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Television Review

‘The Neighbors’: Aliens in the ’hood

Toks Olagundoye and Simon Templeman play aliens named after famous athletes.

Ron Tom/ABC

Toks Olagundoye and Simon Templeman play aliens named after famous athletes.

You know how every year the networks deliver at least one mercilessly bad sitcom that can only be compared to an overextended “Saturday Night Live” sketch? A sketch that would have aired desperately late in the 90-minute show? In the dreaded early 1980s?

Well, ABC’s “The Neighbors” is this season’s awful sitcom, the one that defies all kind of sense. It makes you want to ask ABC, as Seth Meyers asks in his new “SNL” news segment, What are you doing? ABC has been building an admirably strong comedy lineup with the likes of “Modern Family,” “The Middle,” and “Happy Endings,” shows that base their humor on character. So why would the network bother with this one-joke, high-concept, yuk-grubbing series about a human family in a gated community of aliens?

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You might want to ask show creator Dan Fogelman what he is doing, too. He wrote “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” the charming rom-com with Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, and Emma Stone, a success that ought to have granted him lifelong immunity from this kind of broad brainlessness.

“The Neighbors” is a reverse image of “3rd Rock From the Sun.” The Weavers are a stereotypical sitcom family, with mom Debbie (Jami Gertz) harping on dad Marty (Lenny Venito) to be more decisive around the household. She and their three kids, including a teenager with attitude (Clara Mamet, daughter of David Mamet and Rebecca Pidgeon), are not happy, though, when he finally does take charge and moves them into a bland New Jersey McNeighborhood. And unhappiness gives way to shock when they learn that all their neighbors are from the planet Zabvron, stand in formation, and have named themselves after professional athletes such as Dick Butkus and Larry Bird.

The athlete joke recurs, as do poorly constructed double-entendres, bad puns, and unearned aww moments. By the end of the premiere, which is Wednesday night at 9:30 on Channel 5, we learn that while the Zabvronians are weird — they cry green goop from their ears, the men give birth to babies, they eat by reading — they are more like humans than first imagined. The Weavers become friendly with neighbors Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), who are dismayed when their son, Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick), reveals that he is an alien to the Weaver kids. “Oh dear,” says Larry, “I fear our little Dick may have exposed himself again.” But the two families ultimately find lots of common ground. Both husbands, for example, are having power struggles with their wives, which they share while Marty drinks a beer and Larry looks at one.

For a five-minute sketch while nodding into Sunday morning? Maybe. For a weekly half-hour in prime time? Nope. The Zabvronians take in nourishment through their eyes, which means that if they watched this show for dinner too often, they’d waste away to nothing.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at
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