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Why you must watch 'The Neighbors'

ABC's interplanetary domesti-com has gotten out-of-this-world good

By Kenny Herzog Feb 27, 2013 10:39AM
For weeks, my lips have been anything but sealed about "The Neighbors." This inspired spin on the fish-out-of-water and family sitcom genres from some of the minds behind "Modern Family" and "Workaholics" has been gangbusters from the start. 

The premise? A blue-collar Bayonne, N.J., family headed by high school sweethearts Debbie (Jamie Gertz) and Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito) unknowingly moves on up to a suburban enclave populated entirely by a civilization of aliens in human guises who've taken the names of famous American athletes from the 1980s. Their leader? Bespectacled approval-seeker Larry Bird (Simon Templeman), his chipper black wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), romantic Asian teenage son Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) and precocious redheaded boy Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick). 

"The Neighbors" | Jami Gertz

For its first handful of episodes, that gimmick was enough, and it worked. The Weavers and Bird-Kersees' uneasy assimilation was a handy entree into punchlines about the superfluousness of creature comforts and our increasing preference for cloistered personal space over the warmth of community. 
But it wasn't sufficient for most, and "The Neighbors" was largely ridiculed by critics and most passing viewers as if it were the second coming of "Alf" (which, truthfully, wouldn't be so bad). The show's response has been startling. Without losing its endearing PG accessibility, "The Neighbors" has taken the attack to its medium rather than be a patronized stepchild. In recent weeks, episodes have focused less on the Weavers' and Bird-Kersees' adjustment to one another than their mutual uphill climb to fit in with the world outside their townhouse development. More often than not, that's involved one or both families stepping inside timely television trends like "Game of Thrones" or the Oscars as a means to understanding what makes supposedly "normal" families tick. It's also a non-so-subtle metaphorical response to "elite" pop culture the series has been unfairly compared to.

Even ABC's marketing gurus are in on the gag and going for broke. Recent ads for "The Neighbors" gleefully share its early, middling feedback, before half-heartedly cheerleading more generous recent critiques. The message seems to be: We've never been bad for you, but now you're greatly mistaken to underestimate us. Hopefully, the increasingly and rightly confident "Neighbors" has no plans soon of coming down to earth. 

"The Neighbors" airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.