Clay Liford is an independent filmmaker living in Austin, TX. He has written and directed several shorts (such as My Mom Smokes Weed and Earthling) and the features Earthling and Wuss, and shot/edited over 20 other features, including St. Nick and Gayby. His latest feature, Slash, world premiered at SXSW 2016 and is currently on the festival circuit. You can follow him on Twitter here.
“I’m fed up with this world!”
When he asked me to write about the four episodes of Tommy Wiseau’s “sitcom” The Neighbors, currently housed on Hulu, I don’t think Nick Dawson knew of my devotion to Mr. Wiseau’s previous work. I revere The Room. It rests, Zeus-like, upon its throne on the Mount Olympus of movies so bad they’re great. If you’re not familiar with it, well, there’s Google for that. Just know that I own at least two copies of The Room on DVD, and in 2010 I flew out from Dallas to LA to go to the seven-year anniversary screening at the Laemmle theater (where it’s been regularly playing since, I think, 2003). Needless to say, I was pretty excited about any further efforts from its writer/director/lead actor Tommy Wiseau (TW from here on out, because I sort of hate typing his name).
Several years ago, a cryptic trailer hit YouTube for a sitcom called The Neighbors, centered around an apartment management office and the kooky tenants who pass in and out of its doors. After this brief tease, the project went off the grid, and the only new output from TW consisted of several appearances on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Wiseau is notorious for attacking any detractors of The Room, his lifestyle, his accent, or pretty much anything associated with himself, so I can only imagine the initial, lackluster response to the trailer had something to do with this slinking away from the spotlight.
Just when I thought we’d never be graced with new TW content, Hulu unceremoniously dumped the first four (possibly the only four) episodes of The Neighbors on its streaming service. I say “dumped” because literally no effort was made in the area of quality control, not in the least. One episode was “mastered” so low that I had to crank my volume way up, only to have my speakers nearly decimated when the next episode began at a way higher volume. Come on, Hulu, really? To be fair, however, it honestly doesn’t seem like TW put much more effort forth on his end either.
The Neighbors takes place entirely at an unnamed (and geographically uncertain) apartment complex, ostensibly in America, with well over half the total scenes lazily playing out in the apartment manager’s office. TW plays Charlie, who runs the office along with his (I think) girlfriend, Bebe (Gretel Roenfeldt). Here’s the thing, TW clearly has no idea what transpires in an apartment management office and even the 1.2 minutes of research necessary to inform himself was apparently a bridge too far. At only one point over the four episodes does a character comes in to pay rent. Beyond that, the zany residents just come by to shoot the shit and borrow money. (Seriously? You can borrow money from your landlord? I’ve been doing it wrong all these years….)
This entire affair seems to have been shot multi-camera, like a classic sitcom. However, unlike a studio show, this one was shot on location, and three cameras don’t really fit in the room, so each angle is slightly off and shots are very mis-framed. Single-camera, though not the style of the outdated sitcoms TW seems to want to emulate, really would have been the way to go. I suspect the other reason this show went (allegedly) multi-camera is that each scene seems to have been captured in a single take. Each episode is literally riddled with mistakes. People trip over each other, crash into the densely packed furniture, flub lines. And the mumbling. Oh, the mumbling. Wiseau himself is the greatest offender here. He’s channeling some early Swanberg mumblecore without even knowing it. Some of this shit looks intentional. Some looks like nobody knew the camera was rolling. Parts of this look like outtakes from some abandoned Wiseman doc.
Structurally, the series attempts to copy the traditional A/B storylines of the classics, a major plot thread coupled with a minor subplot. Oddly, the main plot (which spans the entirety of the four episodes to date) is never resolved, while the subplots fare only slightly better. Not that it matters in the least, but the long-running main story arc revolves around a random British (I think) princess who’s either about to move in or just visit. Both options are equally ludicrous. It should also be noted that the random princess, whose impending arrival is presaged by tons of reverential lip service, only gets about two minutes of screen time (spread over the remaining episodes) once she actually does arrive.
The characters are so cartoon-like that they makes those in The Room look virtually five-dimensional by comparison. There’s even a weed dealer who only wears Rasta gear and a pot-leaf T-shirt. In fact, pretty much every character only has one or two wardrobe options. Probably the result of a rushed shoot, but it has the added effect of increasing the cartoon quality of each character (further compounded by an over-reliance on primary colors by the “wardrobe department”).
As far as the performances, holy mother of God. I don’t even know if additional takes would have helped. The aforementioned drug dealer is so over-the-top, he’s giving us some major Wiseau. Slow down dude, or TW will see your blatant ploy for the crown as the farce it truly is. Nobody takes a shot at the king and lives to tell the tale. For The Room fans out there, we are offered the ostensible Denny surrogate in a tenant named Tim, who creepily hangs out in the office and constantly demands both money and ice cream. He’s straight-up obsessed with Häagen-Dazs. He speaks of it lovingly, longing to see it drip down his man-crush Charlie’s face. In the world of The Neighbors, ice cream is an all-purpose tonic. A cure-all, a form of currency and an aphrodisiac all rolled up in one.
There’s a scary tenant named Suzy (I think, not even gonna check), who I call the Chicken Lady. She’s portrayed by an outsider actress who I strongly believe is probably genuinely deranged and potentially dangerous. Her only purpose is to accost the other tenants with threats while she hunts for her missing chicken. She should not be handling live poultry or anything sharp. I propose the inaugural Harmony Korine Outsider Acting Prize for the Chicken Lady. She’s in a completely different show from everyone else, and that’s the show I want to watch. John Waters would be proud. At one point in the pilot, there’s supposed to be a fight between her and the drug dealer, Troy, and she literally starts wailing on him. The actor just has to go with it and tries to maintain the scene. She did not hit me, Mark!!!
Beyond the Chicken Lady, every other girl on display seems to be a bizarre representation of what TW finds attractive. Lots of pointless bikinis and women named dumb shit like Philadelphia. At least he’s traded up from Lisa. You know, after she tore him apart and all.
Tommy himself actually plays two characters (denoted by wigs). The previously mentioned Charlie, and the villainous Ricky Rick. For most of the series this is never taken advantage of, and just when I thought we’d never have a TW meets TW scene, we finally get one in Episode Four. Somehow, the space-time continuum remains intact.
I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I would like to address the building the show sort of takes place in. We are treated to one (yes, one) stock exterior shot of the high-rise apartment complex. This shot is repeated so many times, and between practically every damn scene. More often then not, when it’s completely unnecessary to go to a stock exterior shot. It’s accompanied by a single droning electronic loop that will stick in your brain and erode your will to live. Try not killing yourself after two episodes. I dare you.
In the end, The Neighbors occupies a weird space in the world of cult. It’s terrible, but doesn’t bask gleefully in the same myopia that made The Room such a pleasure to behold. It flits in and out of self-awareness like a coma patient on the verge of consciousness. TW is very aware of his detractors. He knows people laugh at his work. In his revisionist history, he often says the humor in The Room was intentional. He used it as a tool to get his thematic points across. Those points primarily reinforcing his view that all women are super fickle and inherently evil. Now that he’s had the opportunity to create a body of work after his exposure to reality, he’s seemingly trying on purpose to deliver the comedy he was previously accused of providing unintentionally. The results are as expected. Outside of the baked-in joy to be derived from watching an alien attempting to comprehend human behavior from behind the camera lens, The Neighbors really has nothing else to offer. Perhaps it should have just remained simply an alluring internet trailer. But that’s not the way TW operates. I’ll give him one thing: he’s not a man of half-measures. There’s a credit at the end of each episode that states “based on the novel by Tommy Wiseau.” If there were any sense of irony at play here, I would assume this is just a goofy joke. But given the evidence, well….
My secret hope is, knowing how pretentious and angry TW gets when criticized, that I’ll receive some sort of furious correspondence as a result of writing this piece. I could die happy. I really could. But I did not hit her.