A new series that I have been thinking about doing let me know what you think.Â I chose the word graveyard because â€œjunkyardâ€ doesnâ€™t have quite the same ring, and â€œtrashâ€ has sort of been taken by another reviewer (whose videos I strongly recommend if you have never seen them).
I have talked an awful lot about great sitcoms. Those showsthat are so loved that they become a part of our culture (ok some more than others). But what about the other side of the coin, those sitcoms which are sobad the idea they were even greenlit boggles the mind. Those are the sitcoms Iwant to take a minute to look at in this series. Today we have a special treatfrom 1989, The People Next Door. Now don’t confuse this with the 1996 tele-filmor the film made in 1970. This was a sitcom which premiered on CBS. It lastedfive episodes.
So what is the premise? This is set in the town of Covington, Ohio (wonder if thatâ€™s near Rutherford?) and is the story of a nice little family. The husband, Walter Kellogg, is a newspaper cartoonist who has two kids and in the pilot he is about to re-marry after they just moved there from New York. The hook is that the husband, Walter, has a very active imagination.How active? So active things he imagines appear in the real world, as solid,functioning, and in some cases living, objects. And basically the show is about his wacky imagination and all the hijinks that ensue. I think it was also about the city guy adjusting to country life, but that was really weak.
As you can tell I can’t even make this sound interesting.The show starred Jeffrey Jones as Walter which may have been the show’s first mistake. Jeffrey Jones is a character actor, and is funny in movies like Ferris Bueller but as the lead in a sitcom? The wife is played by Mary Gross, and actually I can say the same for her. She is funny in bit parts in films orsitcoms (like when she played a teacher on Sabrina), but as the main lead?Â The real amazing thing about this show is that Wes Craven was one of the creators and writers. Yeah, THAT Wes Craven. Why do I get the feeling someone took his idea of a scary kind of show and revamped it as a silly situation comedy?
So why did this show fail? I think there were several reasons. One, there was no adequate explanation for how Walter’s imagination could come to life like this. In Scrubs we know the daydreams were just that,daydreams! What gives Walter this ability? Are these things plain illusions? How did this come about? Â Is he a refugee from the Q Continuum or something? As Nostalgia Critic would say, EXPLAIN!!
Two, the characters were bland and dull sitcom clichÃ©â€™s. The kids were totally boring. There was a sister who, surprise!, hated Walter and of course had no idea about the whole imagination thing (and who they lived with, of course!). Then we had the classic wacky neighbor who, again, had no idea what was going on.
Third, why was his ability kept a secret? I never understood that, what was he afraid was going to happen if people knew about this? It’s not like Alf who was an alien who would be taken and studied in a lab; if a real person had this ability people would be fascinated the same way people are fascinated in psychics or fortune tellers. I think the reason it was a secret wasbecause Walter wanted to lead a “normal life”, but this power or whatever it was wasn’t that big a deal. It would be like projecting pictures on a wall, illusions which just vanish.Â WhenDavid Banner kept the Hulk a secret, yeah that made sense because The Hulk waskind of destructive. Here it was just a onej oke gimmick to create stories which got old after the first episode.Â â€œOh no, will they find out the truth???â€ Who cares? The guy had a successful career, two kids, and a wife!Â All that would change would be maybe that he would be great fun in parties! His power (or whatever) is the equivalent of the holodeck on Star Trek! The worst part was that the familyâ€™s attempts to cover up these odd things that kept happening were lame.
Finally, forgetting the whole keep it a secret crap, the imagination stuff was just uninspired. They were just pointless gags with no real meaning or payoff. For instance in the pilot the daughter says she wants a dog. So Walter “imagines” her one. Yeah, so what’s the joke? Â Another episode Walter is waiting for some angry neighbors and an image of torch wielding villagers appears. And this isfunny why?Â In Scrubs the daydreams usually had a purpose and added humor to a scene by expanding on it in some way. And since they were daydreams they could be real wild. Here the magination stuff was just bland not to mention random.Â Walter would think of something and it would appearâ€¦.whoopee! They also had celebrities appear out of thin air and they usually served no purpose other than to say “hey we got a celebrity cameo,look at us!” I also think trying to make it a family comedy got in the way, if the tone had been darker and more serious than this could have worked. But as a light sitcom? I mean, would Scrubs have worked as well if it was set in a medical school and…wait, they did that didnâ€™t’ they?Â It also could have worked if it was aimed at a younger audience, but sitcoms for kids wasn’t a big thing yet.
I remember a couple episodes, the pilot was Walterâ€™s wedding and he worried about revealing his secret to his fiancÃ©e. In a dream sequence his imagination goes crazy and he loses his family. But, that was a dream. He marries and his fiancÃ©e ends up being very open minded (she was a psychologist,that explains a lot). Â Another episode had Walter accidentally insult the town in his strip, and in the end Walter apologizes and promises to never name the town in his strip (wow, riveting!).The other episode I remember had the sister see an old friend that Walter had imagined, and she fell for him forcing Walter to â€œkeep his imagination goingâ€for an entire evening so they could go on a date. Walterâ€™s imagined friend had a personality all his own, sure why not. You know, it would have been easier to just let the sister in on the secret. And why she hated Walter was never made clear, she has no respect for his job which is idiotic how many respected and succesful cartoonists are there out there? In the end the friend appears conveniently in the flesh and did like the girl so all was well.
Well whatever the reason this was a ratings disaster and quietly disappeared after just a few episodes aired. But you can’t blame it on the time slot since it aired between Major Dad and Murphy Brown. And opposite The Hogan Family. Yeah, how bad is a show to be worse than The Hogan Family? (I tease, I loved Hogan Family). It was no loss either, the show made corny sitcoms look like works of art. It was a one joke sitcom. The stories were weak, the laughs non-existent, and the characters boring.
So that was the first failure of the 1989 TV season. Why doI remember it so well? Because my brother and I recorded some episodes of it, and I still have two or three on tapes sitting in my closet. I have some real obscure stuff recorded, but we can discuss that as we go.
I hope you liked this and let me know if you do remember this show, I’d like to meet the other person who does.Â