In the 12 years since The Room was released, the film and its mysterious director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau have become as famous as possible for a mythically, heroically terrible film. Years and countless midnight screenings later, the improbable Mr. Wiseau, satisfied in securing his place in film history, has set his sights on television. After floating around exclusive screenings and Internet leaks for the better part of a year, four episodes of The Neighbors, Wiseau’s sitcom, have been released to Hulu. As Rooster Illusion’s unofficial authority on the so bad its good and the so bad my life expectancy is shorter, I took it upon myself to meet The Neighbors.
The Plot (such as it is): Charlie (Tommy Wiseau) and Bebe (Gretel Roenfeldt) run an apartment complex. The neighbors are wacky! A princess lives there? The lady has a chicken! That stoner sure yells for no reason.
A few things are a given when talking about Tommy Wiseau: poor production values, incomprehensible dialogue, and acting so wooden I’ve made a sturdy oak table from it. All these elements are present in The Neighbors, and yet, the alchemy of these factors that made The Room so spectacularly watchable never quite gel as well as one would like. Among the hindrances is the unique awfulness of the audio. Murky and distant, the mics pick up dialogue second and everything else first, an issue that becomes particularly noticeable in the frequent scenes in which characters scream towards each other. The Room, while reasonably overlooked for the Academy Award for Sound Editing, was at least pretty clear, crisply picking up the inspired madness of Tommy’s dialogue. In The Neighbors lines that could be treasured and inevitably yelled back at the screen at group viewings, get lost in the wash.
I’m happy to report that Tommy Wiseau brings some of his dialogue charm back for The Neighbors. Tommy’s already tenuous grip on syntax and grammar mixed with his insistence that his actors read each line, as its written on the page makes for some comedy gold. “Stop doing vulgar language in here”, delivered matter-of-factly by Tommy’s on-screen assistant and girlfriend Bebe (Gretel Roenfeldt) is among my favorite lines from the first episode, and the rest of the cast soldiers on to the best of their varied skills through similar lines. Yet, between these gems are some truly interminable and at times downright not enjoyable dialogue-heavy scenes. Tommy’s version of what conversations in the management office of an apartment complex is wonderful, but so much of the dialogue is shrill and incomprehensibly yelled in numerous arguments, or, worst of all, boring. I frequently found myself waiting on the one interstitial synth loop and exterior shot that ushered in scene transitions as confusing conversations dragged on.
The Neighbors features an ensemble cast in the sense that there are many people there and they occasionally talk at each other. True to form, the characters and their relationships change not only between scenes, but also between lines. Do you know how many times conversations change from attempted seduction to people storming off and screaming “you’re such a bitch”? Three or four times! Some characters are served better than others by this bipolar approach. Cici (Pamela Bailey), resident chicken lady, is a caricature of an angry black lady so unpleasant and unhinged, it almost transcends stereotype and our notions of humanity. Best served by this style is Troy (Andrew Buckley), resident stoner and unreasonable asshole. There’s something magnificent to his eruptions and abrupt returns to an indoor speaking voice. A scene in which he berates himself for being hypnotized into giving a gun away for free—with shots of him yelling from several angles, obviously deliberate homage to the camera work of director Sergei Eisenstein—ends with him calmly declaring “I’m okay”, and is one of the clearest, funniest moments in two hours of television.
One of the major issues is how little to do Tommy gives himself, even as he plays two characters. As Charlie, he is relegated to an office for most of the show, acting as the voice of reason as far away from the insanity of his apartment complex as possible. Tommy Wiseau was not born to play the voice of reason. He was not made to sit in an office and repeatedly exclaim “what a day!” Tommy Wiseau was born to be in the center of the action, interacting with weirdos and in turn allowed to be the weirdo, exchanging ambling anecdotes, tossing footballs in a tux, and indulging in destructive final act meltdowns in his Citizen Kane of bad movies that puts the final act meltdown of the real Citizen Kane to shame. Even as Ricky Rick, the resident slacker, Wiseau is rarely doing more than sleepily engaging in quiet conversation.
There are many stray elements that add some great flavor to The Neighbors: all the men wear Tommy Wiseau-branded underwear, a fact that is discussed at least twice on the show (and which is available for purchase here), a character who is caught in bed with his best friend by his pregnant wife is never mentioned ever again, and the first two episodes excitedly build up to the arrival of the British royal Princess Penelope (Charlotte Catherine Barlow), whose reasons for staying at this particular apartment complex are never addressed, and who quickly becomes a background extra after her introduction. Yet these still don’t combine to make a successor to The Room’s many charms. The Room’s unflinching sincerity makes the insanity on screen resonate. Every weird line and editing choice was placed there with intent. The Neighbors, by contrast, feels like its trying to play to a pre-existing audience of z-film fans. Like a classic band who tries to record an album exactly as they did on a hit record in a bid for relevance and recapturing their spirit, it feels like Tommy took the elements that people loved in The Room and knowingly tried to make them worse. It’s hard to tell right now whether or no The Neighbors will garner the same cult-status as its predecessor, but with episodes that seem impossibly long at 25 minutes, and a negatively-incline hit-to-miss ratio of classic Wiseau moments, its not as easy to love as The Room.