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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

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ABC's ‘The Neighbors’: 10 years later

If you think about it, there is a long history of American sitcoms about aliens. “My Favorite Martian,” “ALF,” “Mork & Mindy” and maybe most notably “3rd Rock from the Sun” all focus on the ways space aliens adjust to American society and the humans they endear themselves to. The sub-genre has a surprisingly long history, and what might have been the best of them ended ten years ago this week. 

On April 11, 2014, two families sat in a garage next to a spaceship talking about where they would end up going. They reference moving towns (and in a meta-joke, networks — they gave a hard no to ABC Family), but their ultimate fate is left unknown. A decade later, they’re still nowhere to be seen. ABC’s “The Neighbors” feels like a weird show, but on the surface it was really simple. To paraphrase the theme song used in the second season, the show focused on a family from outer space who settled in New Jersey and who lived in relative peace for ten years until a human family, the Weavers, moved next door. And all of the aliens have the names of famous athletes.

When the show debuted in September 2012, I was only eight years old. Thinking back, it was most likely the first network show I watched as it came out. No show has stuck with me over the years in the same way “The Neighbors” has. I didn’t know who Dick Butkus, Larry Bird or Jackie Joyner-Kersee were beyond the names of the characters on the show. As a (young) adult I can appreciate how funny it is to name all of the aliens after famous pro-athletes. As a little kid, I didn’t even process that as a joke. That’s why I think the show stuck with me: I watched it when I was young, but now I’ve grown up. Would I still love it ten years later?

The short answer is “yes,” but you aren’t here for the short answer. For a sitcom, the episodes are nothing too bizarre once you consider the premise. “Alien family misunderstands human holidays,” “the aliens go to a mall” and “the humans meet the aliens’ wacky extended family” are all fairly standard plotlines for this type of show. However, the performances are what sell it. Undeniably, the show’s stars are Simon Templeman and Toks Olagundoye as Larry Bird and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, respectively, the parents of the alien family. Sure, the show focuses on the human family, the Weavers, but when I think about the show, they’re not who I remember. I remember the aliens — obviously. 

Well, that’s not fully accurate. I remember one line: “Oh no, Dick fell in the well again.” Season 1, Episode 20, “Sing Like a Larry Bird” was a formative artistic experience for young me. I was already fully familiar with Broadway musicals before this. I had seen “Wicked,” I knew vaguely what “RENT” was, and who doesn't know what “Annie” is? But I had never seen them made fun of. I had never seen Alan Menken, famed Disney and “Little Shop of Horrors” composer, dedicate himself to a musical parody episode of an ABC sitcom. And nothing could prepare me for “Galavant,” the spiritual sequel to “The Neighbors” (sharing an actor and Alan Menken’s music), but “Galavant” is a story for another day.

Is there a lot that makes this show different than a modern “3rd Rock”? Maybe not. But I have the philosophy that every piece of art is important to someone in the world. And to me, this show is art — important art, at that. I own the first season on DVD. I am still waiting for a continuation. For now, I’m going to give it another ten years. If the Joyner-Kersee-Birds could wait that long, maybe I can too.