“The Neighbors” (2014)

Normally this blog is reserved for 70s and 80s television, but when an opportunity arose to watch Tommy Wiseau’s “sitcom” The Neighbors, I took it, figuring that, while it would be undoubtedly terrible, it would also be harmlessly amusing, and make for an entertaining post here.

Reader, I think it broke me.

Allow me an explanation: while I don’t spend nearly as much time as I used to indulging in bad movies, I do enjoy The Room. If you haven’t seen The Room by now, it’s probably not your thing anyway, and that’s okay. I was a latecomer, and I’ve only seen it at audience participation theater screenings, which seems to be the optimal setting. I would never watch it at home by myself, because in addition to being ineptly written, directed, filmed, edited, and acted, it’s also boring, as most movies about love triangles are. In an audience setting, though, with people dressed up like the characters, throwing plastic spoons, and clapping along to the R&B slow jam played during the interminable sex scenes, it’s a lot of fun. Hey, you have your pleasures, and I have mine, no shame.

Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s one time best friend and co-star, wrote a book about the making of The Room that was both entertaining and unsettling. I say unsettling because by the time we reach the end of the book, we don’t really know anything more about Wiseau than we did at the beginning. That’s not due to any lack of insight on Sestero’s part–it seems like he revealed as much as he actually knew about Wiseau himself, which proved to be very little. All that can be gleaned about him is that he’s not fooling anyone with that accent into thinking he was born in the U.S., as he steadfastly claims, he funded The Room by selling irregular jeans and dealing in real estate (not to mention probably shilling horny old ladies for cash, like a greasy, charmless Max Bialystock), and he really does believe he’s a tremendously talented filmmaker and actor.

Interviews with him shed no insight as to whether or not he gets that people love The Room because it’s awful, or in spite of it. More than a decade into The Room becoming an odd pop culture touchstone, Tommy Wiseau still comes off as a creepy cipher, and the suggestion that he may have simply fell to Earth one day from a planet somewhere west of Jupiter doesn’t seem so odd.

One thing is certain, though: Wiseau still has much to offer to the entertainment industry. Not content to be famous for doing nothing, like his compatriots Snooki, Mama June, and Kate Gosselin, he’s long promised numerous followups to his original masterpiece, including a vampire movie, a drama about housing foreclosures, and The Neighbors, a sitcom that is, according to press material, “a fresh and humorous look at human behavior through different points of view. This cocktail of characters always guarantees plenty of surprises. The demographic is all inclusive.”

In various interviews, Wiseau claimed to be making a deal for The Neighbors with Adult Swim, then something called Comedy TV, then several other networks. What were initially supposed to be twelve completed episodes jumped up to twenty, then down to ten. Only four have been made available on Hulu, in such esteemed company as Tattoo Nightmares and a Twilight ripoff called Breaking Wind.

According to the end credits, The Neighbors is a work of art seven years in the making (you can’t rush perfection, after all). I don’t believe it took seven years to get it made. I don’t believe it took seven months, seven weeks, or even seven days. If it took more than seven hours to throw together this festering boil of a “sitcom” I’ll eat my own shoes. This is, without a drop of hyperbole, the worst thing I have ever seen. I used to watch stuff on rotten.com that was less horrifying. YouTube videos created by fifth graders are more coherent. Ugly, stupid, and profoundly unpleasant, it’s a sitcom without situations, and without comedy.

The Neighbors is a spin on a workplace comedy, where the characters don’t seem to have lives or loved ones outside the office, except with an even more unlikely premise–here it’s an apartment building where no one ever goes outside, and the tenants not only spend all their free time hanging out in each other’s homes, but with the building manager and his assistant. The manager is named Charlie, played by Tommy Wiseau wearing a wig that makes him look like late era Dee Dee Ramone, and he’s who the tenants go to for advice on their personal problems, even borrowing money from him. Charlie’s sage advice is invariably “It’ll be okay. Have a nice day.” That’s his signature dialogue, along with “What a day!” and “Ah ha ha ha ha!”

It’s clear almost immediately that Wiseau’s dialogue writing skills have not only not improved since writing The Room, they have actually gotten worse, as exhibited by this exchange:

“This guy, he has sex with men and women, I can hear it through the walls. Maybe even a chicken.”

“A chicken?”

“Yeah, a chicken.”

“A chicken. Wow.”

It declines even further in later episodes. The bulk of the dialogue, that which is decipherable at least, consists of the characters parroting each other: “I have to talk to you, it’s about Patrick.” “Patrick?” “Yeah, Patrick.” “What about Patrick?” This is not how normal humans speak, but then again, not a single thing in The Neighbors resembles anything that normal humans do.

Much of the “plot,” if you want to call it that, of the first episode, is devoted to one of the tenants, Cici, searching for her lost pet chicken. Evidently the very existence of chickens is hilarious to Tommy Wiseau, as it’s brought up numerous times over all four episodes. We also meet some of the other tenants, such as Bebe, Charlie’s put-upon assistant, Richard, suicidal after just five days of looking for work, Troy, a curiously aggressive pothead (we know he’s a pothead because he wears a tie-dyed t-shirt), Ed, the hunky handyman (who prominently wears Tommy Wiseau brand boxer briefs), Philadelphia, who is never seen in anything else but a skimpy bikini, Tim, who is obsessed with basketball and ice cream, Patricia, a lesbian, and Don, a bisexual black man whose pregnant wife (played by an actress wearing a very obvious soccer ball under her shirt) announces that she’s leaving him by shouting “I’M FILING FOR DIVORCE!” and slapping him in the middle of Charlie’s office.

Shouting is a familiar theme in The Neighbors. Cici, a black woman in her sixties, literally shouts all of her lines in the first episode. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be wrong with Cici, but after a while it doesn’t matter, because it’s apparent that there’s something wrong with everyone in the building. She spends most of the episode harassing the other tenants about her lost chicken, and getting into a screaming match with Troy, who threatens to kill her. I just can’t tell which moment I found more hysterical in this “all inclusive” comedy, a young white guy threatening violence against a black woman twice his age, or the obviously disturbed Cici shouting “Fuck you, bitch!” outside of Philadelphia’s apartment door.

Troy is also a drug dealer, and one of his customers is Ricky Rick, also played by Tommy Wiseau, this time wearing a high school varsity jacket and a blonde wig that makes him look like Rod Stewart, if Rod Stewart had been staked out in a desert for a few weeks. One gets the impression that Ricky Rick was originally meant to be played by a much younger actor who wisely dropped out at the last minute, and Wiseau, ever the consummate professional, took on the task of poorly playing two roles. Ricky Rick’s girlfriend, Lula, wants to buy a gun from Troy, to which Ricky Rick responds “Why do you want a gun? You have a gun right here, morning, noon, and night, free of charge,” while grabbing his crotch. Let me tell you, it’s a real vagina drier of a scene.

You’ll be relieved to know that by the end of the episode, Cici has found her chicken.

The best example I can give about the care and dedication that went into ensuring that this was a quality production is a shot in Charlie’s office that shows a picture frame on his desk. There’s no picture in it.

All that being said, I foolishly moved on to the next episode. After all, how much worse could it be? And the answer is: so much worse, you guys.

In this episode, we learn that Bebe not only works for Charlie, but is also his lover (ewwwww!). In preparation for a big event, she helps him change into a bright purple shirt, telling him, in dialogue written by Tommy Wiseau, “It brings out your face…your sexy eyes.” The big event is a visit from a member of royalty named Princess Penelope. Where is Penelope the princess of, and why is she coming to stay at the apartment building? Who fucking cares?

The female tenants show up for the princess’s arrival wearing only the finest bikinis, booty shorts, and cheap nylon minidresses. The actress playing Princess Penelope looks so uncomfortable I want to contact her offering the number for a crisis hotline. In another moment of riotous comedy, she is almost immediately assaulted by Tim, who grabs her ass.

The next scene takes place in Troy’s apartment, where’s he hanging out with Philadelphia and Patricia. Though I had just watched the first episode less than ten minutes earlier, it took me a few moments to remember who Patricia was, because most of the female characters are completely interchangeable with each other. Patricia eyes Philadelphia like a KFC three piece dinner, and Troy, subtle as a serial killer, shouts “YOU KNOW I LOVE IT WHEN GIRLS KISS!”

It’s not to be, though, as the two girls, stumbling blindly through some of the most ridiculous dialogue ever captured on film, decide that they’re better off as friends than lovers. Their conversation is interrupted by a new character, Mr. B., who of course proceeds to hit on them. Turning down Mr. B evidently inspires a change of heart in Philadelphia, who, after dancing suggestively with Troy for about ten seconds, says “Let’s have a menage a trois!” Patricia replies, “That’s the best idea all day out of those pretty little lips,” after which they wander out of the room and…it cuts to an exterior shot of the building. You’ll already be used to that same exterior shot, accompanied by a nameless, tuneless techno beat, because it is used as a jump between every scene. Every. Last. Scene.

The “Let’s have a menage a trois!” scene is one of several moments in The Neighbors that play like it’s going to lead into porn (that, along with the casual racism and frequent use of the f-bomb, leads one to wonder just what TV network Tommy Wiseau thought he could sell this to). Everything about this, the $0 production values, the awful lighting, the wooden acting, the gross, juvenile double entendres, the cheap, tacky clothes the actresses wear, looks like shitty porn. There’s even a scene with a pizza delivery guy, and it all leads to that same exterior shot, over and over again. Not that you’d want to see any of these people fucking, but still.

It’s also apparent just two episodes in that Wiseau had already given up on character and plot consistency. Originally a benevolent big brother type who makes time for all his tenants and their wacky problems, in this episode Charlie is impatient and short-tempered with them. Characters violently argue with each other, and then just minutes later they’re hanging out together as friends. Scenes are already being recycled as well, including a character getting unreasonably angry over being expected to pay his rent on time (Troy in the first episode, Richard in the second), and a character asking someone to borrow salt and pepper (Philadelphia in the first episode, Cici in the second). It’s entirely possible that these, along with Tim constantly hitting up Charlie and Bebe for $20, are supposed to pass as “running jokes” in The Neighbors, but since we’ve established that Tommy Wiseau does not understand plot structure, pacing, dialogue, characterization, normal human behavior, or the flow of time and space, it’s likely he also doesn’t understand how comedy works.

This episode ends with Tim spilling a pint of ice cream, causing Bebe to scream as though he’s dropped a vat of acid at her feet. She and Charlie clean up the mess and leave for the night, as Bebe says “It’s still really sticky in here. And not from us.”

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

If Wiseau gave up on character and plot consistency in episode two, he gave up on everything by episode three. This episode is devoted mostly to throwing a party for Bebe’s birthday, a scene that goes on for nearly ten minutes. It also provides advertising for Tommy Wiseau’s line of underwear. When Bebe compliments Ed the handyman on his tank top, he tells her that he has dozens of them, and he orders them all online from tommywiseau.com. “I even rock the underwear!”

Much of the dialogue by this episode has been reduced to characters discussing (or, in some cases, arguing about) things that have already happened in previous episodes, even if they weren’t there when they happened, and then literally standing around looking at each other, as if waiting to be to be cued for the next scene. But it does also contain one mind-blowing exchange between Troy and Mariana, yet another tenant, who are still talking about Cici’s pet chicken from two episodes earlier. This is verbatim, everything that is in caps is literally shouted/screamed by the actors:

TROY: “Do you need anything else from me? Would you like me to sell you some weed?”

MARIANA: “No, it’s okay.”

TROY: “OKAY, THEN GET OUT! Okay, I sell weed, I don’t take care of fucking chickens!”

MARIANA: “TAKE CARE OF THE CHICKENNNNN!”

TROY: “LEAVE!”

MARIANA: “I hate you!”

TROY: “Yeah. Get out.”

MARIANA: “I’ll see you later.”

TROY: “What a tramp.”

Despite this, just minutes later they’re happily celebrating Bebe’s birthday together, at a party in which the guests bring such gifts as a half-opened record album, an empty box, and a candle that has already been burned. The episode ends with everyone throwing cake at each other and shouting “Rah, rah, rah! Rah, rah, rah!” Because this is, apparently, what Tommy Wiseau thinks people do at birthday parties.

One thing I noticed is that whenever Charlie wants to look like he’s busy at his desk, he’ll stick Scotch tape to things and throw markers at his computer monitor. Also, because I want this to be a fair review, I will point out that someone eventually remembered to put a picture in the frame on Charlie’s desk. It appears to be a cutout from a fashion magazine.

Playing two roles must have proved too taxing for an actor who really gives his all like Tommy Wiseau, because Ricky Rick appears not at all in the second episode, and only during the last few minutes of the third. However, he’s the star of the fourth episode, covering for a vacationing Charlie. Though initially Ricky Rick was just Tommy Wiseau with blonde hair and a varsity jacket, here he’s trying something new with the character, by having him throw gang signs and speak in some sort of garbled slang. He keeps saying something that sounds like “chi-gaw, chi-gaw,” which might be Wiseau-ese for “ca-ching,” but who can say for sure.

Why Charlie feels that Ricky Rick is the best person to cover for him in his absence is unknown, considering that Ricky Rick doesn’t know what a stapler is or how a computer works. I assume that’s supposed to be amusing, as is his penchant for throwing gang signs, and maybe it would be if the character was played by someone around age sixteen or so. But Wiseau isn’t sixteen. He isn’t thirty. He is damn near sixty, and seeing him play Ricky Rick is really kind of disgusting. It’s as if he’s doing a piss poor, cruel imitation of someone so profoundly disturbed or brain damaged that they no longer know what year it is. At one point, when Bebe is trying to show him how to use the computer, he tells her “You have nice hands…can I strangle you a little bit?” Later, he screams that he needs a break and threatens to cut his own fingers off.

The scene ends with characters yet again discussing Tommy Wiseau brand underwear. These people talk about underwear more than a Victoria’s Secret cashier. We also get a nice, long view of the back of Ricky Rick’s jacket, which prominently displays the logo for The Neighbors, along with a picture of a chicken. This motherfucker is plugging his own TV show on his own TV show.

The next scene, Ricky Rick, exhausted from five minutes of training for his new job, is hanging out with his girlfriend Lula in Troy’s apartment, which is decorated with a flag reading A SPLIFF A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY. A man who vaguely resembles Fidel Castro walks in, excuses himself, then leaves. “Was that Fidel Castro?” Troy asks, to which Ricky Rick replies “What a dickhead.” The man is never seen again.

Finally we meet Crazy Susie, who is often mentioned but never seen up to this point. Crazy Susie is Bebe’s “adopted sister…or I might be a cousin. We don’t know.” Like almost every other actress in the show, she looks like she might have been recruited while giving out samples of strawberry flavored Astroglide at the AVN Adult Expo. Why is she there? Why is she called Crazy Susie? Why do she and Bebe hate each other? Does it fucking matter? Answer: It does not fucking matter. Bebe is upset when she finds Crazy Susie and Ricky Rick in the office. Crazy Susie waves a feather duster around while Ricky Rick drinks water and then spits it out. Bebe forces them out of the office, and then the scene repeats itself, because precision comedy timing like that really needs to be enjoyed twice.

Ricky Rick recruits Ed the handyman to be a drug runner, threatening to cut his head off if he screws up the job. “It’s not Obamacare,” he says, in one of many instances that makes one wonder if Tommy Wiseau has a special form of Tourette’s Syndrome. After that, Ed tells Ricky Rick that the laundry room is where everyone in the building goes to have sex (because the apartments are all efficiencies, I guess?), leading to this exchange, VERBATIM:

RICKY RICK: “Did you do it?”

ED: “Yeah, I did it, I’m the one that’s been running it.”

RICKY RICK: “Did your dick stand up?”

ED: “Yeah, of course, straight through my underwear.”

RICKY RICK: “Oh yeah, what kind of underwear do you wear?”

ED: “Tommy’s, of course.”

RICKY RICK: “Yeah, that’s what I wear, Tim told me to buy it, see?”

Ricky Rick is wearing two pairs of Tommy Wiseau brand underwear. It was at that point that I turned off the show and shot myself in the face.

The episode ends with Ricky Rick’s girlfriend wearing her own The Neighbors jacket, describing it as “fabulous” and claiming that a character whose name I didn’t catch wants to order “at least a hundred of them.” I tell ya, it takes some balls-out audacity (the same kind of that allows Hulu Plus to run commercials with this turd blossom, like they’re airing The Wizard of Oz) to close your “sitcom” with a merch plug.

There’s a “next episode” preview that shows various characters shouting and cursing at each other, as per usual, but if God exists then all copies of that and any other unaired episode have been gathered together, shat upon, lit on fire, and then the ashes mixed into pig slop.

You know, I’ve seen plenty of movies and TV shows where all I can think by the end is “Where did this go wrong? How did this happen?” This might be the first time I watched something and thought “What is wrong with this man?” I’d rather watch two hours of someone vomiting into a bucket than sit through this again. I don’t understand what I watched–maybe it was a take on Stephen King’s Under the Dome, only instead of a dome the character are trapped in a crappy apartment building with no escape, and they alternately cling to and lash out at each other with rancor and violence.

In each scene these characters seem to be born anew, forgetting each other’s motivations, behavior, dialogue, and sometimes even their names. Though the tenants profess affection for Charlie, even serenading him with “Frere Jacques” before he leaves for his vacation, as soon as he’s gone they’re plotting to steal his car, alter their leases so that they pay less rent, and scheming behind his back to start what basically amounts to a sex club in the basement. Are we supposed to be rooting for these people? Or are we supposed to be rooting for Charlie, who strings his co-worker/other woman along and hires incompetent criminals to work in his office? Everybody in this show, with the possible exception of poor Bebe, and maybe Princess Penelope (only because she really gets nothing to do) is a hideous human being, and if the next episode ended with the building burning down and everyone roasting alive inside it, only then would I consider watching it.

Yet, as angry as I am about how much time I wasted watching a bunch of idiots scream at each other, it comes down to this: I have no one to blame but myself. I’ve enjoyed watching The Room. I’ve paid money to see it in the theater, money that has eventually made its way, in some small part, into Tommy Wiseau’s pocket, along with money from hundreds of thousands of other people. We are responsible for this. Whether or not The Neighbors was driven by smug, cynical self-awareness (”These assholes will watch anything I put out!”), or because Wiseau still thinks he’s genuinely talented doesn’t matter. It’s our fault.

It’s all part of that wearisome trend of ironically enjoying terrible things. It’s how Kevin Federline managed to sell 16,000 copies of his record album, when, in a world that makes sense, he never should have gotten an opportunity to record an album in the first place. It’s why there are nearly a dozen variations on the Real Housewives series. It’s why white people once referred to a chubby six year-old hillbilly beauty queen as their “spirit animal.” We love this kind of awful shit, and we throw money at it, and because these people are making money off of it they keep doing it. Why shouldn’t they? God bless America, and God bless Tommy Wiseau.

Available on Hulu (find it yourself, I cannot sanction this buffoonery

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s