Friday, October 12, 2012

The Neighbors Season 1, Episode 3: Things Just Got Real

The Weaver family is feeling crowded as Jackie is determined to get closer to Debbie and imitate having a female friend – something she’s had trouble with on her own world with her husband being supreme leader. Jackie actually does a pretty good job of conveying her loneliness while still being utterly ridiculous

Reggie, the aliens’ eldest son is growing increasingly fascinated with Marty’s human activities like changing the oil while his inept, buffoon father does silly things like polish the space ship. Just to make it clear who we’re supposed to regard with contempt, Marty has butched up the traditional masculinity, and Larry is mincing along – let’s not be subtle here. Throughout the episode Reggie is clearly getting closer to Marty much to Larry’s annoyance.

Marty and Debbie, at the limits of their alien tolerance, decide they need to spend more time with actual humans. They invite some of their human friends over – Larry for a guy’s night playing cards and Debbie going out to a tapas bar for sangria. All set – though they have to tell Larry and Jackie that they’re unavailable.

Jackie is happy to meet Debbie’s new friends but Marty and Debbie are quick to convince them it’s best not to come. Jackie interprets this as worrying that she won’t fit in among the humans. She talks to Reggie about this and he introduces her to New Jersey Housewives, a reality TV show. Jackie thinks the people shown are mentally unbalanced but Reggie asks why would they be on television if they weren’t respected (oh why indeed)? Jackie sets about imitating the characters to be a real woman and a real housewife. Reggie again complains about his dad not adapting to humanity and that Larry won’t let them have a television (or a telephone to watch television on).

Prepared in a garish golden dress, Jackie is ready to join Debbie’s party – Reggie wants to go to watch Marty’s poker night and pick up human customs so Larry decides to go to “dominate” the humans and show them which customs are worth learning.

Let the cringe-worthiness commence! Jackie imitates the worst of reality TV, insulting, backbiting, nasty comments, dramatic over-reactions. Her behaviour eventually has the whole table attacking each other. It devolves into a multisided fight and, eventually, everyone leaves and Jackie flees to the bathroom when Debbie tells her the real reason why she didn’t invite her.

In the bathroom, Jackie tells Debbie she doesn’t have to pretend and understands that she’s not a real friend, again, Jackie’s loneliness is rather well underscored. Debbie kindly explains that they are friends but it’s hard to explain everything all the time – something Jackie can sympathise with since they have to dumb everything down for the humans. They bond over Debbie’s friends’ jealousy over her home and the fact they have the best hair – and decide that since they’re crying together on the floor of a public bathroom, they are the definition of girlfriends.

Larry is a complete arsehole round the card table, is extremely good at it and eventually has everyone talking about their fathers as is their custom. This leads to several of the men round the table crying as they discuss their difficult parental relationships.

Eventually Marty can’t take any more and drags Larry outside to tell him why he didn’t want him to turn up and asks why he can’t make any effort to fit in. Larry asks why it affects anyone else the way he chooses to live – and Reggie says it affects him because he’s been dragged to a strange planet and Larry then makes no effort to adapt. Reggie leaves saying he hates Larry and Reggie follows him, upset.

Marty goes to find Larry locked in a room crying and talks to him through the door, pointing out that Larry doesn’t make any effort to try and adapt. Larry expresses both his contempt for human culture – but also his worry that they will be stuck on Earth for a long time and in that time his children will forget what it is. Marty encourages him to find ways to keep his culture alive while adapting.

Larry goes to Reggie both to tell him about cards and to give him a television he stole from the Weavers (they have 7, more televisions than people) and they bond watching the blue no signal screen.

Ok, grudging cutesy funny moment – Larry’s moods affecting the whole community does make me laugh, yes yes it does. The rest? I have trouble watching this kind of show since I suffer from contact embarrassment, I can’t watch whacky hijinks without cringing, let alone laughing.

There was the sangria night where we’re supposed to see how laughable and ridiculous all these reality show stereotypes of women are, and then have all the women promptly embrace those stereotypes in one grand battle you know was written as “cat fight” in the script.

I was surprised at the depth of issues they touched on with Larry and Reggie. Larry’s fear of losing his culture, his fear that his children will forget their homes and their ways as well as his irritation that he should act the way others think he should rather than how he wants to live. These are great, powerful issues but seem to be kind of squished under a blanket demand of “assimilate” “fit in.”