TV Culture: “The Neighbors” Take Race Relations to a New Level

Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled, and Crazy, Stupid, Love writer) debuted his new TV show, The Neighbors, on ABC in late September. This peculiar addition to Fall comedy explores a theme that TV viewers and moviegoers everywhere are familiar with: Humans v. Aliens. The Neighbors, however, poses the bizarre question of what would happen if  suburban Americans and aliens were forced to live together, instead of kill each other.

The show revolves around an alien population that came to Earth in search of a sustainable environment after their planet became too warm. Aside from the hilarious parodying of Earth’s current battle with global warming, this community’s interactions with the Weavers, a typical American family, playfully examine race relations in a manner relatable to everyone. By amalgamating a White man, Black woman, Asian teenager, and a red-headed boy, all of whom speak with British accents, into a family named after professional athletes, The Neighbors supercede race as we know it and aim to answer the broader questions surrounding coexistence.

As actual aliens, the residents of Hidden Hills are representative of every demographic that has been marginalized by a majority. This common narrative is interestingly reversed once the all-American Weavers become the minority in their new neighborhood. In the pilot episode, viewers are frequently prompted to analyze their own definitions of “normal.”

On the day that the Weavers move in, the entire community appears outside of their house, each person holding a freshly baked pie. The lack of personal connection becomes overwhelming when all of the pies are left in the middle of the street for the Weavers to retrieve, rather than gracefully placed in the kitchen and followed by meaningful conversation. As the aliens make an honest attempt to imitate what they know to be American life, it becomes apparent that they can never fully embody it without abandoning their own identity. After the aliens inevitably reveal themselves as slimy green organisms, the main tension quickly shifts from attempted resemblance to hopeful acceptance.

The journey to true reception begins when viewers are introduced to the aliens’ reality. By demonstrating how the aliens cry green goo from their ears and feed on book knowledge through their eyes, The Neighbors highlight how foreign any culture can be to the “other.”  The most blatant example of this is demonstrated through the differing – but equally odd – perceptions of intimacy between the married couples. After deciding not to send their youngest son into the future, Wife and Husband, as they refer to one another, engage in sexual intercourse by raising their arms straight up and standing parallel to each other. Marty and Debbie Weaver, after realizing what is going on, awkwardly dismiss themselves from the room and proceed to share their own moment of intimacy outside. As they wrap their arms around each other and exchange warm words, the alien couple appears and is just as weirded out.

In what seems like a natural expression of love, American viewers are prompted to notice how strange their own physical gestures are in relation to the aliens’. This compelling exchange of ideals continues throughout the subsequent episode when the Weavers take the alien family shopping, and out of their neighborhood, for the first time. One can imagine that the fun-filled season will consist of many more excursions that result in some sort of learning experience for the Bird-Kersee’s, the Weavers, the viewers, or everyone.

As Reggie Jackson and Dick Butkus prepare to attend human school while Debbie Weaver and Jackie Joyner-Kersee bond over shared maternal experiences, The Neighbors will continue to challenge the separatist ideology that is to blame for the modern segregation of America.

As Larry Bird states in convincing the Weavers not to move, “We hope that you will consider staying. We believe there’s much we could learn from one another.” Be sure to watch The Neighbors Wednesday nights at 7:30|8:30c on ABC.

Read this article on USC Scribe.

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