills - shopping for back-to-school clothes at the mall. They survived the trip to Earth, but will the mall be too much? Meanwhile, Debbie and Jackie have doubts about each other's true intentions.
Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Chris Koch
Guest Stars: Doug Jones as Dominique Wilkens, Katherine Tokarz as Mary Lou Retton and Patrick O'Sullivan as Johnny Unitas

Analysis:

The Neighbors is a single-camera comedy from ABC Studios and Kaplan Entertainment. Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled, Crazy, Stupid, Love) created the series. He also serves as an executive producer with Chris Koch (Workaholics, Modern Family). The first two episodes were written by Dan Fogelman and directed by Chris Koch.

In the "Pilot" episode, there's a short CGI sequence of a spacecraft landing over a neighborhood. The year is 2001. A real estate agent meets a group of people who decide to buy all of the townhouses in the gated community of Hidden Hills, New Jersey. Ten years later, their poopah (or poopod) battery is low and needs to be recharged. A couple decides to leave for their home planet. This opens up a unit for humans to move into the neighborhood. The Weavers prepare to move from the New Jersey home. Marty Weaver asks God for normal neighbors, but he soons find out they are just the opposite. When they arrive and open their garage, they are greeted by their new neighbors who bring them pie. The families later eat dinner where the aliens read at the table and receive nourishment with their eyes and minds. Much to their horror, Dick Butkus exposes his real identity to Max and Abby. The Weavers soon learn that the entire community is made up of aliens. Larry Bird is later kicked out of the house by his wife. Jackie sends Dick to recharge the poopah. Debbie rushes to try and stop him. The Weavers must decide whether they want to stay or leave the neighborhood.

In the second episode, "Journey to the Mall," everybody takes a trip to mall, as you probably guessed. It opens with a scene of Marty and Debbie walking through the neighborhood and greeting Johnny Unitas and Mary Lou Retton. Debbie awakens from a nightmare of the aliens trying to kidnap their children. Dick Butkus arrives in golf clothes and tells the Weavers that he wants to go to a "human" school. Dominique Wilkins is put in charge of the community when everybody heads to the mall in Marty's van. The rest of the episode has scenes of the families shopping for clothes.

There are no marquee names in the cast, but there are a few familiar faces. Jami Gertz brings a lot of comedy experience from her time on Still Standing and many television guest appearances. I've been a fan of hers since her Square Pegs and The Facts of Life days. Lenny Venito is a character actor who has appeared in a number of television shows and films. He was very good in the short-lived and underrated ABC sitcom The Knights of Prosperity. Gertz and Venito make a believable New Jersey couple with their accents. I'm not very familiar with Simon Templeman. He's known for voice work in animated series and video games. Toks Olagundoye is a relative newcomer to acting. She's a real beauty who could be a model. It's funny how her character says Debbie Wea-ver. Five younger actors play the Weaver and Bird-Kersee children. They do a decent job with their roles. Clara Mamet is probably the most noticeable as the sarcastic and oldest daughter, Amber.

The pilot is watchable and somewhat amusing. There are no real laugh-out-loud moments or really funny lines, however. Creator and writer Dan Fogelman has had some good history with successful movies, so I was expecting funnier material. Most of the humor comes from all of the weird things the aliens do differently than humans. They ride around in golf carts. Instead of dogs, they own alpacas. They don't own cars, so they wash their spacecraft. Other strange things they do include reading at the dinner table, watering the grass with the hose going upward, crying through their ears, and exercising in the streets.

The episodes contained some unfinished effects shots, so I don't know how they ultimately look. Although the aliens are only shown for a few seconds in the first two episodes, I think they look pretty cool and detailed. This seems to a pretty low budget show, so I wasn't expecting many digital shots. Giving the aliens the names of professional athletes was a unique idea. I wonder what Larry Bird thinks about his name being used for somebody who looks more like Kurt Rambis with his thick-rimmed black glasses. Another plus for the show is the use of oldies music. I also enjoyed the space age type music score. It's especially creepy when we first see the aliens after the Weavers open their garage.

I thought the second episode was even weaker than the pilot. It takes more of a serious tone and shows the heart and emotional side of the characters. While the pilot episode had some interesting moments and sight gags, the second was mostly boring. They go to the mall and nothing funny really happens. The younger Weaver children are very annoying with their constant screaming. The Weavers don't appear to be a very happy family after moving. Hopefully the mood is lightened a bit more in future episodes.

Conclusion:

The Neighbors is clearly one of the most unique new shows on the fall schedule. There's really nothing else like it currently on the air. The pilot is generally watchable, but there aren't a lot of laughs in it. I chuckled a few times. Most of the comedy is from all of the crazy things the aliens do differently than humans. Alien shows like Mork and Mindy and 3rd Rock from the Sun have worked in the past because they were very funny and had breakout stars. I don't see any long-term potential for the series. There are some good comedic actors here, but they need funnier material and situations.

Families appear to be the target audience for the show. The show is family-friendly and doesn't have any inappropriate material. I'm not sure how much it will appeal to kids. They may enjoy seeing the aliens and green slime the first few times. The aliens are only shown for a few seconds in the first two episodes, so I don't know if it will be able to hold a younger audience's interest. The sight gags and jokes appear more geared towards adults.

ABC is airing the series premiere after the season premiere of the Emmy Award-winning Modern Family. It should receive some nice sampling tonight before it moves to its regular time slot of 8:30PM next week. ABC's original plan was to air it weekly after Modern Family, but I think they made a wise decision moving it to an earlier slot. The later time slot is for more edgier comedy, and this is a kid-friendly comedy that's a better fit earlier in the night. I just don't see the show being able to generate a big audience against shows like The X Factor and Survivor. The humor of the show is very broad. It really doesn't fit in with the rest of their sophisticated family comedies. I would be surprised if the show makes it to mid-season. If you enjoy silly and quirky alien comedies, then you might want to give it a try for a few episodes.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 2.5/5
Funniness: 2.0/5
Overall: 2.5/5

-- Reviewed by Todd Fuller on 09/26/12

Discuss the show after you watch it on Wednesday, September 26 on our message board.

Related Links:

  • ABC.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • The Neighbors Photo Gallery

    Preview:





    On this date in 1962, The Beverly Hillbillies premiered on CBS. Happy 50th to The Beverly Hillbillies! The Beverly Hillbillies is perhaps the best-known rags-to-riches story in television history. After accidentally striking it rich, the Clampetts move from their backwoods cabin to a Beverly Hills mansion. They dream of a life among swimming pools and movie stars, but their humorous hillbilly lifestyle clashes with the "city folk" of Beverly Hills. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, MeTV Network will have a celebration of 50 years of laughs with our favorite hillbillies, The Beverly Hillbillies, on Sunday, September 30, 2012 from 3:00-7:00pm ET/PT only on MeTV. The network regularly airs the classic sitcom every weekday morning at 6am ET/PT.

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