Even more than The Room, Neighbors feels like a huge passion project for the enigmatic Wiseau.
After The Room was certified as an official cult success, Wiseau began thinking about his next steps. He wanted to conquer another medium and began dreaming up a television series about a bunch of doofuses in a shabby apartment building. It would be called The Neighbors and would conquer American TV.
There was a trailer with a cast attached to it…and that was pretty much all anyone knew.
I remember (as longtime readers might) going to see Wiseau at a Q & A and The Room screening in 2010. I asked him about The Neighbors and the trailer I had discovered on YouTube. He liked the question so much he brought me onstage and hugged me. Then he told the crowd about how it was a sitcom that he was developing and hoping to get picked up as a series on Adult Swim.
Five years later and we finally get to see four episodes of whatever Wiseau was dreaming up at that moment. Better still, he’s skipped the old media entirely and gone straight to Hulu.
Always an innovator, that Wiseau is.
The Disaster Artist, the wonderful book written by The Room costar Greg Sestero, recounts how that wondrous film came to be. On the surface, The Disaster Artist paints Wiseau as a control freak who has no idea how to interact with other people, much less write a movie or act. Now, all film directors are eccentric to a certain degree. The best directors have even been tyrants to ensure their vision makes it to audiences worldwide. But they at least deliver the goods. Wiseau started off in the wrong direction and refused to let anyone stop him. That’s what made The Room so special. What made it even better was the fact that it seemed to be Wiseau chasing his version of the American dream, with all the glamor and fame that comes with it.
It lead to something that, really, can only happen once. If Wiseau tried anything else without improving his craft, it would demonstrate he’s incapable of learning anything and come across as a very sad attempt. But if he did try to improve, he would just be another bad filmmaker without the passion and downright insanity that drove The Room and lose his audience.
Well, honestly, Wiseau does not seem to have learned his lesson. I was expecting ineptitude. But The Neighbors lacks the passion that The Room had. There are no quotable quotes, no amazingly wrong performances, nothing that suggests the misguided soul that wants to be a big shot. In his own way, Wiseau had succeeded. I guess the sophomore slump was inevitable.
The Neighbors seems to take place in some low rent apartment project in some random west coast city. Wiseau plays Charlie, who appears to run the apartment building and, like some sort of lazy Greek chorus, responds to everything that happens to him with, “What a day!” He works in the office with Bebe, who may be his secretary, his business partner, or his romantic partner. The pilot episode features all the residents in the apartment coming into the office and back to their rooms to engage in wacky shenanigans. And these are some incredibly Lynchian tenants. There’s a Lindsay Lohan lookalike named Philadelphia who’s always wearing a bikini that’s far too small, a woman named Cici who’s constantly screaming about her lost pet chicken, a stoner named Troy who’s quite violent as he throws his rent money at Charlie, busty roommates who try to use their sex appeal to get out of paying for a pizza (and somehow this isn’t a porno), and a guy named Tim who constantly loans $20 from Charlie so he can pay off Bebe and vice versa. Also, that aforementioned pizza guys decides to move in to the building. I guess this is meant to be the big dramatic payoff of the episode, especially because Bebe decides to approve him without checking his credit score out of laziness.
Does any of this sound funny? Because it’s not.
The pilot feels like it was made by a group of people who knew better, but just didn’t care about the quality of their product. The picture quality looks like it was shot on an iPhone running low on batteries. There was even a visible error on the picture that was kept in. The lighting is amateurish and seems to change from shot to shot. The costumes are ridiculous. (In one of the most bizarre examples of cinematic homage, Tommy Wiseau’s name appears on a brand of underwear worn by the building’s maintenance man.) There are flubbed lines that are left in. The sets are all wrong – I never once thought I was looking at a functioning apartment building.
That’s not even getting into the script. Nothing that happens seems to be connected to anything else. We get no sense of the people in that live here outside of their skin color or their prominent breasts. As you can guess from that last sentence, racist humor and poor taste are a problem. (“Why can’t you get along? What is this, the nineties?” Wiseau asks a black and Asian man as they argue over a disrupted internet connection.) The jokes seem to be based around dumb running gags, like the previously described $20 loan. There’s no punchline to accentuate comedy, no arc for any of the characters, no conflict that needs to be resolved, nothing – just a lot of grotesque set pieces. One very bizarre sequence has another young lady in a low cut shirt “hypnotize” someone into giving her a gun for free. The scene ends with a girl getting a gun for free and the guy cursing at himself for being so stupid. Ha…ha?
These are all problems that were present in The Room, but they’ve been celebrated by fans as perhaps the definitive example of cinematic outsider art. Neighbors just comes across as sad and lifeless, like you’re watching a home video production by your uncle who still refers to women as “doll face.”
The Neighbors is not really unique. There have been a ton of anti-comedies that still live on networks like Adult Swim. They take the same broad approach to stereotypes and often are filled with equally dumb jokes. Tim and Eric come to mind, as does Rob Choddry’s Childrens Hospital. But unlike The Neighbors, the creators of that fare inject an ironic knowledge about their tropes and their humor comes from the fact they are making fun of all the stupid stuff a mass audience watches with enthusiasm. The joke is that American media usually appeals to the lowest common denominator and keeps our perception of the world skewed. The Neighbors contains no more stupid moments than, say, 2 Broke Girls or Two and a Half Men. Had The Neighbors rose to that level of anti-comedy, I would be praising it.
But I never got the feeling that Wiseau was thinking along those lines. I got the feeling he thinks such racial humor was meant to be funny on its own. Without that knowledge, Neighbors was doomed to fail.
I ended the experience by watching a Bill Hicks documentary so I could remind myself what comedy really was and how it works. The Neighbors sure wasn’t going to do that for me. I didn’t laugh once. I was filled with a sadness. Maybe Wiseau is trapped and is giving the audience what it wants. But it was just ineptitude that made The Room special. It was a passion and the fact that Wiseau was in over his head. Along the way. He stumbled into greatness and what now seems like a deliberate deconstruction of turgid Oscar fare that hits the audience of their heads with its message. The Room will undoubtedly live on. I don’t think The Neighbors will survive even for a season.
What a day.