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"The Neighbors" The Complete First Season DVD Review

The Neighbors: The Complete First Season DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com The Neighbors: Season One (2012-13)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Dan Fogelman / Executive Producers: Chris Koch, Aaron Kaplan, Dan Fogelman

Writers: Dan Fogelman, Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger, Kristin Newman, Scott King, Tracy Oliver, Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, Kirker Butler, Jeremy Hall / Directors: Chris Koch, John Fortenberry, Luke Greenfield, Lev L. Spiro, Peter Lauer, Henry Chan, Bryan Gordon, Joe Pennella, Jeffrey Walker

Regular Cast: Jami Gertz (Debbie Weaver), Lenny Venito (Marty Weaver), Simon Templeman (Larry Bird), Toks Olagundoye (Jackie Joyner-Kersee), Clara Mamet (Amber Weaver), Tim Jo (Reggie Jackson), Ian Patrick (Dick Butkus), Max Charles (Max Weaver), Isabella Cramp (Abby Weaver)

Recurring Characters: Doug Jones (Dominique Wilkins), Grant Harvey (Jeremy), Lora Plattner (Giselle Braxton), Patrick O'Sullivan (Johnny Unitas), Alden Ray (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Katherine Tokarz (Mary Lou Retton), Kiersten Lyons (Billie Jean King), Nick Eldredge (High Pants Alien), Stacy Keach (Dominick Weaver)

Notable Guest Stars: Mitch Rouse (Real Estate Agent), Amy Farrington (Tracy), Leslie Grossman (Liz), Matthew Glave (Bill), Meagen Fey (Principal), Maribeth Monroe (Rebecca), Leslie Jordan (Carla), Carla Renata (Leslie), Debra Mooney (Theresa Weaver), Billy Malone (Greg Louganis), Bert Rosario (Juan Salgado), Nora Dunn (Linda), Richard Riehle (Janitor Raymond), Judd Nelson (Jim), Patrick Cassidy (Mr. Easterling), Dean Cameron (Luke Braxton), Kamala Jones (Nikola Braxton), Michael Bay (Himself), Sandra Bernhard (Ms. Porsche), Caitlin Thompson (Reporter), Bethenny Frankel (Jill), Mark Hamill (Commandant Bill), George Takei (Grandfather)

Running Time: 468 Minutes (22 episodes) / Rating: TV-PG-DL

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Closed Captioned; Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Season 1 Airdates: September 26, 2012 - March 27, 2013
DVD Release Date: September 24, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Clear Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Instant Video HD

Buy The Neighbors: Season 1 from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video Instant Video HD

Dan Fogelman's writing career really seems to be taking off. Fogelman got his start as the creator and showrunner of "Like Family", an African American sitcom on The WB introduced in and cancelled after the 2003-04 season. From there, Fogelman got into movies, being one of many scribes with a hand in such major animated films as Cars and Bolt. Fogelman showed off his writing chops with no credited assistance on Disney's much better than advertised Tangled,
the mushy but well-received romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. and last year's less highly regarded but slightly better The Guilt Trip. He will next take sole writing credit on a pair of upcoming Al Pacino movies, the latter of which will also mark his directorial debut. Meanwhile, Fogelman returned to television with "The Neighbors", a single-camera ABC comedy that recently began airing its second season.

In the tradition of such shows as "Mork & Mindy", "ALF", and "3rd Rock from the Sun", "The Neighbors" places extraterrestrials among everyday folk. The pilot finds a colony of aliens moving into a New Jersey townhouse community back in 2002. Ten years later, longtime Bayonne apartment dwellers the Weavers move to the suburbs and fill the community's first vacancy. This human family of five immediately finds their welcoming neighbors different. They color-coordinate, speak in chorus, drive golf carts, and move in congregation. They also bear the names of former American athletes, perhaps the only clever touch to the show's design.

Their nature isn't kept secret very long, as clapping reveals their rarely seen true form: slimy, green (CGI) aliens. The Weavers take that in stride, because this is a sitcom and one that intends to keep its makers employed.

In the first episode of ABC's "The Neighbors", the Weavers get a bright and warm welcome to their suburban New Jersey neighborhood from color-coordinated aliens bearing pies.

Our focus quickly settles on two contrasting families. TV veteran Jami Gertz ("Still Standing", "Square Pegs") plays the Weaver matriarch Debbie. Lenny Venito, a New York character actor getting a potentially big break after years of growing visibility, plays her husband Marty. They've got three kids: disagreeable teenaged daughter Amber (Clara Mamet, daughter of playwright/filmmaker David) and young'uns Max (Max Charles) and Abby (Isabella Cramp).

Next door to that middle class clan are the focal foursome of aliens, consisting of British-accented parents Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) and their multicultural offspring, teenager Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) and androgynous young boy Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick).

I guess it's been a few years since I've taken to a network television comedy, but "The Neighbors" reinforces the notion that the format is in a dire state. The show definitely aligns with ABC's prevailing brand of family sitcom, resembling "The Middle" and "Modern Family" in look and tone. Though usually not as clever as NBC's comedies when done right (a lineage that now only survives in the resilient "Parks and Recreation"), ABC has managed to draw decent-sized audiences for their less costly, less comedian-driven fare, though far from the followings of CBS' popular, uncreative, traditional multi-camera sitcoms.

The Weavers (Clara Mamet, Isabella Cramp, Jami Gertz, Lenny Venito, and Max Charles) get a big Christmas morning surprise from their neighbors in "Merry Crap-Mas."

"The Neighbors" is kind of like a bad version of "The Middle" where the high concept science fiction angle fails to entertain again and again and again.
It's tough to believe that a series this unfunny was able to survive past a pilot episode. It boasts inoffensiveness, which seems to be a desirable quality for network television, given the enduring success of Jay Leno. But it's frighteningly short on wit, its only chuckles deriving from movie references that feel more like cynical Hollywood professional chatter than New Jersey family conversation. It requires convincing to accept that this show is holding onto any viewers for more than a few weeks.

Maybe it's not (that would explain the episode-opening premise recaps deep into the season), as the show's respectable premiere draw of 9.22 million viewers last fall gave way to slow but steady declines. By season's end, its audience had shrunk to under 5 million and, moved to a timeslot on the long-deadly Friday night, its Season 2 premiere last month drew a smaller crowd than every Season 1 episode. Even as it only loses a tiny fraction of the audience for its lead-in (Tim Allen's unfortunate "Last Man Standing") and manages to compete with its lightweight competition, it's hard to imagine ABC not regretting its surprising decision to renew this show or giving serious thought to retiring it long before next spring.

It's surprise enough that "The Neighbors" recently came to home video in a three-disc The Complete First Season DVD. After all, such a fate has eluded the comparable "Last Man Standing" and the more popular "The Middle" is playing catch-up after Warner seemed to write off its profitability potential.

It's difficult to imagine a viewer forgiving enough to declare "The Neighbors" entertaining. Outside of Venito and to a lesser degree Gertz, the acting is unappealing. The logic, meanwhile, is less than half-baked. We're supposed to accept these aliens as possessing superior intelligence, yet they aren't able to approximate ordinary human communication (because that wouldn't be funny). And after ten years on this planet, they have never heard of birthdays, death, Halloween, or prison and still don't know what bathrooms are for. The tone-deaf comedy, tough to connect to even Fogelman's lesser film writing, recalls ABC's short-lived "Cavemen" series without as much satiric value.

Though it carries a TV-PG rating, the show has to both bleep an expletive and blur nudity in its first handful of episodes.

The alien family discovers the shopping mall in "Journey to the Center of the Mall." Modeling herself after reality television housewives, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) addresses the camera that isn't really there.

Disc 1

1. "Pilot" (21:32) (Originally aired September 26, 2012)
The Weavers move into a new house and learn all of their neighbors are from another planet.

2. "Journey to the Center of the Mall" (20:53) (Originally aired October 3, 2012)
The alien parents give their kids the OK to attend human school, requiring both families to go shopping for clothes together at the mall.

3. "Things Just Got Real" (21:32) (Originally aired October 10, 2012)
The aliens try to assimilate, crashing the Weaver parents' poker and ladies' nights, with Jackie taking her cues from "The Real Housewives of New Jersey."

4. "Bathroom Etiquette" (21:19) (Originally aired October 17, 2012)
Both sets of kids experience their first days at their new schools, creating a rift between the two families.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), dressed as The Hunger Games' Effie, and Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) brace themselves for the Halloween-ween invaders they have been told are harmless trick-or-treaters. Marty (Lenny Venito) tries to put the spark back in his marriage with candles and a bathrobe in "50 Shades of Green."

5. "Halloween-ween" (21:31) (Originally aired October 24, 2012)
The Weavers show the aliens how to celebrate Halloween, while Debbie and Marty worry their kids no longer need them this holiday.

6. "Larry Bird and the Iron Throne" (20:42) (Originally aired October 31, 2012)
Debbie stresses over planning Abby's birthday party, while Larry accompanies Marty at work.

7. "50 Shades of Green" (21:18) (Originally aired November 7, 2012)
The alien mating season has everyone thinking about sex and both sets of parents trying new things.

8. "Thanksgiving Is for the Bird-Kersees" (21:32) (Originally aired November 14, 2012)
Marty's critical parents and Jackie's exiled "sisters" are invited to the Weavers' uncomfortable family Thanksgiving.

Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and Debbie Weaver (Jami Getz) find door-to-door fundraising a challenge in "The Gingerbread Man." Jackie (Toks Olagundoye) can't resist playing nurse to her ailing neighbors in "Cold War."

Disc 2

9. "Merry Crap-Mas" (21:28) (Originally aired December 5, 2012)
The Weavers surprise their kids with a plan to spend their money on a family vacation instead of gifts, which the aliens, meanwhile, come to see the value of.

10. "Juan of the Dead" (20:34) (Originally aired December 12, 2012)
The death of beloved neighborhood gardener Juan raises awareness of mortality, upsetting Max and the aliens, the latter of whom resurrect him.

11. "The Gingerbread Man" (21:06) (Originally aired January 9, 2013)
The two families get involved in the community, with Marty and Jackie coaching Dick's soccer team, and Larry and Debbie joining the PTA.

12. "Cold War" (21:31) (Originally aired January 16, 2013)
As the Weavers battle colds, the aliens try to help them.

The easily-foreseen and slowly developed romance between Reggie Jackson and Amber Weaver (Clara Mamet) takes a turn when they each attend a high school dance with someone else. Larry, Debbie, and Jackie are surprised by the view in a grocery store mirror.

13. "Dream Weavers" (21:33) (Originally aired January 23, 2013)
Amber and Reggie attend the high school dance with others while the parents chaperone.

14. "The Back Nine" (20:55) (Originally aired January 30, 2013)
Putting their newfound knowledge about racial stereotypes to use, the aliens get into a country club that rejects the Weavers, creating a new divide.

15. "Space Invaders" (21:29) (Originally aired February 6, 2013)
Both sets of parents adjust to the notion of their teenagers dating, after Debbie's advice to Reggie is misinterpreted.

16. "Mother Clubbers" (20:26) (Originally aired February 13, 2013)
Members of both families grow aware and sensitive of their looks.

Amber (Clara Mamet) takes driving lessons from Ms. Porsche (Sandra Bernhard), a lesbian. In the Atlantic City-set season finale, Marty (Lenny Venito) bets big on Larry Bird's (Simon Templeman) ability to see through cards. What could go wrong?

Disc 3

17. "Larry Bird Presents an Oscar-Winning Film by Larry Bird" (21:30) (Originally aired February 20, 2013)
Larry sets out to make an Oscar-winning film by researching past winners, prompting Jackie to find her own Blind Side. The kids prepare for a spelling bee.

18. "Camping" (21:23) (Originally aired February 27, 2013)
The Weavers and aliens go camping,
with Debbie trying to boost Marty's confidence in his masculinity.

19. "I Believe I Can Drive" (21:29) (Originally aired March 6, 2013)
Debbie has newly-licensed driver Jackie do her errands for her. Meanwhile, Amber and Larry struggle with learning how to drive.

20. "Sing Like a Larry Bird" (21:30) (Originally aired March 13, 2013)
After seeing their first musical, Larry and Jackie lead the aliens in singing and dancing, resulting in Dick falling into a well. Amber rejects her grounding.

21. "Mo Purses Mo Money Mo Problems" (21:28) (Originally aired March 20, 2013)
A shopping spree and garage sale prompt Debbie to get back into her purse-making business, with "help" from the aliens. Amber tries to stay broken up.

22. "It Has Begun..." (21:31) (Originally aired March 27, 2013)
Both sets of parents take a trip to Atlantic City, leaving the kids unsupervised at home to sort out relationships and get contacted by the aliens' grandfather (George Takei).

The aliens' introduction to musicals directly leads to Dick Butkus getting stuck inside a well.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Both picture and sound quality meet one's expectations for a new television show on DVD. Those accustomed to HD broadcasts and/or Blu-ray will not mistake the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation for high definition. In fact, the discs do appear to be more compressed than they need to be, even with the ever-decreasing length of half-hour episodes. But artifacts are minor and scarce and most of the time, the visuals will appease most viewers.

Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is satisfactory. It shows some life in the occasional score cue or needle drop, while gaining little notice for its otherwise ordinary dialogue-driven mix. Though not mentioned on the case and authored as secondary English, Portuguese subtitles are included alongside the more typical English SDH, French, and Spanish offerings.

The actors who play the Weavers crack up at an ad-lib callback in this gag reel fodder. Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) tries to help a neighbor feel better in this "Cold War" deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only real bonus features of note are found on Disc 3.

A gag reel (7:58) uses editing and music to try to punch up the fumbled lines, giggles, and behind-the-scenes play that are sorted by actor.

Ten short deleted scenes are identified by name and the episode they're intended for. That doesn't make for the ideal viewing experience, but as you can imagine bits deemed unfit for this show aren't much. The longest scenes -- alien family ping-pong and an Atlantic City bachelorette party -- each run just short of one minute, while the whole lot runs just under 5 minutes, but longer than that with all the introductory cards and file changes.

Marty and Debbie are unsure about the meal they're served by the aliens on the DVD's scrambly televised main montage. This Disc 1 episode selection menu pulls its "Halloween-ween" image from a different episode.

Disc One opens with menu-inaccessible trailers for "Once Upon a Time": The Complete Second Season, "Castle": The Complete Fifth Season,
other ABC dramas, and "Revenge": The Complete Second Season. Disc Three's Sneak Peeks listing plays ads for ABC, Monsters University, and Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition.

The main menu plays occasionally scrambled clips on a living room's flatscreen television. The static submenus are scored, with Episode Selection screens finding creative ways to photographically represent the episodes.

"The Neighbors" is packaged in a standard clear keepcase, which uses the reverse side of the cover art to display episode titles for each disc. The insert-less, swinging tray-equipped case is topped by an embossed slipcover repeating the artwork below but giving Lenny Venito what is surely his first spine image.

The Weavers and the Bird-Kersees pack into a minivan for a ride to the mall.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like the general public, I find my interest in network television programming on a sharp decline. However, I don't want to completely lose touch with today's most mainstream small screen entertainment. Among this fall's many DVD and Blu-ray season sets available for review, I chose "The Neighbors" because it was a new show, because of the manageable time demands of its half-hour format, and because creator Dan Fogelman seems to be a writer of increasing significance.

Despite those factors on its side, this flat, stupid show fell quite short of my modest expectations. As someone who still enjoys "ALF", I find the sitcomy aliens-in-suburbs premise just doesn't lend itself very well to this single-camera presentation. Even overlooking that, the jokes just rarely work and the characters aren't ones you find yourself caring about at all. Short of you finding yourself forced to watch a half-hour of network television one Friday night, this isn't a comedy you need to see.

Those vocal few who enjoy the series should find this light and basic DVD release a suitable way to revisit this season. I wouldn't count on there being more discs of this show in the near-future.

Buy The Neighbors: Season 1 Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video / Instant Video HD

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Reviewed October 2, 2013.



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