Why the critics are wrong about Tommy Wiseau’s “The Neighbors”


Tommy Wiseau, creator of The Room, also known as “the worst film ever made,” is getting some heat for his new Hulu sitcom, The Neighbors. But if I had to guess what the maker of the quintessential “disaster piece” who has been laying low since it dropped 12 years ago would do next, The Neighbors would be as good a guess as any.

Though Tommy Wiseau has said otherwise, it’s clear The Room was an accident that made him famous. So it seems the next logical step for Wiseau would be to create something even worse than The Room. And he meets that challenge with The Neighbors, which I found so captivatingly horrendous that I could not stop watching.

Like The Room, The Neighbors seems to encapsulate Tommy Wiseau’s bizarre, kitschy Eastern European ideation of day-to-day American life. Wiseau plays two characters, Charlie, the apartment building manager who stole Joan Jett’s hairstyle, and Ricky Rick, who looks like Kate Gosselin and Axl Rose collided to form one person. The set-up along with a menagerie of tenants gives me the impression that the script was written by someone whose sole experience of the US is Three’s Company, Melrose Place and pornos.

The Neighbors remains a Tommy Wiseau disasterpiece

It’s been criticized for being bad but not charmingly so, and offensive. I don’t really see any point in criticism. Every scene competes with the others for most absurd. It’s so bad it’s surreal. And can we just pause for a moment to take in the theme song?

The Neighbors tries to paint a diverse portrait of American life, but instead ends up insulting everyone it depicts,” the Atlantic posits.

scantily clad women in the neighborsI mean…the idea anyone would be watching this seriously enough to find themselves insulted is almost as preposterous as the show itself. Everything is terrible and ludicrous. A bombshell blonde character called Philadelphia walks around all day in a bikini, while most of the other female tenants are scantily clad (because when I’m lounging at home I wear slutty cocktail dresses all the time). Troy, a bonkers druggie, wears a tie-dyed shirt, spontaneously screams at people and mistakes a pet chicken for a tiger. Every now and again the characters will shamelessly advertise Tommy Wiseau-brand clothing and underwear.

People are constantly, weirdly, talking about going to get ice cream for one another. Tommy Wiseau’s characters have fixations with driving a “red car.” One character walks in on the handyman making out with a female tenant in the laundry room and tells her it’s over, and she responds by informing him they were never together in the first place. Oh. Well that settles that.

The Neighbors breaks from The Room in a major way: there is no plot. Initially, I thought the whole thing was being improvised and shot in one take. But what makes it apparent the show is scripted is language. Like The Room, the actors sometimes say phrases that don’t sound quite right to native English speakers. At one point, Troy the druggie says, “You said you wanted to do crime, I’m getting excited. Let’s do violence!”

Troy screaming

As someone who has spent the better part of this year taking improv classes in which the goal is to create a storyline out of thin air, I had a gleeful appreciation for Tommy Wiseau’s flagrant disregard for plot. He breaks every theatrical rule imaginable. His characters constantly talk over each other. Nothing is remotely believable because every scenario defies logic. In one episode, a British princess comes to visit the apartment complex (?) and Charlie makes the monarch sign a lease in order to stay there (????). A “pregnant woman” walks into Charlie’s office and it is abundantly clear she’s got a volleyball stuffed under her shirt.

There’s a woman named CiCi who carries her pet chicken FiFi around with her everywhere and is a nervous wreck because her neighbors are constantly threatening to either cook her chicken or fuck it. One of the sexy bombshell tenants uses what looks like a Jedi mind trick hand motion to lure Troy into giving her a shotgun for free. She pipes in with “I love it!” as though she found the perfect prom dress when he hands her the firearm. He reacts by screaming in horror once he realizes she tricked him, but then suddenly, inexplicably adopts a moronically serene facial expression and says “I’m okay!”

The-Room-Tommy-WiseauTwo years ago, the straight-faced Atlantic hailed Tommy Wiseau as an “outsider artist,” a classification describing people who are self-taught. So if The Room constitutes “art brut” or outsider art, it seems The Neighbors could be “post-outsider art.” Why not? I’m as entitled to bullshitting as the Atlantic is.

Tommy Wiseau may be the first film maker to achieve, in film form, the ghastly car accident that you don’t want to see but can’t look away from. If it has any redeeming quality, it’s that The Neighbors is so absolutely different than anything I have ever seen. It has a bratty air about it, as if Wiseau is saying “I can do whatever the fuck I want right now, and that is what I’m doing. Hehehehe.” I like to think he taught himself the tenets of storytelling and film making in the process of making The Room and then purposely went against every one just to see what would happen. In fact during one scene in the fourth episode, it’s obvious Tommy Wiseau and two other actors are high on camera and just messing around.

Unfortunately, a wealth of scenes from The Neighbors is not available on YouTube as with The Room. But here’s the dialogue to a couple of scenes I found particularly funny:

Scene 1:
(CiCi stands at Troy’s door holding her pet chicken)

Troy: Oh my God. Is that a tiger??
CiCi: A what??
Troy: What a beautiful tiger! (chicken’s head gets replaced with an illustration of a tiger’s head) Oh please CiCi, let me cook it. Let me cook your tiger.

The chicken tiger

Scene 2:
(Guy walks through door to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Ricky Rick, Lula and Troy are on the couch and stare at him in confusion. Guy makes affable hand gestures pointing to himself)

Ricky Rick (played by Tommy Wiseau): Hi is it Santa Claus?
Guy: Oh! Scusi!
Ricky Rick: Where do you come from?
Guy: Cuba!
Ricky Rick: Cuba…
Guy: (Unintelligible mumbling) Uhhh eh scusi!
Troy: Was that Fidel Castro?
Ricky Rick: What a dickhead, hhhhahaha

About Author

Bethania Palma Markus is famous for one thing: having a really, really long name. If you can pronounce it, you are a superior pronouncer of words. She's also a long-time journalist and freelance writer for a variety of news outlets. Follow her on Twitter if you like Twitter @BPalmaMarkus

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