Posts Tagged ‘The Neighbors’

Well, faithful Wood’s Stock readers (or #Stockers, as I am now going to call you) we have finally reached the end of the fall premiere season, which means it’s time to make arbitrary comparisons between freshman TV shows based on categories I invent for my own enjoyment. As a reminder, the scoring is based on a football system. Why? Because it’s funner that way.

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High-concept serials with a twist

Yes, a “high-concept” serial, by definition, is one that has some sort of unexpected or unique feature, but despite its redundancy adding “with a twist!” just makes everything more exciting. What else is exciting? Crafting a military/political drama that spends a large amount of its plot time underwater (ABC’s Last Resort), or tell a “searching-for-my-family” story in a post-apocalyptic dystopia (NBC’s Revolution).

Before either of these shows aired, Last Resort was enjoying submarine-sized critical buzz while Revolution – the J.J. Abrams, Jon Favreau blackout extravaganza – was being met with more than just a shred of veiled skepticism. Favreau had, after all, completely blown it recently with Cowboys and Aliens and J.J.’s indomitable stock had fallen slightly after the back-to-back failures of Free Agents and Alcatraz.

Then they premiered to fairly comparable quality, with Revolution enjoying a bump from critical underestimation (and sneaky clever NBC post-olympic scheduling) while Last Resort thudded somewhat as its underperformance failed to meat raised expectations.

Revolution still isn’t great and Last Resort isn’t terrible, but as often happens the pleasant surprise wins out over the disappointment.

Winner: Revolution by 6, a touchdown with a missed extra point

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Crime procedural with a quirky anti-hero

On CBS’s Elementary, Sherlock Holmes is a modern day British recovering drug addict whose gifted powers of observation and deductive logic make him a valuable consultant for the NYPD. On CBS’s Vegas, Dennis Quaid is a rancher-turned-sherrif who just wants to keep his little desert gambling town safe from the invading (and inevitable) influence of mobsters, money and political machinations.

Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is the lesser of today’s three Holmeses, but it’s still fun to watch the greatest detective ever written genius-mumbling his way through seemingly inane clues to catch a killer in modern Manhattan. Throw in Lucy Liu as a female Watson and you have a recipe that doesn’t exactly sizzle but sticks to the ribs nonetheless.

Meanwhile on Vegas, Quaid has found the perfect surly character for his aging persona and for Vegas-files like myself it’s great to tickle your nostalgia bone by watching lawmen toting shotguns on horseback down Fremont Street. Plus, I like to watch Vegas as though it was a prequel to CSI, even though the two have nothing to do with each other besides being similarly-Nevada-set cogs in the CBS crime procedural machine.

Winner: Elementary by 2 points because of a pesky 2nd-quarter safety Vegas could never quite erase

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Sitcoms whose entire reason for being is the mere existence of one or more gay characters

Ryan Murphy, the envelope-pushing creator of Nip/Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story, decided that he was going to single-handedly legalize gay marriage by making a tv show about a group of obnoxious and unlikeable characters and their non-funny dialogue. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with. It’s a Quixotic task, to be sure, and one that he fails completely at doing.

NBC’s The New Normal, which revolves around a gay couple who choose to have a baby through a surrogate, leaves no stereotypical-stone unturned, no off-color joke unspoken and no subset of society un-insulted. Arrested Development proved that terrible people can be funny. New Normal merely proves that terrible people can be terrible entertainment.

By comparison, CBS’s Partners looks like a holiday marathon of It’s A Wonderful Life. The single-camera, laugh-track heavy comedy about a straight man and his gay best friend/architectural business partner/pain in the neck is derivative, uninspired and – in the heaviest compliment I can pay it – harmless. Were it not for the asterisk of being centered around a gay character, Partners would be the exact prototype flavorless conveyor-belt style programming that mainstream middle America gobbles up by the millions (i.e. According to Jim, King of Queens, Last Man Standing, Rules of Engagement). As it stands, Partners is a simple 22-minute bridge from one CBS Monday-night comedy to another, that manages to squeeze in a few chuckle-worthy quips every now and then. Neither is scoring any major points for equality in America, but at least Partners doesn’t make you lunge for the remote.

Winner: Partners by a field goal, the only points earned by either team in the entire duration of the game.

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Comedies with a largely non-human cast

America, as I’m told, loves monkeys. Loves them. I’d be more baffled by this if I didn’t see example after example of how America also loves crap entertainment (lookin’ at you 2.5 Men and Bachelorette). So the idea of setting a sitcom in a veterinary clinic and promoting a female Capuchin Monkey named Crystal to series regular seems, objectively, like a stroke of business genius.

Apparently, however, America has limits (or NBC is just THAT unlucky) because no one watched Animal Practice and the show has already been cancelled, meaning the atrocious Whitney – and not the amazing Community – will be moving back to Thursday nights.

Compare that to ABC’s The Neighbors, a show about a family that moves into a gated community full of aliens (yes, aliens) that premise-wise sounds like a bad idea wrapped in a disaster and deep fried in liquid doom. Turns out, it’s actually kind of funny. Heck, it’s way better than The Middle.

Winner: The game is given to The Neighbors due to a forfeit technicality, robbing them of their chance to fight for the win.

Losser: For the second year in a row, the loser is America because Whitney remains.

Charmingly-endearing comedies with a heart

I saved this category for the last because it’s the Rose Bowl. As far as I’m concerned, Fox’s Ben and Kate and NBC’s Go On are the two best freshman offerings from the major broadcast networks.

Each one takes a turn from the typical sitcom genre. Ben and Katie completely sidesteps the overused and over-obvious Will-They-Won’t-They relationship by staging the male and female leads as brother and sister, while NBC’s Go On is actually a hybrid Dramedy centered around a man experience in group therapy after his wife dies.

Go On has the better ensemble while Ben and Kate has the better supporting characters. Go On has more consistent humor, but Ben and Kate gets you with one-liners. Laura Benanti is gorgeous, but Dakota Johnson is adorable. Matthew Perry is a seasoned pro, but Nat Faxon is a fresh face and one-half of the oscar winning writing partnership of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

How is a person to choose?

My simple answer would be don’t, watch them both. But for the sake of the exercise I give the edge to Go On because I love a good ensemble.

Winning: Go On by a late, fourth-quarter field goal. 

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Ben and Kate (Fox)

For those of you who don’t know Nat Faxon, he’s the other half of the Jim Rash/Nat Faxon writing duo that scored an Oscar for The Descendents last year. For those of you who don’t know Jim Rash, shame on you.

In Ben and Kate, Faxon plays opposite the charming and tragically under-utilized Dakota Johnson as a brother-and-sister duo dealing with the various hijinks of modern sitcom pseudo-adulthood.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the show but for some reason the “‘Friends’ with siblings” format really works, making Ben and Kate one of the freshest, sincerest and most enjoyable sitcom offerings of the fall (so far, but there’s not much on the horizon in funny land). Johnson is a gem, who rightly deserves the spotlight she’ll hopefully receive, and Faxon toes the line nicely between oafish imbecile and endearing misfit. The character also works for Faxon’s unconditional physical presence (his writing partner Rash has a similar problem, and goes by the twitter handle @RashIsTVUgly) providing some deep chuckles in a pilot focused on the crashing of an exes wedding and a potential schmuck scamming on little sis Kate.

Between the avoidance of a Moonlighting will-they-won’t-they (which has become essentially required in any TV show) a great fill in-cast of his friend, her friend and Johnson’s daughter, Ben and Kate opens up a lot of possibilities for genuine comedy without trying to reinvent the wheel.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

Elementary (CBS)

As always, prime time television is the last to capitalize on the latest trends, jumping on the Conan Doyle bandwagon with this CBS-ified crime procedural spin on the Sherlock Holmes character played with more intrigue by Benedict Cumberbatch and more revelry and charisma by Robert Downy Jr.

Elementary is a perfectly adequate show, shaking things up just enough by setting Holmes in the modern day and with a female (gasp!) sidekick Watson in the form of Lucy Liu.

But if the pilot is any indication, the show will spend less time in the fun and mystique of Doyle’s super-sleuth and instead will mire down in the same case-of-the-week nonsense that permeates CBS’s primetime schedule. Johnny Lee Miller’s Holmes may make for a far-better protagonist than the average CSI/NCIS-spinoff star and overal a better show, but it’s still just an improvement on a tired genre that’s already cluttering DVRs. But, since it’s on The Eye, expect ludicrously large numbers with a marginal 18-49 demo.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

Last Resort (ABC)

So much potential for such an ambiguous delivery. Alternating between moments of greatness and long stagnant periods lousy with awkward exposition, ABC’s rogue submarine show debuted this week and my reaction is…huh?

What we know, the crew of the Colorado receives suspicious orders to bomb the snot out of Pakistan and, when they hesitate to comply, are targeted by friendly fire. They then take refuge on a small island where they play nuclear chicken with the U.S. government until they can get home to their lives and loved one and, meanwhile, squabble with the local despot and some suspicious Navy guys they picked up before everything hit the fan.

Oh, and some girl in her underwear has some new piece of valuable technology conveniently placed on the ship that needs to be retrieved.

Is that enough MacGuffins for you?

I’m a sucker for the bottled tension of a submarine, but the minute these guys went ashore on St. Marina the show turned into some weird hybrid of Gilligan’s Island, Lost and Flash Forward (not a compliment). This show could very easily fly off the rails fast and I’m inclined to think failure is more likely than success.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On.

Vegas (CBS)

Oh CBS, here you go again. The pilot of ‘Vegas’ is a pure period-piece pleasure. Dramatizing the “true story” of the old days of Las Vegas, when incoming mobsters butted heads with local law enforcement and good-matured country folk, the show sets up a nice cat and mouse game between Michael Chiklis’ pinstriped mobster and Dennis Quaid’s shotgun-toting “I Am The Law!” sheriff.

Chiklis and Quaid look great, slipping into their characters’ skins like a tailored glove and injecting a sense of good-old-fashioned fun into what could otherwise (and may still become) a watered down attempt at nostalgia (Playboy Club, anyone?).

Throw in a solid cast of supporting players, including Matrix’ Carrie Ann Moss as an assistant D.A. and obviously love interest for Quaid, and you have yourselves the making of a rich universe with endless storytelling potential, set in the Fremont Street-era of America’s playground.

I’m impressed and hopeful, but we’ve also been here before and what starts out as a compelling drama could just as easily turn into a prequel to CSI at the hands of CBS’ geriatric machinations. Until then, though, let’s see what happens.

Grade: B+

Class: Keep an Eye On

Partners (CBS)

The second of two new sitcoms this fall featuring gay male lead characters, Partners is the muti-camera, laughtrack foil to NBC’s The New Normal. Where TNN aims to “push the envelope” with offensive dialogue and blatant caricatures, Partners seems to have no other goal then to just make 3-part jokes for the live studio audience.

Starring David Krumholtz and Michael Urie as childhood friends turned architects, Partners gives us three couples: the friendship between Joe and Louis and their respective paramours, Ali and Wyatt (played by Superman Returns Brandon Routh, a.k.a the worst Superman of all time or the awesome vegan guy from Scott Pilgrim).

It’s a perfectly adequate show, fitting in well in with CBS’s perfectly adequate Monday lineup and scoring a few bonus points by simply winning the comparison between NBC’s awful TNN and for one well-placed West Side Story Reference. I’ll never watch this show again, but I wasn’t miserable watching the pilot.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

The Mindy Project (Fox)

I wanted to like The Mindy Project, but what essentially amounts to The New Girl without the three roommates or good writing falls flat fast. Mindy is in jail, apparently she got drunk at her ex’s wedding, gave an ill-adivsed Rom-Com toast and then biked into someone’s swimming pool. From there the pilot is a series of ineffective one-liners and incessant commenting about Mindy’s weight issues.

We’re supposed to understand that because Mindy watched to many RomComs growing up, she’s ill-prepared to tackled the realities of human drama and modern relationships. Problem is, the same reason we hate RomComs are the reason this show comes off as grating and unpleasant. Like New Girl, Mindy’s “problems” are trivial at best, but instead of laughing at the ignorance and naivete of the star we’re supposed to feel sympathetic, or solidarity, I’m not sure.

In the end, it’s a lot of wasted talent in an otherwise forgetful retread of subjects that other shows do better.

Grade: C+

Class: Kill and Bury

The Neighbors (ABC)

In Neighbors, a New Jersey family of 5 moves in to a sub-division where literally every other person is an alien from another planet.

A disaster waiting to happen? I thought so to, but despite sounding like the worst idea for a TV show since Work It! Neighbors manages to exceed your low expectations.

After all, Alf and 3rd Rock from the Sun were TV staples way-back-when. When you watch Neighbors you do get the feeling that you’re watching some relic from the mid-90’s, Wonderful World of Disney-era when people weren’t so skeptical and TV was uniformly innocuous crap.

Do I expect The Neighbors to succeed? No, no chance. Do I even intend to watch episode 2? Probably not. But I sat down expecting a train wreck and instead got…not a train wreck. Heck, it’s better than Two and a Half Men.

Grade: B

Class: Beats me

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