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Friday, October 11, 2013

DVD Review: The Neighbors, Complete First Season

A family from New Jersey moves into a neighborhood populated by undercover aliens. What could possibly go wrong?

I like the series The Neighbors, but I'm not really sure why. It's heavy handed, the directing leads to some of the most unsubtle acting on TV today, and while the art direction is top notch, the characters are by and large trapped in an example of modern suburbia that only an accountant could love.

Maybe it reminds me somehow of those old Sid & Marty Croft TV shows. I'm not really sure.

These are your alien plant-lizards.
The premise is that a group of aliens with the ability to fully realistically disguise themselves as humans, but who are really lizard-looking aliens more closely related to plants, were sent to Earth to scope it out for conquest. They get stranded here, and begin to learn to love being in human form. They don't really understand how life on Earth works, though, until a family from New Jersey, the Weavers, unwittingly buys one of the homes in the community. Hilarity ensues.

Try to explain weddings to aliens.
One of the comedy conceits of the aliens is that they had to select human names, and end up picking names of famous sports heroes. For example, the leader of the aliens, and the father of the main family of aliens, is named Larry Bird. His wife is Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Their children are Reggie Jackson and Dick Butkis. You get the idea.

Yep, that's Doug Jones as one of the aliens.
It's really hard to keep track of all the alien rules, and it seems very likely that, if taken in total, they would make absolutely no sense. What's more, it's hard to wrap your brain around how the human disguises work. They are much like the Doctor Who villains the Slitheen, who also can take very realistic human form through a disguise. But it also seems like they are somehow actually human when in this form, which is confusing.

Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito
as the Weaver parents.
And yet, there's something enjoyable about the show. Most episodes have a heavy handed story about one form or another of trying to deal with family life. But it seems that the details - the actors chosen for the roles, the crazy ways in which the story unfolds - keep your interest. I have to admit, I seldom laugh out loud at the show, the skeleton of the plots are predictable. The execution, however, leads to vignettes that you wouldn't be able to have on any other show.

Mamet displays this expression for
most of the series. But in a good way.
To me, though, the standout performer is Clara Mamet as Amber Weaver, oldest daughter of the New Jersey family. Although her character is closely akin to Aubrey Plaza's April Ludgate from Parks & Rec (or, if we're going deep, Daria), her forays into emotionally connecting with her family are somehow more heartfelt than Plaza's, and add legitimate, almost subtle, heart to the show.

Jackie Joyner Kersee (Toks Olagundoye)
trying to work out how human females
let loose and have fun.
Despite all of the cards against it, the show is watchable. There is plenty of visual richness, and some comedic takes without words that are very brave. I think the reason the show works is that, despite all of this, it's endearing. It's sort of like a puppy that's trying to open a door. It doesn't succeed, but it's failure is so sincere and so earnest, you can't help but love it. I think The Neighbors is similar: all of the actors are pros, and they understand their characters and play them to the hilt. Therefore, even though for me it doesn't deliver the laughs you presume it wants to, it's still entertaining to watch.

On some level, also, it seems like the show has a certain ironic appeal, but without being Adult Swim ironic. This is demonstrated when, from time to time, a character will spell out the completely ridiculous nature of what is going on, and simultaneously seem to realize it's ridiculous, and yet fully accept the truth of it. And after all, sometimes in life, that's exactly what we experience, isn't it?

Almost forgot: cameos by these two
in the season finale.
As for the DVD itself, this is typical ABC DVD fare, which is to say it's well done, with well thought out menus designed from element from the show. Like the art direction of the series, the DVDs are very well presented and put together. The set is light on bonus features - just a gag reel (which provides some genuinely funny moments) and a series of deleted scenes.

Should you buy the set? As much as I enjoy the show and think you should give it a try, unless you don't have access to get it streaming, I can't see why you'd need to buy the discs. It's not essential archive TV in my view. But if you like this show enough to want it in your library, the set is well executed.

The Neighbors: The Complete First Season
5 out of 10 golf carts

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