Who needs a “previously on” reel when Jackie can simply open the episode by imploring Larry to “catch up those two Tim Allen fans who accidentally tuned in” after Last Man Standing? That’s the kind of gag The Neighbors has feasted on for the past season-plus, ever since they decided not just to tear down the fourth wall, but basically come into our living rooms on a comedic pledge-driving crusade for their renewal. In lieu of bartering series merchandise for donations, “There Goes the Neighbors’ Hood”−which finds the Bird-Kersees moving back to Zabvron rather than confront Reggie’s yen to be human and Dick’s itch to pull a Doogie Howser and enroll early in Harvard, among other Earthly crises−reasons that our continued viewership would facilitate further antics like sass-talking gingerbread men and toothpick statues of Marty Weaver.
But what we’d really miss are the characters. There’s Reggie, who’s currently weighing the advantages of mortal existence with Amber versus being “just another Asian guy,” much as he avows to “work really hard at math and violin to distinguish myself.” Then we have Dick, whom older brother Reggie proudly refers to as a “ginger LoJack” on account of his keen recovery instincts. And let’s not forget their loving extraterrestrial parents, Larry and Jackie, the former of whom is with child and experiencing delirious mood swings and fretting over which orifice the baby will emerge from, while his daffy wife Jackie sees Debbie holding Larry’s positive pregnancy test (a visual setup that rewards with numerous punch lines about icky pee sticks) and asks, “What does it tell you if you poop on it, the weather?”
For all their alien-ness, the Bird-Kersees have comfortably, cannily fit into traditional family sitcom archetypes, only updated with contemporary diversity and self-awareness. It’s fitting that, at finale’s end, they stay behind as their fellow athlete-namesake Zabvronians follow Larry’s impish brother, DJ Jazzy Jeff (so absurd), back home to outer space. Neither the Bird-Kersees, nor The Neighbors, need to rely on the series’ otherworldly premise, no matter what ABC determines come cancellation time.
Ditto for the surprising Weavers (and vis-à-vis, actors Jami Gertz, Larry Venito, Clara Mamet, Max Charles and Isabella Cramp), who outgrew their collective straight-man assignment and gelled as the Bird-Kersees’ complementary opposites and accomplices. Debbie (who might rival Modern Family’s Claire in the casual-lush category) matches gal-pal Jackie’s quirky good heart one gesture and blunder after another. When she rallies Larry to take charge, reminding him that, “There’ll always be other Harvards and genetically altering pills and scary male pregnancies and DJ Jazzy Jeffs,” Gertz’s inner monologue interrupts and deservedly observes, “The things that have come out of my mouth this season.”
Venito might second the notion. The part of Marty is so much richer and loonier now than the thankless blue-collar patriarch we first met. He’s a romantic and a neurotic, a man’s man who jumps at the chance to be a giddy little boy and owns his insecurities (in this sense, he’s sort of an evolved version of Mod Fam’s Jay). As Larry waivers on whether to remain in the Garden State (loved the reveal that Jersey’s misleading nickname factored into the Bird-Kersees settling there), Marty breaks into panic sweats about adjustable interest rates, surmising, “Looks like we’re gonna be stuck in our town home till the day we die.” (Ed O’Neill’s other famed sitcom-dad persona, Al Bundy, may in fact be a better analog for Marty.)
Max and Abby didn’t get to do much in what could be the series’ swan song, although Abby (i.e. Cramp) grew into a terrific foil for precocious Dick over time, and Max was a nicely mellowed iteration of the token, mischievous pre-teen boy. At least their scant contribution to “There Goes” ensured they wouldn’t abet another uncomfortably mature euphemism (witty and shocking as those recent post-credits innuendos have been). Plus, Amber was there tonight and all season long to pick up the slack, freed from her initial afterthought status as the epitome of indifferent teen angst to explore truly nuanced teen-romance material with Reggie. Ya know, like dissuading her interspecies paramour from rescinding his Zabvronian DNA (or whatever encodes them) by introducing him to the reality of Everybody Poops, the first step toward being “old and bald and weak and then dead.” (Reggie, sweetly, insists he’d “go bald and poop” for his true love.)
Throughout its 22 minutes, “There Goes the Neighbors’ Hood” juggles its telethon incentive with conclusive storytelling more assuredly than any satirical musical episode or Oscars sendup in the series’ short history. The finale serves its show’s larger cause self-evidently. And if The Neighbors returns (and Reggie has apparently “heard whispers of ABC Family,” to Larry’s disapproval), it will have an exciting challenge ahead, one that parallels its nuclear alien family’s dilemma. They’ve found their comedic and sentimental voice, and most definitely have the ensemble they need (so long, Mary Lou Retton, Johnny Unitas et al). All that stands between them and, if given the chance, a potentially breakthrough third year, is shedding their creative self-consciousness a la the Bird-Kersees more or less deserting their green anatomies. Hopefully, they’ll be able to carry on their mission, because The Neighbors is the closest thing network primetime has to a classic family comedy that follows formula and disrupts the mold, and like that animated gingerbread man, would make terrific future nostalgia.
- They really love a pixelated swear word.
- Man, I wish I watched Game of Thrones.
- Marty can’t imagine Debbie’s pregnant because they’ve not only been careful, but “infrequent.” Classic Marty.
- If there is another season, they best follow through on Dick’s Simpsons script.
- Larry’s declaration of, “I think someone must have left a hole in the cat bag” might be the new, “The jerk store called…”
- Hopefully, Spanglish will be the Zabvronians in-flight movie.
- Well, if Larry went back to Zabvron, at least he has coffee-shop experience to work at Starbucks.
- Larry’s “I’m having a baby” dance needs GIF treatment.
- Ditto for Jackie’s Michelle Obama impression.
- If for no other reason than a nod to The Neighbors’ perfect modern TGIF-ness, I’m OK with the Full House ending.
- I am not, however, OK with this series ending. What could it hurt to watch if you haven’t?