If TV has taught us anything about aliens, it's that they will either conquer Earth in a violent wave of genocide or they will take human form and try to live among us, usually with comic results. “The Neighbors” is about the second kind of extraterrestrial visitor. In this new sitcom from ABC, aliens move into a townhouse community in New Jersey.



 

If TV has taught us anything about aliens, it's that they will either conquer Earth in a violent wave of genocide or they will take human form and try to live among us, usually with comic results. “The Neighbors” is about the second kind of extraterrestrial visitor. In this new sitcom from ABC, aliens move into a townhouse community in New Jersey.

The Zabvronians are waiting for instructions from their home planet, but after 10 years without contact, one of the alien couples has had enough and abandons their New Jersey home. Enter humans Marty and Debbie Weaver (Lenny Venito and Jami Gertz) and their kids Amber (Clara Mamet), Max (Max Charles) and Abby (Isabella Cramp). Forced to downsize due to a salary decrease, Marty buys the recently vacated property much to the disappointment of his family who aren't happy about moving.

The entire Zabvronian community, led by their leader Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), welcomes the Weavers with open arms and many cherry pies. (We later learn that naming themselves after famous athletes is the aliens' homage to the accomplishments of humans.) The Weavers play along with their neighbors' odd names and odder behavior but an encounter between Max, Abby and Larry Bird's son Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick), soon confirms that the Bird-Kersee family is not quite who they seem.

I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that the aliens are quickly outed which lays the groundwork for a typical “fish out of water” set-up except here, the “fish” are from another planet rather than say, a person from the country who must suddenly deal with life in the city. How you react to “The Neighbors” depends on how ridiculous or interesting you find that conceit. 

The jokes don't stray too far from what you would expect in an aliens-next-door comedy. In a dinner party scene, Larry and Jackie tell the Weavers that they get their nourishment “through their eyes and ears” so they read at the table while their guests try to eat what looks like melted cheese. As the women clean up, Debbie learns that Jackie has a novel way of dealing with dirty dishes. In the second episode, the aliens ride in a car for the first time in order to go to the mall for the first time. Cue a montage of sight gags. But then, Marty rattles off questions to Larry about his planet and throws one in about God, Debbie urges Jackie to embrace feminism and Abby admits that sometimes she screams when she talks because that's the only time Max pays attention to her. These scenes, while not seamless additions to the story line, at least suggest that the writers recognize the limitations of the: “Aliens and humans are different. Isn't that funny?!” jokes. 

“The Neighbors” is better when it focuses on how Larry and Jackie's suddenly much bigger world impacts their relationship with one another rather than just with humans. If the broad comedy doesn't always hit the mark, the performances of Templeman and Olagundoye do. Their deadpan delivery makes the show watchable. Any actors who can make me laugh simply by the way they call each other “husband” and “wife” deserve at least a few episodes on the fall schedule.

“The Neighbors” is on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.

Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.