TV preview: Viewers have welcomed 'Neighbors'


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Even before the 2012-13 TV season began, some TV critics had their knives out for "The Neighbors" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, WTAE), a broad sitcom about a human family that moves into a New Jersey neighborhood populated by extraterrestrials in human disguise.

Series creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman, who wrote "Cars" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love," said he was surprised by the initial critical backlash against "The Neighbors."

'The Neighbors'

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC.

Starring: Jami Gertz, Lenny Venito, Simon Templeman, Toks Olagundoye.

"I've done a lot of films now and I'm pretty attuned to what the critical response will be to a film," he said. His latest movie, "The Guilt Trip" with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, opens this month. "It caught me off guard. A pilot is a very difficult thing to pull off and this was very different and unique. It looked different and felt different and despite the growing pains I thought critics would appreciate that it wasn't your stock sitcom that comes out every year."

He said his initial worry was that critics might like the show more than the audience; instead, the opposite happened. "The Neighbors" has drawn decent ratings and has been picked up for a full first season.

"I think the sentiment is going to change," Mr. Fogelman said. "The show has a really loyal base following and I think it will start growing now and I think critics will come around. I've been doing this a long time and we have some of the best, most accomplished writers working on this show and we feel we really have something."

Mr. Fogelman, who was born in Baltimore but lived on Dashwood Drive in Bethel Park from his first through 10th birthdays, said his pitch for the show's first season was to stick to simple stories that get compounded and heightened by the situation of aliens and humans living in the same neighborhood.

"You could hypothetically do the first season of 'The Cosby Show' in terms of topics like, a fish dies, and explore that [from the alien and human perspective] and this show is so heightened and the concept is so left of center that it will do the work of making it original for you," he said. "The stories don't need to be reinvented."

Mr. Fogelman said he's been most surprised by the strength of the child actors on the show and as a result he's started writing more for them, pointing to a scene between the Weaver's youngest daughter and alien patriarch Larry Bird in this week's episode as an example.

Actress Toks Olangundoye said she's been surprised by the nature of her character, the alien matriarch.

"I didn't see her as quite so sweet," she said. "I thought of her as a Type-A perfect mother, perfect housewife trying to make sure everything is always as wonderful as can be and concerned about doing things wrong and being judged. But she's not concerned about being judged, she's concerned about hurting people and she's trying to make sure everyone is OK, and that's not what I got from her initially."

Mr. Fogelman said he was pleased "The Neighbors" was able to tap into some heart early on.

"We're actually finding we can bare a large amount of heart in the show and not just make it funny and wacky, but it can also be sweet and charming," he said. "One of the things I'm most excited about is we can do all this crazy stuff with the aliens and at the end of the day feel sentimental about the characters in the show and the relationships. That's where we find we're walking a fine line with a high degree of difficulty and we're doing well with it so far."

Upcoming episodes will explore the notion of death, which freaks out the aliens, and what happens when aliens get a winter cold. There's also an episode where the aliens see their first musical and they're so impressed they're determined to do one musical number in the neighborhood.

And then the plot will ramp up toward the end of the season.

"The main arc of the first season we've been playing is the aliens trying to figure out how to adapt to Earth and the alien matriarch is very pro-wanting to learn about this world and Larry Bird is the perpetual Archie Bunker who is hesitant to engage," Mr. Fogelman said. "So there's that push and pull and by the end of the first season we want to get to a point where the aliens have bought into trying to learn from this world and then a faction comes from their home planet telling them they have to come back home."

Mr. Fogelman hopes to cast a big name guest star as leader of the alien faction from the home planet.

"I could even see way down the road, in success, the humans taking a trip to see what's on the other side [by visiting the aliens' home planet]," he said, "at least maybe a summer vacation."

Even before the 2012-13 TV season began, some TV critics had their knives out for "The Neighbors" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, WTAE), a broad sitcom about a human family that moves into a New Jersey neighborhood populated by extraterrestrials in human disguise.

Series creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman, who wrote "Cars" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love," said he was surprised by the initial critical backlash against "The Neighbors."

"I've done a lot of films now and I'm pretty attuned to what the critical response will be to a film," he said. His latest movie, "The Guilt Trip" with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, opens this month. "It caught me off guard. A pilot is a very difficult thing to pull off, and this was very different and unique. It looked different and felt different and despite the growing pains I thought critics would appreciate that it wasn't your stock sitcom that comes out every year."

He said his initial worry was that critics might like the show more than the audience; instead, the opposite happened. "The Neighbors" has drawn decent ratings and has been picked up for a full first season.

"I think the sentiment is going to change," Mr. Fogelman said. "The show has a really loyal base following, and I think it will start growing now, and I think critics will come around. I've been doing this a long time and we have some of the best, most accomplished writers working on this show, and we feel we really have something."

Mr. Fogelman said his pitch for the show's first season was to stick to simple stories that then get compounded and heightened by the situation of aliens and humans living in the same neighborhood.

"You could hypothetically do the first season of 'The Cosby Show' in terms of topics like a fish dies and explore that [from the alien and human perspective] and this show is so heightened and the concept is so left of center that it will do the work of making it original for you," he said. "The stories don't need to be reinvented."

Mr. Fogelman said he's been most surprised by the strength of the child actors on the show, and as a result he's started writing more for them, pointing to a scene between the Weavers' youngest daughter and alien patriarch Larry Bird in this week's episode as an example.

Actress Toks Olagundoye said she's been surprised by the nature of her character, the alien matriarch.

"I didn't see her as quite so sweet," she said. "I thought of her as a Type-A perfect mother, perfect housewife trying to make sure everything is always as wonderful as can be and concerned about doing things wrong and being judged. But she's not concerned about being judged, she's concerned about hurting people and she's trying to make sure everyone is OK, and that's not what I got from her initially."

Mr. Fogelman said he was pleased "The Neighbors" was able to tap into some heart early on.

"We're actually finding we can bare a large amount of heart in the show and not just make it funny and wacky, but it can also be sweet and charming," he said. "One of the things I'm most excited about is we can do all this crazy stuff with the aliens and at the end of the day feel sentimental about the characters in the show and the relationships. That's where we find we're walking a fine line with a high degree of difficulty and we're doing well with it so far."

Upcoming episodes will explore the notion of death, which freaks out the aliens, and what happens when aliens get a winter cold. There's also an episode where the aliens see their first musical and they're so impressed they're determined to do one musical number in the neighborhood.

And then the plot will ramp up toward the end of the season.

"The main arc of the first season we've been playing is the aliens trying to figure out how to adapt to Earth and the alien matriarch is very pro-wanting to learn about this world and Larry Bird is the perpetual Archie Bunker who is hesitant to engage," Mr. Fogelman said. "So there's that push and pull, and by the end of the first season we want to get to a point where the aliens have bought into trying to learn from this world and then a faction comes from their home planet telling them they have to come back home."

Mr. Fogelman hopes to cast a big name guest star as leader of the alien faction from the home planet.

"I could even see way down the road, in success, the humans taking a trip to see what's on the other side [by visiting the aliens' home planet]," he said, "at least maybe a summer vacation."

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A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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