The supernatural animated sitcom is a relatively new genre—and by “relatively new,” I mean I can only think of two series that qualify: Comedy Central’s hilarious Ugly Americans and TBS’ Neighbors From Hell, which premiered Monday night. I’m less enthused about the latter. While Ugly Americans is sharp, funny, and twisted, Neighbors From Hell feels like a heavily diluted version of it.
I’m still intrigued by the idea, though. We’ve got plenty of supernatural dramas—True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural (duh)—but comedies are new terrain. Neighbors From Hell follows the Hellmans, a family of demons forced to assimilate to life on earth. Their mission: To sabotage the building of a drill that can reach the earth’s core. The set-up is a little too convenient—the pilot screams, “This is our situation! Now here’s the comedy!” But the series is at least conscious of its sitcom roots, with patriarch Balthazor (Will Sasso) encouraging his family to watch shows like Growing Pains and Family Ties to learn how to fit in.
It’s interesting that those series—along with The Cosby Show—are the ones Balthazor picks. Maybe that explains why so much of Neighbors From Hell feels dated. The pilot opened with Balthazor torturing a victim in hell by playing Britney Spears’ “Oops!... I Did It Again.” Which, first of all, isn’t anywhere near Britney’s most torturous song. But more importantly, it’s 10 years old, making it a curious choice. (I would have gone with Ke$ha.) Later, daughter Mandy (Tracey Fairaway) complained that Earth is where Ugg boots come from. A fair assessment, but another joke that felt recycled from an older show.
Even so, the voice cast alone may be enough to keep me tuning in. In addition to the very funny Sasso, there's Molly Shannon, who plays Balthazor’s wife Tina. And Patton Oswalt, who’s a great comedian and voice actor, is the family dog, Pazuzu. I actually took Pazuzu’s name as a sign that Neighbors From Hell might be good: The semi-obscure reference to the demon from The Exorcist is a wink at genre fans. There were a few other smart jokes, including the sign above Satan’s door: “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enters My Office.” Cute.
We’ll see how long I feel inclined to keep up with a show that didn’t once make me laugh out loud—I’m less forgiving of subpar sitcoms than I am of dramas. But perhaps Neighbors From Hell can become something to tide me over, just until Ugly Americans makes its triumphant return.