Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Neighbors: “September Fools”

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When The Neighbors doesn’t go really big—like, musical-numbers big—it can be challenging to qualify one episode versus another. The show’s found remarkably sure footing very early into its run, even if some scripts trip over their own cleverness or the balance between TGIF traditionalism and fiendish satire feels askew. The best way to assess individual half hours of The Neighbors might be by discerning their LOL ratio. Or, less scientifically, the number of earnest guffaws per 22 minutes. Even that can be tricky, since some scenes—such as Jackie’s initially spirited, then spiteful, response to Larry’s escalating series of childish pranks in “September Fools”—generously mete out a disproportionate number of laughs over 60 seconds of television or less.

Most of tonight’s hijinks and one-liners landed, in part, because there was more of a filter with pop-culture asides. Whereas the season premiere felt at times like a dizzying give-and-take of in-network promo and out-of-network digs, “September Fools” focused its humor primarily on situational comedy. With poor Max as the linchpin of a bit about underage viewings of Magic Mike, the joke lacked bite. But before you could blink, Dick Butkus was offering backhanded compliments to Debbie’s Martha Stewart-ish fretting over a family photo (sentiments which she received with sincere gratitude), Jackie scolded Larry in the patois of a teenage skateboarder for duping her with a finger trap, and the timing was just right for Amber to drop a subtle Swimfan reference in the direction of Reggie’s stalker-soulmate, Jane. “September Fools” is actually quite wise about picking its spots.

Slightly less astute was hiring little people as stand-ins for Max and Abby to help Larry pull some Honey I Blew Up the Kids malarkey over on the Weavers. Max and Abby are in on the gag, and it’s not an entirely patronizing call of duty for the actors, but something about that kind of stunt casting feels dated and demeaning. Still, Big Abby helped keep that LOL ratio in tact when she taunted her would-be mom by assuring Debbie, “I’m fine mom. Boobies feel weird, but other than that I’m fine,” and continually nagging her for a bath. Maxi-Max, much like actual Max, didn’t get much of a chance to shine, although his looks of empathy for schmucky Marty were priceless.

Truth be told, the entire, “Larry and Jackie are busting for an autumnal holiday between Labor Day and Halloween and decide April Fool’s Day sounds like ‘more fun than Yom Kippur’" arc is a bit flimsy. (Except the Yom Kippur zinger. That was hilarious and not without merit.) Fortunately, Reggie’s dilemma with intergalactic soulmate Jane (Secret Life of the American Teenager’s Megan Park, who is, shockingly, 27 in human years) has carried over from last week, and it puts a colorful spin on his and Amber’s budding romance. Who knew that Amber, season one’s brooding Weaver enigma, would blossom into a character with such nuance? She and Reggie’s chemistry is fantastic, and Megan’s slavish devotion to her man (shades of Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America lady-in-waiting) is more quirky than threatening. This Weaver-Bird-Kersee teen union is destined for a longish run, but their little bump in the road presents opportunities for Amber to demonstrate both her softer side and sharper edge.

Apart from advocating for pigeonholed character actors, the only significant drawback in “September Fools” is its concluding moments. When Larry’s prank was revealed, it seemed natural that there’d be some kind of consequence. After all, if his wife laced him with the f-word for duping her with some phony gum, surely the Weavers would have a few words about how pretending to have temporarily aged their children was more cruel than nuanced. Instead, it was all reconciled and wrapped up with a freeze frame-worthy, “You got us,” even after Larry rubbed it in by observing Debbie “almost gave a complete stranger a bath.” Then again, for a show about mass media-literate aliens and everyday New Jersey people gradually assimilating into each other’s world view, strange is a relative term. Most importantly, funny was the operative one.

Stray observations:

  • Larry keeps his fire extinguisher in the freezer. Love that guy.
  • Dick’s Charlie Brown skulking away in his Spider-Man suit—perfect.
  • Once again, Tim Jo has some great timing as Reggie, especially with his reflexive, “I love you too” to Jane.
  • “Video games are for fat guys and virgins.” Dick must have inherited his mean streak from his father.
  • Reggie falls victim to one of his father’s pranks, getting doused by an overheard water bucket. Jackie sees him and thinks he’s been crying over Jane. Now that’s an LOL moment.
  • Once again, I am the Debbie in this relationship. I know my wife’s number by heart. She can barely recall three digits of mine.
  • Was that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves they were watching? And does that qualify as insensitive?
  • I love that Jackie’s internal auto-correct with goes from “looking forward to it” to “good riddance, skank face.” Safe to say none of the Bird-Kersees own nuance.
  • Marty, still thinking Maxi-Max is his son and watching in awe as Debbie agrees to bathe big Abby, asks him nervously, “You took a shower earlier right?” Phew indeed.
  • Max’s favorite movie is Hairspray. L.O.L.