Here's a good litmus test to determine whether you will like ABC's new comedy The Neighbors: First, consider the concept: a regular human family moves into a gated community that’s exclusively occupied by aliens disguised as humans. Then imagine the chasm of cultural differences between a regular Joe Jersey family and aliens that learned about human society from 1950s sitcoms and Sports Illustrated. Finally, add alpacas, way too much pie, and buckets of green ooze. Did you laugh? It's okay, we once did, too.
But here's the real test: Repeat that concept over and over for 30 minutes. Are you still laughing? How about if you imagine that same concept repeated over and over and over and over for an entire season's worth of television. Still laughing? EXACTLY.
The Neighbors is one of those high-concept (What if we like totally lived next door to aliens, dude?) comedies that's too scared to go beyond its original premise because it feels naked without it. This is a show about humans that live next door to aliens, and that's all it is. Ninety-nine percent of the jokes in the show are some spin on "Humans are from Earth, Aliens are from wherever the heck they're from," creating an atmosphere of softcore racism where our inner bigot can feel comfortable making fun of others. In this case there's no watchdog group screaming for aliens rights, though. However, I wouldn't be surprised if that meddling PETA (or PET-ETs, har) stepped up with complaints.
One larger problem for The Neighbors is that it ignores a fairly basic rule of comedy: have funny people on the show. Jami Gertz, who was more comical as a brooding vampire slut in The Lost Boys, is the biggest name in a cast that I think was assembled on a first-come-first-cast basis. There's a chance that Simon Templeman, who plays the alien leader Larry Bird (ha! Sports names!), will be able to muster up a few laughs, and Wilt's youngest kid is weird enough to draw your attention, but everyone else's comedic chops fail to go beyond their costumes and goofy grins. The Neighbors is filled with anti-acting, most of which involves standing still and erect with their arms by their side in a lazy effort to define these lame aliens as clueless visitors, even though they've been here for a decade. Compare that to the also-weird Thermians of Galaxy Quest, extra-terrestrials that also had trouble fitting in with humans but still managed to pull of individual personalities. That was funny. But that also had Enrico Colantoni, Missy Pyle, and Rainn Wilson.
With all that said, it would be premature to completely write the show off, as there's satirical territory to explore; I'll be sticking with The Neighbors for at least four episodes, and I'll let you know if it gets better. The idea of aliens living on human terms and reflecting on our own behavior has potential to be hilarious and insightful. But as of the first two episodes, that planet is light years away.
– It's important to distinguish betweenthis from other bad comedies out there, because The Neighbors at least deserves credit for not being entirely terrible. Compared to last season's Work It, which put men in women's clothes and probably resulted in many lonely nights on the couch for its creators after nuking women's rights back to prehistoric times, The Neighbors is entirely unoffensive. So it's got that going for it. Despite what others have said, it's not even the worst new comedy of the season (Guys With Kids, Partners, and Malibu Country are far worse).
– This show does get points for casting for diversity, as most of the human flavors are represented here.
– Who ok'd the athlete name joke? And then who ok'd the constant giggling at the name "Dick Butkus" joke? Both of those people should have their comedy cards shamefully burned in the middle of Times Square.
– The show's one-trick humor was obviously going to be run into the ground like a UFO in Area 51 (YES I JUST MADE THAT "JOKE") in the pilot, but I'm sorry to report that the trend continues in Episdoe 2, when the humans and aliens go to the mall. Of course the dad alien gets naked. Sorry for the spoiler.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom