Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Family Conference" With THE NEIGHBORS

Article first published as "Family Conference" With THE NEIGHBORS on TheTVKing.

ABC's The Neighbors, which began last fall as a goofy, unliked "comedy," and grew into something sweet and charming by spring, returned for a second outing this week with "Family Conference." While celebrating their first anniversary as neighbors, the Weavers and the Joyner-Kersees discover their teenage children have been secretly dating, which throws everyone for a loop.

It's funny how, as much as the humans and the aliens grow close as friends, there is still a bit of prejudice against one another, and "Family Conference" pulls that to the forefront. It wasn't so long ago in our societal history that mixed race marriages were considered taboo, and this is sort of an extension of that, albeit among two clans who know each other well enough that there isn't hate so much as just fear of the unknown.

Not that I'm saying The Neighbors is a study in race relations. It's way too silly to take itself that seriously; the bits about what the offspring would like it prove that point. But it's admirable how they can a weave an element of that into a show that is plain funny. The aliens are unaware of Earth customs all that much, but they also consider themselves above such things at times, making for amusing clashes.

The show also tackles teenage romance, a familiar territory, putting its own spin on it. Amber Weaver (Clara Mamet) and Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo) have the normal emotional ground to cover, plus the added difficulty of their varied backgrounds. Reggie wants to commit to Amber for life, but has a soul mate, whom he dubs "Jane" (Megan Park, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) when she shows up this week, whom he is magnetically attracted to.

We don't yet know a lot about Jane and Reggie's connection. Clearly, there is chemistry and a literal attraction, but is this something Reggie can overlook to be with Amber? He states as much, but the end of "Family Conference" hints that it might be out of his control. It should make for a good plot this fall.

Another theme of "Family Conference" is the relationship between mothers and their children. Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) wants to be the sole focus of Reggie's life and adoration, while Debbie Weaver (Jami Gertz) would be happy with any enthusiasm at all from Amber towards her. Both sort of get their wish, to a small extent, in this episode, but it's clear these are relationships they will continue to work at.

Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) doesn't seem to care a lick about Reggie's feelings, but that's in keeping with his character, not necessarily his sex. Marty Weaver (Lenny Venito) very much is concerned with Amber, even if he doesn't understand her. So I wouldn't say The Neighbors perpetuates gender stereotypes; it's just the characters at the center that seem inept at relationships. After all, Reggie is very in touch with his feminine side.

Besides these larger themes, the show operates on a joke-by-joke level, with the characters themselves being the real draw, and moments really working. Olagundoye continues to stand out as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the alien who would rather jump through lasers in a catsuit than clap them off. Her younger son, Dick Butkus (Ian Patrick) has not outgrown the cuteness this adult-like child exhibits, serving as office manager and court reporter in this installment. And little Abby Weaver (Isabella Cramp) may just get the best scene this week when she shows she's the only one who really gets the relationship between Amber and Reggie.

Also, I recommend pausing the screen in the conference room whenever a profile of one of the leads is displayed on screen. Among other things, we get to see that the alien parents are well over 600 Earth years old, and the death dates for Marty and Debbie. Love it!

The last observation I have about "Family Conference" is when did The Neighbors on ABC become Bones on FOX? I'm used to Bones blatantly pushing product placement, with what are essentially car commercials integrated into the episodes and a shout out to the series airing after it, Sleepy Hollow, in this week's season premiere. Yet, The Neighbors does the same thing with Diet Dr. Pepper and Shark Tank in it's own first episode back. Product placement isn't new, it's just slightly disheartening to see it spreading so blatantly. It does not detract from either of these shows, yet if it continues to become popular, it could easily become a hinderance.

The Neighbors airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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