No fall TV show has generated a more polarized response from critics than ABC's new family comedy "The Neighbors" (previews at 9:30 tonight, WTAE; time slot premiere 8:30 p.m. Oct. 3).
Some TV critics absolutely hate it; others sort of like it. Put me down for the latter. While I'm not yet convinced the show's concept will hold up over multiple weeks -- it might have made a better one-shot movie -- in its first two episodes "The Neighbors" is an enjoyable, broad comedy that encourages co-viewing among parents and their children. How many prime-time shows, do that? Not many, although starting next week "The Neighbors" will be paired with one of the few shows with multigenerational appeal, ABC's "The Middle."
The premise of "The Neighbors" is admittedly high concept: A human family moves into a New Jersey neighborhood populated only by aliens from the planet Zabvron who have taken on human form. The show is a mix of "ALF" and "3rd Rock From the Sun" with a dash of "Dinosaurs" thrown in for good measure.
Created by Dan Fogelman, who wrote the screenplays for "Cars" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love," "The Neighbors" begins as Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito) and wife Debbie (Jami Gertz) move their three kids to a gated New Jersey community where only aliens have lived since 2001.
The aliens all have the names of athletes, including alien leader Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), who have two children: teenager Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) and grade-schooler Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick). (All the characters on the show routinely address one another by first and last name, which may get old over time.)
The aliens wear the same color-coordinated outfits and offer a toast over a meal by whooping it up. They also depict an expensive but amusing way of doing the dishes after dinner.
"Are you guys Amish or something?" Debbie says after early encounters with her new neighbors.
Much of the humor comes from the fish-out-of-water factor facing both the aliens and the human family who are new to the neighborhood. Most of these jokes will work only once, although the athlete names remain funny in a second episode when viewers meet a short, Asian alien named Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Some of the jokes also come from the use of language, which has a tendency to be childish, such as the name of a device the aliens use for communication (its name sounds like "the poopar").
But these gags exist side-by-side with smarter satire, including a scene in the Oct. 3 episode when the aliens go to a mall for the first time and are appalled by humans gorging themselves at a food court (shades of "WALL-E") and American consumerism in general. ("It's like a planet unto itself," Larry Bird says of the mall.)
Although "The Neighbors" won't be mistaken for the next great American sitcom, it's entertaining enough to warrant a neighborly welcome to prime time.tvradio
A version of this review first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published September 26, 2012 8:00 AM