ABC has a number of protected time periods, but with “Castle” permanently suckled at the “Dancing with the Stars” teat and Shonda Rhimes smoothly swapping “Scandal” for “Private Practice” post-“Grey’s Anatomy,” there’s really only one true Rolls Royce slot: Wednesdays at 9:30 after “Modern Family.”
So when ABC released its schedule on Tuesday (May 15) morning, all eyes immediately shot to Wednesdays to see which comedy had won the sitcom equivalent of the lottery.
The answer? “The Neighbors,” from writer Dan Fogelman. The premise looked toweringly high concept: A family moves into a gated community, a gated community of ALIENS. If you think about it, it’s almost identical to the premise of “Suburgatory,” only without the subtlety.
But that’s OK. You wouldn’t have thought “Modern Family” was all that special or fresh until you watched “Modern Family” (and even then you might not have thought it was all that fresh, though Emmy voters disagree). That just meant that “The Neighbors” was perhaps my most anticipated clip while watching ABC’s upfronts presentation.
It took exactly 10 seconds — The Asian alien-kid is named “Reggie Jackson”! The youngest is named “Dick Butkus”! Hi-larious — for the vitriol to start pouring in from my Twitter feed, with expressions of horror, disgust and incredulity, followed by immediately predictions of near instant cancellation. The responses were very, very close to what greeted the first clips from “Work It” last year.
The key difference would be that “Work It” was a stupid lark. ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee championed the show, but I don’t think anybody at ABC or the production studio thought they’d produced anything other than one of the worst sitcoms of the year. “Work It” wasn’t scheduled for the fall and it received exactly two airings before ABC swiftly and unceremoniously pulled it. Other than displaying Paul Lee’s truly questionable sense of humor, it was a painless debacle that really only impacted the five or 10 of us who suffered through both airings. Relatively speaking — in an industry that tosses tens of millions of dollars onto a bonfire every spring during pilot season — it cost ABC very little.
If “The Neighbors” is another “Work It” and actually premieres in the fall on Wednesdays at 9:30, it’s a disaster, because it sucks up both prime real estate and key promotional time and money. It’s ugly.
But discussion of the failure of “The Neighbors” neatly begs the question of its actual quality. Sometimes my Twitter feed is wrong. It happens! Sometimes the entire group-think mentality of the Internet misgauges things. And sometimes really great shows can get cut down to really awful clip reels. I remember cringing through the clips from “Arrested Development.” Instead of presaging an embarrassing show, those clips just presaged a show that FOX would never quite know how to promote.
So with that in mind, what do YOU think of the teaser reel for “The Neighbors”?
My own opinion isn’t quite as harsh as some that I’ve seen: There are people in this pilot with talent. Lenny Venito is, in my mind, more of a supporting player, but he’s very capable of being funny (he’s not here). Simon Templeton as alien leader Larry Bird is getting more mileage than he ought to be from stale punchlines. And there’s a llama (or possibly an alpaca)!
It does, however, appear to be a very broad multi-cam comedy from the ’80s repurposed as a single-cam comedy with predictably discordant results. It also feels like a feature comedy — Jim Carrey could star, maybe? — that would be better suited to resolution after 90 minutes, rather than prolongation over 100 episodes. In fact, the clips wear out their welcome before 2:30 is up. But I can imagine a way this premise could make a funny pilot. I can even imagine the way this premise could make a funny pilot if this represents 10 percent of it. But I’m skeptical, rather than excited. And these clips are called sizzle reels for a reason. They’re supposed to sizzle. Then again, I’d have sacrificed the crying of green tears for some hint that there’s a stitch of subtext to this suburban satire. Shouldn’t there be?
The important thing to remember: THIS IS NOT THE SERIES. It’s not even the pilot. ABC may just be suffering from “Arrested Development” syndrome. I wrote this up as a blog post not because I wanted to review 150 seconds of clips, but to briefly touch on the silliness and high pressure of the upfronts week to begin with. ABC’s got a lot invested in “The Neighbors” and the entire country is being exposed to these clips at the same moment and if the reaction across-the-board looks like the reaction on my Twitter feed, that’s bad for ABC. “Work It” never stood a chance after its sizzle reel debut last spring and it was just a fortunate coincidence that the show lived down to the clips.
Again, though… What do you think of this first glimpse at “The Neighbors”?
Excited? Horrified? Set the DVR? Or run screaming?