Sarah Chalke returns and aliens land on 'The Neighbors': First impressions of the 2012-2013 ABC Comedies

the-neighbors-abc.jpgWhen a network exec touts a comedy as having "broad" appeal, we tend to hear that as a sign that the show may suffer from a lack of originality. Having cornered the wealthy female market, ABC is now making another reach for a -- you guessed it -- broader demographic with its three new comedies this season.

At the ABC Upfront on Tuesday afternoon, ABC TV president Paul Lee introduced three new comedies with potential, but few sparks. Unlike the network's drama offerings, which explore some new territory, the comedies leave us with an unshakable sense of déjà vu.

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The most sophisticated of their new comedies is "How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)," which sees Sarah Chalke's return to her rightful place as a leading lady in comedy. She plays Polly, a single mom forced to move back in with her eccentric (and dirty-minded) parents. Unfortunately, while we love Chalke, if the trailer is anything to go by, Polly doesn't have much going for her. Given how wacky her mother is, we'd expect Polly to have some quirks of her own, but it appears that she serves more as the "straight man" foil to her parents and child.

Of course, we did laugh -- there's something about an older person saying that "jelly tastes so good on a penis" that appeals to the least sophisticated part of all of us -- and we're more than happy to give it a shot on the likelihood that Chalke brings sparkle to a seemingly dull character. Though Lee says the show has a "great title," it's not particularly social media friendly -- something that makes a difference these days.

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After that, though, the sophistication goes out the door. In "The Family Tools," J.K. Simmons plays a father forced to hand over the keys to his handyman business when he falls ill. Unfortunately, the son, Jack (Kyle Bornheimer), who just failed out of seminary school, is... well, a failure. We're not seeing much reason to root for him in the trailer, but in every other sitcom that starts like this, the down-and-out guy turns out to have a heart of gold underneath that ne'er-do-well exterior. We definitely laughed during the trailer, but given that the laugh followed a "You go girl!" joke made about coffee... we seriously regretted it. Come on. The fake slap sound effect? Leah Remini, you could do better. And so could ABC. And J.K. Simmons.

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The real trouble, though, comes with "The Neighbors," the only new comedy that ABC is actually introducing in the fall. (The other two land at mid-season, after "Dancing With The Stars" wraps.) Though Paul Lee boasts Wednesday's "sophisticated family comedies," we're not sure how a show about extraterrestrials in New Jersey, one of whom is named Dick Buttkiss, falls into that category -- and we're almost positive that Lee shouldn't be calling it their new "gold standard." The aliens cry green goo out of their ears and the men get pregnant. It's from the writer of "Crazy, Stupid, Love," but we fear that too much time looking at Ryan Gosling may have scrambled his brain. The best joke in the pilot? "I fear our little Dick might have exposed himself again." You decide if this one's for you. We tend to avoid green goo too close to our bedtimes.

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We are looking forward to Reba McEntire's latest vehicle, "Malibu Country," in which she plays a mom and washed-up country star looking to revive not only her career, but her life after splitting from her cheatin' man. Though there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the show -- you'll recall that she's played a divorced single mother, named Reba, with wacky neighbors before -- it does seem like the perfect compliment to Tim Allen's "Last Man Standing" on Friday nights, and it could serve to revive ABC's once thriving Friday comedy block. We're not sure about the casting of the kids, but both McEntire and co-star Sara Rue have proven their chops in sitcom land, and we're inclined to trust them with this. Plus... hello, Lily Tomlin! Kind of a big deal.
Photo/Video credit: ABC