The Neighbors: “It Has Begun...”
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The Neighbors: “It Has Begun...”

It would be interesting to know when in the course of this season’s production “It Has Begun…” was filmed. George Takei’s guest appearance was announced back in January, so there’s a good chance the answer is somewhere in the middle, which sounds about right. As a finale, it’s a perfect punctuation on, and synopsis of, The Neighbors’ inaugural run. That’s not to say it’s the underdog sitcom’s finest 22 minutes. Recent highlights including “The Neighbors: The Musical,” “Dream Weavers” and “Larry Bird Presents an Oscar-Winning Film by Larry Bird” have hinted at a mischievous streak as primetime’s court jester of pop-culture satire. And while “Begun” offers plenty in the way of both familiar and oddball entertainment references—from “Star Wars” to Philip Roth—it’s real strength is balancing earlier episodes’ family friendly status quo with a sudden confidence around edgier material, whether it arrives in the form of digs at Nicholas Sparks (good one, Dick) or the Bird-Kersees’ lack of filter (e.g. Larry anointing Marty his best man at he and Jackie’s Atlantic City wedding despite finding him “terribly flawed” and there being “something about your face that I’m not terribly wild about”).

In the opening minutes of “Begun,” Debbie and Marty announce they’re taking a day to themselves in A.C. and ask the Bird-Kersees to keep an eye on Amber, who’s watching her brother and sister. Exhausted by their “lame children,” Larry and Jackie naturally want to crash the Weavers’ getaway. Before they can argue, Larry lays out the inevitability of a rote back and forth leading to Debbie and Marty’s acquiescence, at which point, “Hijinks will ensue.” At first blush,  it seems a fairly lazy fourth-wall moment for a show that’s become quite clever with its point of view. But contrary to Larry’s assuredness, he and all the other Bird-Kersees and Weavers experience sincere connectedness with each other by episode’s end, and The Neighbors successfully subverts expectations with convention—and it’s all very sweet, particularly Reggie and Amber at last communicating their feelings with a kiss. Although, this being The Neighbors, Amber steps back, impressed, inquiring, “Wow, two tongues?” to which Reggie brushes his shoulder off and replies, “You know it.” Cocky Reggie is a funny Reggie.

If anything, the least essential story (and perhaps another indicator that the episode’s stunt casting was locked down before the series found its audience) of “It Has Begun…” is Takei’s arrival as Larry’s father, set to evacuate the Bird-Kersees from Earth and return them to Zabvron. He’s not going to destroy our planet or anything. He’s simply not won over by what he’s witnessed and tired of underwriting this little alien-emigre experiment. Takei does his thing, scoring a couple easy laughs with his trademark velvety annunciation and “Ohhhh Myyyyy” catchphrase, although his character’s most effective when neither seen nor heard. Specifically, when dispatching messages to Dick Butkus (who’s especially charming in Mrs. Doubtfire mode and when awkwardly wooing Amber) via stale pieces of toast that successively read, “Pop-pop loves you” and “Betray me and die.” It epitomizes a brand of escalating, goofball gag that The Neighbors has begun to deftly, economically work into its repertoire. Takei’s eventual descent onto Hidden Hills plays like a headlining band that just got blown off the stage by its opener rather than the season-saving cameo it was likely conceived to be. Even an end-credits confrontation between Takei and Mark Hamill (as one of his crew members) comes off as needlessly pandering in light of how well “Begun” stands on its own two webbed, extra-terrestrial feet. 

Fittingly, The Neighbors is something of an outsider on the network scene. From day one, it’s been routinely, unexpectedly hilarious if somewhat corny and reliant on its gimmicky premise. As the season lived on, the jokes went for broke and largely triumphed,  if at times overindulging a self-appointed license to dedicate entire episodes to skewering Glee and taking the Oscars down a peg. And regardless of when “It Has Begun…” was filmed, this finale—and its exemplary marriage of heart and hubris—might be the safest landing spot for newcomers in The Neighbors’ world. 

Stray observations:

  • I don’t know about you, but I’d also go pee in the backyard.
  • “Amber, sweeties,” Dick’s “made pot stickers.”
  • This episode had me at “Tim Tater.” Any enemy of ventriloquism is a friend of mine.
  • Nice touch having all the A.C. stereotypes (e.g. guy in cowboy hat with young woman, bawdy bachelorette party, rowdy frat boys et al) present in a very quickly edited minute.
  • Larry identifying the Ace of clubs as “an A of balls.” A joke for all age groups.
  • Jackie’s is basically Encino Woman when she gets excited about frothy Earthly rituals.
  • They sure were talking about seeing through the cards within dire earshot of those dealers.
  • Larry asking Marty, “How poor are you?” when he frets over gambling $5,000. Wait, how rich is Larry? 
  • When Larry’s done doing his Rain Man schtick with Marty, he’s “going to see a man and his puppets.” Go, Larry, go!
  • Brilliant sight gag with Debbie and the housekeeping outfit/cart, and her shining moment this week.
  • Amber is Reggie’s “favorite thing about earth. Her, “and Joe Biden.” Leslie Knope would be proud.
  • Takei incredulously asking Larry, “Didn’t you get my toasts?” might have been his best line and a delightful callback to the earlier sequence.
  • The revelation that Jackie’s name on Zabvron is Debbie Callahan may have been the archetypally genius Neighbors aside. Well done.

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