I wish I could say that I feel bad about The Neighbors being canceled, but I can’t blame ABC. The show has slid so much in quality that the few times I tuned in, I couldn’t sit through an entire episode.
And that’s too bad.
The Neighbors had a great cast and debuted with fun episodes, but it worked only to the extent that it resisted becoming a conventional sitcom.
Debbie and Marty Weaver grounded the show for a while with a working class Jersey background. They felt like real people and a real family. And then Marty became Homer Simpson, an overgrown whiny baby with a 50 IQ and the kids became sitcom kids, smarter than their idiot parents.
And The Neighbors became every sitcom, a bunch of cliches pushed around a plate. And the cliches were terrible cliches. The show wasn’t a laugh machine the way that a CBS sitcom is. The Neighbors worked because of its talent cast and because the writing combined sincerity with the actually unexpected.
Season 2 seemed to be about the endless relationship between David Mamet’s daughter and “Reggie Jackson”. And the aliens went from being a little mysterious and different to becoming ordinary wacky sitcom neighbors. The show became I Love Lucy with worse writing and predictable gags.
The holiday episodes were terrible. The musical episode was unwatchable. The celebrity cameos were pointless.
It didn’t have to be this way.
3rd Rock From the Sun, a very similar show, had already gone over this territory. And its comedy stopped working when the aliens became too familiar and the sitcom cliches too overpowering. That show had John Lithgow who could keep the machine going because he could deliver a line like “Hello Family” and make it funny.
The Neighbors didn’t run that way. There was a time when it felt more like Andy Richter Controls the Universe and less like Modern Family. Wacky, strange and unpredictable, but sincere.
It would have been a shame if that show had been canceled. Instead canceling The Neighbors spares everyone from its 3rd season Christmas episode in which everyone ends up on Dancing With the Stars.