The Light from the TV Shows: It’s Time to Meet “The Neighbors”

Unto each generation, there must come at least one sitcom about aliens coming to Earth and trying to learn the ins and outs of humanity. It’s a trend which began in the 1960s with “My Favorite Martian,” and it has continued through the ‘70s (“Mork and Mindy”), ‘80s (“ALF”), ‘90s (“3rd Rock from the Sun”), and even the ‘00s (“My Hero”), and rather than leave us sitting on the edge of our seat for the better part of the decade, ABC has jumped into the fray early and provided us with the requisite entry for the ‘10s: “The Neighbors,” which premieres tonight at 9:30 PM.

Here’s the premise, straight from the ABC press release:

Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito) just wants the best for his wife, Debbie (Jami Gertz), and their three kids. That’s why he’s moving them to Hidden Hills, New Jersey, a gated community complete with its own golf course. Marty is certain that their new home will be a dream come true. And then, they meet the neighbors.

The residents of Hidden Hills are a little… different. The Weavers have barely unpacked when 20 of their new neighbors show up in the driveway, standing in a triangle formation, each holding an identical cherry pie. Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) introduces himself as the “leader” of the community. Then he presents his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), and their two sons (yes, they’re named after famous athletes – Dick Butkus and Reggie Jackson). As Debbie and Marty frantically try to make sense of the weird neighbors – European? A cult? Amish athletes? – they discover that the entire Hidden Hills community is comprised of aliens from the planet Zabvron. ‘Turns out the Zabvronians have been holed up in Hidden Hills for the past 10 years, awaiting instructions from back home, and the Weavers are the first humans who have ever lived amongst them.

At first the Weavers are ready to cut and run. But the aliens seem harmless enough. And there is a lot of closet space… So they decide to stay and help their new neighbors adapt to life on this confusing planet we call home. But as the Weavers and the aliens face the struggles of everyday life together, they discover that some things – the ups and downs of marriage, the desire to be a good parent and raise a happy family – are universal, intergalactic even. And the Weavers realize they’ve found an ally in the family next door… even if they do cry out of their ears.

When people have asked me to cite my favorite new shows of the season, I won’t pretend that “The Neighbors” has been at the top of my list, but I have found that I can rarely finish such a conversation without at least bringing it up. Not because I like it, although I do, but because my seven-year-old daughter absolutely freaking loves it…like, to the point where she has watched my advance DVD of the pilot three times now, almost lost her mind when I told her that ABC had provided me with an online screener of the second episode, and demanded that I add it to the TiVo queue immediately.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Taking a Gander at the 2012-2013 Season

Sure, the kick-off of the 2011-2012 TV season is still about four months away, give or take, but it’s never too soon to start getting excited about the new shows that will be gracing the broadcast networks come the fall…or to start placing bets on which ones will be the first to be cancelled. I’m keeping my mouth shut on both topics for the time being, but I have no doubt that most folks who check out these network-provided plot synopses and trailers won’t hesitate for a moment to offer up their opinions, so I look forward to reading what ya’ll have to say about what’s coming up…

ABC

666 Park Avenue (Sun., 10–11PM): At the ominous address of 666 Park Avenue, anything you desire can be yours. Everyone has needs, desires and ambition. For the residents of The Drake, these will all be met, courtesy of the building’s mysterious owner, Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn). But every Faustian contract comes with a price. When Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (Dave Annable), an idealistic young couple from the Midwest, are offered the opportunity to manage the historic building, they not only fall prey to the machinations of Doran and his mysterious wife, Olivia (Vanessa Williams), but unwittingly begin to experience the shadowy, supernatural forces within the building that imprison and endanger the lives of the residents inside. Sexy, seductive and inviting, The Drake maintains a dark hold over all of its residents, tempting them through their ambitions and desires, in this chilling new drama that’s home to an epic struggle of good versus evil.

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HS TV 101: 12 Great Shows Set In or Around High School

High school: it’s a rite of passage we all must endure. Some of us weep when it’s over, others can’t wait to say goodbye forever, but for better or worse, it’s an experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The same goes for some of the many TV series that have been set in high school. Here at Bullz-Eye, we’ve polled our writers for their favorite shows within the genre, and the end result is, not unlike high school itself, a mixture of both comedy and drama.

12. Life As We Know It (ABC, 2004 – 2005): Lasting only 11 episodes before ABC unceremoniously yanked it from the air, “Life As We Know It” premiered during perhaps the most cancel-happy era in television. Developed by two of the producers of “Freaks and Geeks” (maybe the writing was already on the wall), the series may have ultimately been undone by poor ratings, but the Parents Television Council’s campaign against the show’s sexual themes certainly didn’t help. Then again, when you green light a series based on a controversial young-adult novel called “Doing It” that follows the exploits of a trio of best friends (Sean Faris, Jon Foster and Chris Lowell) navigating the highs and lows of adolescence, you can hardly pretend to be surprised when its characters discuss sex on a fairly regular basis.

Featuring a great cast of young up-and-comers that also included Missy Peregrym and Kelly Osbourne (yes, that Kelly Osbourne, who’s never been cuter than she was here), “Life As We Know It” certainly wasn’t perfect by any means, but it easily outshined similar shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” particularly in its handling of its adult characters. The series wasn’t without the usual high school clichés, but the writers never shied away from edgier material, either – like a student having a secret affair with his teacher or a star jock dealing with performance issues – resulting in a smart, sweet and incredibly honest look at how sex changes everything. – Jason Zingale

11. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975 – 1979): Despite suffering through remedial classes and acting far more rebellious than was deemed socially acceptable, Gabe Kotter (played by the suspiciously similarly-named Gabe Kaplan) still somehow managed to graduate from James Buchanan High School, but who would have thought that the dreams that were his ticket out would lead him back there? (John Sebastian did, of course, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) With his teacher certification tucked into his back pocket, Kotter returns to his alma mater and takes on the challenge of trying to educate the new generation of remedial students. Oh, sure, their names have all changed since he hung around – now they’re called Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) – but they’re still “sweathogs” all the way.

Most would likely agree that “Welcome Back, Kotter” was at its best when it was still the original four Sweathogs, i.e. before Travolta slipped away from television, put on a white suit, and found big-screen success on the dance floor, but even at its funniest, few would probably describe it as the most realistic look into high school life.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to replicate the high school experience so much as they were trying to service those particular characters and write stories about them,” said Mark Evanier, who served as a story editor for the show. “If you could get a good joke out of it, great…though there were times I think we settled for a decent catch-phrase.”

While the words “up your nose with a rubber hose” lend credence to Evanier’s theory, the Marx-Brothers-inspired chemistry between the Sweathogs helps their slapstick shenanigans hold up nonetheless. And, besides, who needs realism when you’ve got Gabe Kaplan doing Groucho? – Will Harris

10. Glee (Fox, 2009 – present): Is it telling that one of the most popular current shows on TV came it at only the #10 spot? If nothing else, maybe it proves we here at Bullz-Eye aren’t prone to fads. Except that maybe we are, as “Glee” has made it onto our TV Power Rankings lists time and again since its debut. But this list isn’t about what entertains us in the broader sense; it’s about great high school shows. As entertaining as “Glee” can be, it has almost nothing real to say about the high school experience, and in fact most of the high school kids I know find it to be pretty nonsensical.

The one area that it seems to excel in as far as capturing the high school experience is in its ability to play romantic musical chairs with its cast of teenage characters. These kids are fickle, and the only guarantee that seems to come with a relationship on “Glee” is that sooner or later it’s going to end. Some props should probably also be given for their attempt to zero in on the bullying issue that so seems to afflict kids today, but “Glee” chose to unfortunately treat the topic with kid gloves rather than say something truly meaningful. None of this is to say that “Glee” isn’t one hell of an entertaining series, because it is, but anyone looking for something a little deeper would do best to dust off their old DVD of “The Breakfast Club.” – Ross Ruediger

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