Episode 1: Family Conference
By: Carlos Uribe
The Neighbors is a show about a normal family who moves into a neighborhood filled with aliens. This is a special review.
With this review, I'm introducing a new weekly feature where I pick an episode of a currently airing series I don't follow weekly and review it. Next week is: Bones.
I'm going to be honest: I am now a fan of the Neighbors. The series started out with an average pilot and I commented how I didn't mind it's existence. I kept watching because it was a part of the ABC Comedy Block and I gradually fell in love with this show. The writing didn't just get better but it's confidence in doing anything for a laugh, it's big heart, and strong cast has helped win me over. I'm not the only one as even some of the people who derided the show at the beginning has come around. It's a bit disappointing that the Friday ratings indicate that the show is doomed: it's currently doubtful it will actually last for it's entire order. If any show deserves your attention, this might be it. The show is funny, the characters are great, and it's entertaining. I get why some people might be skeptical of tuning in. Why should you tune in for a show that isn't going to make it? I think that's the wrong attitude to have. Yes, falling in love with a show and then having it taken away is one of the worst parts about being a television viewer. It's heart-breaking due to our capacity to fall in love with fictional characters and to get invested in stories. It's what has made television a billion dollar industry for advertising. At the same time, I think that those shows I fall in love with but don't last have still made a positive contribution in my life. It was still worth it go on the journey. An example is Ben and Kate. I fell in love with it, it ended too quickly, but I'd still have watched it knowing it's ultimate faith. I wouldn't change a thing. The fact is it's always worth checking out a good show because television is never about the destination but the steps taken. There's also the argument that if you don't watch then the show is doomed. At the same time, unless you're a Nielsen household, that argument doesn't hold water.
Okay, so obligatory “watch this show because it's worth watching” request out of the way I'm going to try to justify that. What exactly makes The Neighbors special? Why SHOULD you watch? I think that's a really good question. What is the Neighbors? It has a silly premise: a family moves into a neighborhood where the residents are all aliens. The premise has allowed the Neighbors to explore some pretty serious human ideas like racism by offering an outsider's perspective (the aliens) on it. The Neighbors is basically a quirky, odd, fun comedy that is very traditional and subversive at the same time. This is the kind of show where the alien neighbors can form their own broadway musical. In many ways, the alien neighbors allows the series to do what Community became known for: making fun of entire genres and being versatile in what it's able to portray within it's universe. I think a great example in the premiere is when there's a small Mission Impossible satire when Jackie acrobats through lazers before clapping them away for everyone else. It's the kind of show where typical comedy moments can happen: a teenage couple is discovered by their parents. In fact, the whole premise follows a familiar situation where the families try to decide whether to allow the relationship or not. Only the Neighbors complicates it on two levels: the alien family holds a formal family council with rules and a moderator and it gives the boy a literal soul mate from his planet. In other words, it's fun in how it pokes fun at our culture and society but it's also quirky in the way it explores familiar concepts.
The Neighbors is a very familiar comedy. The whole nuclear family at the central of the show could easily have had their own show without any of the supernatural elements. There's the typical dad, the typical mom, and the typical kids. It is in their typical nature that the show actually gets a lot of humor by juxtapositioning the strange with the normal. The typical family supports traditionalism. At the same time, the aliens and the ideas it presents are more progressive than conservative. In many ways, the Neighbors is therefore able to subvert it's traditional nature. What's more is that this a family comedy. It's wholesome so that the whole family should be able to tune in without running into significant objectionable content. At the same time, it subverts it's wholesome nature with it's sly references to more mature material. The Neighbors is in many ways familiar but it uses familiarity to explore different ideas. So what appears to be a typical comedy is actually more than that. In many ways, this allows it's science fiction nature to work in it's benefit. It's not just mined for wacky laughs but also to get to a deeper truth. That's exactly what science fiction should be about: to explore the ultimate humanity of it's characters. So why should you watch? It's a comedy that will simply surprise you with it's fun and quirky nature. There's a very good chance you won't even know what's going to happen next week despite being so typical. This blending of predictability and unpredictability make the Neighbors fresh, relevant, and exciting. Of course, the biggest reason to watch is because it's very funny.
The season premiere of The Neighbors is a pretty good episode. It's not the best it's had but it does show a lot of what I'm talking about. Reggie and Amber have been dating throughout the summer hiatus. They've been keeping it a secret from their parents for different reasons. Reggie is afraid his family won't approve but Amber just doesn't want to talk to them. They get caught at the beginning of the episode. They're forced to admit the truth. The immediate fallout shows how each of the adults take it: Debbie is freaked out, Marty doesn't know what to think, Larry doesn't approve, and Jackie wants to approve because she realizes she has to let go no matter how hard. The series sets up how their taking the relationship because it's going to put them in one room, a family conference, to have them argue their points. This creates a lot of laughs. The conference comes to an end when Abbie talks about how she's so happy to see her sister actually smile with teeth and all. It's a traditional cute kid being cute but Isabella Cramp sells it in spades. Only she's too late because Larry has moved ahead of the universe and summoned Reggie's soul mate. Debbie's surprise that alien spaceships keep visiting without being noticed is a great way that the show makes fun of itself. It's very meta. As I said, this show is a lot like Community. Anyways, Reggie is able to convince Amber that he's committed to their relationship but his literal magnetic attraction is going to make that hard. A love triangle is familiar in television but this interesting because Reggie has two options: a human female or his literal soulmate. This promises to be a unique exploration of love triangles.
The Neighbors is one of my favorite comedies on the air. You won't hear me say this a lot because I'm not going to cover this show weekly: I love it too much as a fan to sully it with a weekly critical analysis. It's a show you should be watching. It's a show that is fun and quirky which allows it to cover a lot of territory. It's traditional and subversive at the same time. The season premiere is a lot of fun in it's exploration of families finding out their teenagers are dating. It's a good episode of television and overall I hope the show is able to last through it's order: this is a show that deserves to last six seasons and a movie.